Holtby and Backstrom have high hopes this season
When the Capitals wake up in Chicago on Tuesday for the start of the 2013-14 NHL campaign, it will mark the first time they are starting a season with two teenagers on their roster since 18-year-old defenseman Scott Stevens and 19-year-old forward Bobby Carpenter opened the 1982-83 season together.
Right wing Tom Wilson and right defenseman Connor Carrick, both 19, used deductive reasoning to realize that when Mathieu Perreault was traded to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, there was enough room under the salary cap for the Caps to keep them around, along with 22-year-old center Michael Latta.
“Once it looked good for me, I wanted Willy to make it because I need someone my age,” said Carrick, who was teammates with Wilson last year with the Plymouth Whalers. “When the guys are going to the bar, what are we supposed to do? Go to McDonald’s and grab chicken nuggets?”
Since the end of last season, when he played in the Caps’ final three playoff games, Wilson has been on the Caps’ radar. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder made an impact, both physically and offensively, during the preseason, making it hard for the Caps to send him back for another year of junior hockey.
Carrick’s path to the NHL was far less predictable. He came into camp without a contract but his ability to handle the pace of the game, along with his quick decision-making, earned him a three-year entry level contract on Sept. 23 and, one week later, he’ll start collecting on it.
“They had great camps, they really did,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “They did the things we were looking for to help the organization grow. George [McPhee] and I talk about it all the time. We don’t wan to set these guys back. Are they ready? George agreed and we all came up with a plan. It’s always about our puzzle first.”
To make Wilson and Carrick fit, the Caps had to make room under their salary cap by sending Perreault and his $1.05 million contract to Anaheim, where he’ll be reunited with former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.
“Perry had great camp,” Oates said. “I told him [Sunday], ‘I think George did right by you. The organization has to go in the direction they want, but we didn’t try to hide you. We thought you could play in the NHL and we moved you to an organization that we hope will use you.’”
Judging from the forward line combinations on Monday, Wilson appears to be slotted as a fourth-line right wing, alongside center Jay Beagle and either Jason Chimera or Aaron Volpatti. Carrick’s spot is a little less clear. As a right-shot defenseman he’ll be competing with Steve Oleksy for a spot alongside left-handed veteran Jack Hillen.
“He’s like a Junior Greenie; a Junior Carly,” Oates said of Carrick, likening him to right-handed puck movers Mike Green and John Carlson. “He makes good decisions. He can handle the speed and the physicality of the game.”
Carrick also has an air about him that extends well beyond his 19 years of age. He said he understands ice time will not be given freely in the NHL.
“The better man is going to win,” Carrick said. “The better man is going to earn his job and keep his job. I think respect is a big part of it, too. I feel like I can hang with the NHL guys, but you have to respect the fact that they’ve had success at that level.
“You can say a guy has played well in juniors and has played well in preseason but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as playing a full NHL schedule and most of these guys have done it for years. That counts for a lot.
“I’ve just got to work hard every day and learn from these guys and compete with them and at the same time respect what they’ve done.”
While Carrick has the option of playing in the AHL this season, Wilson can play nine games at the NHL level and still be retuned to Plymouth of the OHL.
“I still have to work hard every day,” he said. “In the NHL things can change from day to day, hour to hour. I just want to do enough for them to keep me around.”