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Offseason Evaluation: John Carlson

As the 2011-12 season has come to a close, the time has come to evaluate what it meant for the Capitals, both as a team and as individuals.  As such, as the summer progresses, I will be writing a report card, or individual evaluation, for each player who played in 9 (~10%) of the team’s games, or 4 playoff games. Next up is defenseman John Carlson, who finished his third NHL season, all with the Capitals, on this past year’s campaign.

Season Summary: After a superb first full season in the National Hockey League, Carlson fell victim to the dreaded sophomore slump this season.  Expected to take a step forward by all, the young American defenseman struggled out of the gate and never really seemed to find his groove, going long stretches without points despite offensive opportunities being made available to him because of Mike Green’s long term injury.  Carlson played in 82 games for the second consecutive season, scoring nine goals, 32 points, a -15 rating (tied for worst on the team), and 22 penalty minutes.  In addition, his corsi rating was the second worst among all Capitals defensemen at -5.08.  It is imperative to note, however, that Carlson played the second-toughest minutes among all Washington rearguards at even strength. Grade: B-

Role Play: As noted above, big things were expected from Carlson this season after an excellent first go around in the NHL.  Carlson was penciled in by many for around 40 points, excellent defense, and a two way game that could be rivaled by only Mike Green on the Capitals, if anyone at all.  But Carlson took a step backwards, not only in terms of points, but also in terms of defensive coverage, and his points, when they came, came in spurts and were followed by long bare patches.  He played against the other team’s top line almost every night, but he looked lost in his own zone more often than not and seemed to fall apart whenever he was separated from Karl Alzner.  He ate minutes, which is certainly admirable, and his ability to stay healthy should not be understated.  But I wanted more from a player with such sky high potential.  Still, what happened was not totally unexpected, as disappointing as it was for most of the season. Grade: C+

Playoffs: Like many Capitals players, Carlson attempted to make up for a poor regular season with a very solid playoffs.  He was sixth among all Washington skaters and led defensemen with five points, including two goals, to go along with a minus-one rating and eight penalty minutes.  Carlson also turned around his puck possession, ranking second among Washington defensemen in corsi at -13.67 – and he did it whole continuing to see very tough minutes, seeing the second hardest competition among Washington defensemen that played more than four playoff games.  Statistics aside, I just thought Carlson was a lot better in the playoffs than he was in the regular season.  He did not seem turned around on defense very often, and he and Alzner were rocks for the most part.  In short, once April rolled around, he was lot better, and it was impressive. Grade: A-

Future Potential: Like Michal Neuvirth, one bad season means little for Carlson’s long term ability to be a top NHL defenseman – Elliotte Friedman of CBC recently reported that “even NHL referees think [Carlson] will win a Norris Trophy one day.”  The talent is obviously still there and at age 22, Carlson is poised for further development.  A restricted free agent as of July 1, Carlson has been given a qualifying offer, which means that Washington retains his rights and has an opportunity to match any offer sheet handed to him by an opposing team.  But given the lack of offer sheets in the NHL in recent history and the relatively poor season Carlson just had, I don’t see that happening.  When all is said and done, I think Carlson will get a bridge deal like Alzner did – two or three years at between $1.5 and $2 million per season.  This is simply because Carlson has little leverage, and if he gets back on track next year, that would be a great deal for DC. Grade: A

The next evaluation will feature defenseman Karl Alzner.

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