Although John Carlson hails from New Jersey, the 21-year-old Capitals defenseman has spent much of the summer in Arlington, which is where I found him a little before 8 a.m. today.
The parking lot on the eighth level of Kettler Capitals Iceplex was mostly empty. The lights in the team's offices were out. But there was Carlson, blasting down the rink alongside Jeff Halpern as local power-skating coach Wendy Marco checked her stopwatch. It was the second grueling, hour-long workout for Carlson and Halpern in the past four days.
(One of the drills included jumping over hurdles spaced about five feet apart at full speed. Another required them to skate backward, on one foot, while dragging a NASCAR tire with their stick. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Carlson and Halpern will be among the Caps' best-conditioned players next month in training camp.)
Afterward, I caught up with Carlson and asked him what he thought of Coach Bruce Boudreau calling for “a more serious tone” in the dressing room this season.
“He means exactly what he said,” Carlson said. “We've been a team that's had great times and terrible times. Now it's time to get down to business. Looking back, maybe we were feeling things out [in the playoffs] a little bit too much instead of taking the bull by the horns. That's going to be the motto from day one. We want to be the aggressor.”
Carlson said he expects this year's training camp – and practices during the season – to be more demanding and crisp, with greater emphasis on both execution and effort. (I've heard this from a few folks this summer, so it's something to keep an eye on).
“Attention to detail, on regular drills, you're going to see guys pushing a little bit harder,” he said. “Everyone is going to give that little bit extra in practice and hopefully that will translate to the games.”
Carlson, by almost every metric, had an outstanding rookie season. In addition to matching up against the opposing team's top forward line most nights, he tied the franchise's single-season record for points by a rookie defenseman (37), led all NHL rookies in ice time (22:38) and ranked third among rookies with a plus/minus rating (+21).
Carlson also led the Caps in ice time on 21 occasions, while being assessed fewer minor penalties (17) than nine of his teammates.
Not bad, huh? Carlson, though, was quick to point out that he's not satisfied. This season, he said, his focus will be on playing more consistently from night to night.
“I need to give that little bit extra,” he said. “Just make sure that, every play and every shift, I go that extra mile and I never take a shift off, never take a play off. That consistency is what I'm looking for.”
And, perhaps, a few more goals and assists.
“I would like to [score more], but who knows?” he added. “I still might be able to play my best hockey and get 25 points. Whatever role they put me in, whether it's going to be the same as last year or a different role, I just want to do those little things to help this team do something special.”
Like a lot of folks around Washington, Carlson is also excited to see how the offseason acquisitions – Troy Brouwer, Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward and Tomas Vokoun – change the complexion of a lineup that was once known for its youthful exuberance but now boasts nine players who are 30 or older.
“I think so, to a certain extent,” Carlson said, asked if the Caps could have benefited from more veteran leadership out of the gate last season. “But if you look at what the [new] guys do on the ice, it's not all about leadership. They're all great players. They're all hard-nosed, strong and tough forwards, and Hamrlik as a defenseman.
“It's going to give the team a different look this year,” he continued.
Something else that's got Carlson looking forward to 2011-12? Boudreau saying that the Caps will return to a more up-tempo, offensive style of play.
“That's a great decision,” Carlson said, cracking a big smile. “We can still incorporate some of the things we did last season and just add the flair and swagger that we had from years prior. And if we can find that middle ground between the two, we're going to put a good product on the ice.”