This week marks the third prospect camp Adam Oates has overseen during his tenure as Capitals coach. While he doesn’t profess to be an expert on evaluating junior-level players and is more focused on assembling the team he will work with in the NHL, Oates has taken notice of the strides some have made since he first saw them on the ice in July 2012.
One player in particular who has stood out is defenseman Connor Carrick, selected by Washington in the fifth round of the 2012 draft.
“He’s one guy that has definitely upgraded, changed and it looks like he’s become more than just a junior player to me,” Oates said. “I’ve never been a guy that ever watched junior. It’s been 30 years since I was involved in junior; I don’t really know what to look for, I’m not exposed to it. I’m used to the NHL, certain size, speed, talent level, and he looks like he’s become more of a man, I guess you could say. He looks more ready to play at our level.”
Carrick, 19, is listed at 5-10, 183 pounds, but what he lacks in size he makes up for as a strong skater and puck mover. He earned increased playing time and responsibility last season in his first year with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers while recording 12 goals – tops among defensemen on the team – and 44 points in 68 games.
The offensive defenseman, who says he’s working to be more dynamic in every aspect of his game, expects to shoulder a more significant role as a leader for Plymouth both on the ice and off this season. The OHL has served as an important developmental step for Carrick, who when he was drafted initially planned to play for the University of Michigan. He later decided to play for the Whalers while taking classes at Michigan.
“I’m very fortunate to be in the situation I’m in. [Whalers Coach Mike Vellucci] trusts me with a lot of ice time in a good role and a good leadership role. I think that’s really been to blame for my development, it’s really helped me grow as a player,” Carrick said. “You get used to playing more games and I thought prior to going to Plymouth I was a little bit of a practice player and I didn’t like that very much. I feel like that habit’s changed so I’m pretty happy with my development so far.”
Carrick, an Illinois native, attended the U.S. national junior evaluation camp this August and impressed with a solid all-around performance. He’s considered a strong contender to make the U.S. World Junior Championship squad this year and perhaps earn considerable ice time in that tournament as well.
But Carrick isn’t worried about his odds of making the WJC team now. Rather he’s focused on helping Plymouth get off to a strong start and knows if he succeeds there his international opportunities should take care of themselves.
Highly-touted Capitals prospect Tom Wilson has played with Carrick in Plymouth and knows his OHL teammate is ready to tackle whatever challenges come next.
“He’s a hard working kid, really focused. He works hard every time he’s on the ice,” Wilson said. “He’ll have a big role in Plymouth this year, might even be captain there, we’ll see. He’s a good leader he’s come a long way in the two years that I’ve known him and I’m excited to see him grow even more.”