When Connor Carrick heard the list of players trimmed from the Washington Capitals’ training camp roster around noon Sunday, he went back to his hotel room, asked the maid if he could have a minute and called his parents.
Nothing was official yet, but there were only seven defensemen left on the roster and he was one of them.
“Called my dad, he told me to shut up about eight times. My mom did the scream, cry mix. It was a pretty cool moment,” Carrick recounted Monday. “The word [salary] cap gets thrown around and I don’t know how that works, so I went to the mall, tried to take my mind off it, go grab something to eat, walk around. I came back and the situation was still the same. Woke up this morning, my name was still here.”
Tom Wilson and Michael Latta were out to dinner when they saw on Twitter that the Capitals had sent Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks. They didn’t want to get too excited, but knew that the team had just freed up a roster spot and some salary cap space.
“It just started to look like there might be a little more space for the young guys to be on the final roster,” Wilson said. “I talked to my agent, talked to my parents and said this might be good news. Just kind of rode out the rest of the day, and woke up this morning came to the rink and was reassured that my stall was still here.”
All three rookies entered training camp as prospects with varying odds of seeing any time in the NHL this season. It took some salary cap maneuvering on the part of General Manager George McPhee to trade Perreault and clear his $1.05 million salary cap hit from the Capitals’ books, but after impressing the coaching staff with what Coach Adam Oates called “great camps,” Carrick, Wilson and Latta will all start the year in the NHL.
Whether Wilson, 19, would remain with the Capitals has been the subject of great debate. The big right wing can only play in the NHL or the OHL this season, but with a multifaceted performance in the preseason, Wilson forced the organization’s hand.
“By Tom having such a great camp, it put more pressure on George to make decisions. I think he’s earned the right to be here,” Oates said. “It affected the puzzle, and it’s always about our puzzle first. Because of that I was experimenting with Eric [Fehr] and Marty [Erat] in terms of who’s going to go where. I know what Perry can do, unfortunately we had to make a move.”
Oates said he wished Perreault luck and that the organization “did right by” the 25-year-old center, giving him an opportunity to play elsewhere rather than keeping him as a 13th forward.
While Wilson was always part of the consideration for the NHL roster, Carrick emerged as having developed beyond his years in camp. He’s assertive and decisive on the ice, as well as a strong skater and puck handler. It’s unclear if Carrick, who can play in Hershey this year should the Capitals decide he needs time in the AHL, will suit up in the season opener, but the possibility certainly exists.
“He makes great decisions, he can handle the speed and physicality of the game, had a great camp and has just been improving over the last year on a daily basis,” Oates said. “Obviously, we want to get him minutes he’s played a lot of minutes but he’s got two guys in front of him that demand minutes. We’ll try to figure out that puzzle and that’s what it’s always about.”
Latta, part of the trade that brought Erat to Washington last spring, is pleasantly surprised to be sticking around. When he arrived at camp and saw the large number of forwards Latta, 22, figured he would need to bide his time and wait to be recalled. He’s yet to make his NHL debut but the preseason offered encouragement that he could bring something to the table.
“This is kind of my first real preseason and I’m thankful they gave me a real shot and gave me a lot of games,” Latta said. “I was kind of nervous coming in but in the preseason I felt I could play at this level – contribute. Maybe not score as much as the [AHL] but I can provide a role, be hard on the PK, be hard on the forecheck, play a simple role and help the team out.”