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 feet 11 and 185 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 Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers while recording 12 goals — tops among defensemen on the team — and 44 points in 68 games.
The offensive defenseman 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 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,” 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, impressed at the U.S. national junior evaluation camp this August. 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.
But Carrick is more focused on helping Plymouth get off to a strong start. He knows that 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 hardworking 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.”
— Katie Carrera