Defenseman John Carlson Is Turning Heads at Capitals Development Camp

John Carlson made an impression while playing for Hershey during the AHL playoffs. Now the Capitals' 2008 first-round pick is turning heads at development camp. Video by John Johnston and Jennifer Carpenter/The Washington Post. Narrated by Gene Wang/The Washington Post.
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Washington Capitals' development camp roster has three first-round draft picks and four players who were chosen in the second round. There's another who won a gold medal as a member of Canada's world junior championship team.

But after the camp's first two days at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the spotlight focused on one prospect in particular -- defenseman John Carlson, whom Coach Bruce Boudreau said is "easily" the most NHL-ready of the two dozen prospects in attendance.

"You notice him out here right away," Boudreau said of the 27th overall pick in 2008. "With his size and his strength, he's got the physical stature of an NHL player."

Carlson's game isn't too far behind. He plays solid defense. His outlet passes are hard and accurate. And when the pressure is on, he demands the puck with a stern whack of his stick on the ice. Did anyone mention that he's only 19?

"The higher level you get to, the more speed [forwards] are attacking with," Boudreau said. "John was right in everyone's face, whereas other [defensemen] were stiff-legged and puck-chasing."

Carlson's performance in camp, coupled with his emergence this spring when he helped the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears win a 10th Calder Cup, has Capitals officials reconsidering his status within the organization. They are no longer asking themselves whether the 6-foot-2, 218-pounder is going to make an impact in Washington. Now they're asking, "When?"

"Is it this year? Is it this training camp?" Boudreau said. "John Carlson is going to be the one to dictate that. If he says, 'I'm here to make the team' and goes out and he's one of the best players, we're going to fit him in, if we can fit him in."

The Capitals are committed to as many as eight NHL-proven defensemen: Mike Green, Tom Poti, Brian Pothier, Shaone Morrisonn, John Erskine, Milan Jurcina, Jeff Schultz and Karl Alzner. Assuming no one is traded away, Carlson will likely have to outplay at least one, if not two, of those veterans to earn a spot on the opening night roster.

Carlson was born in Natick, Mass., but moved with his family to Colonia, N.J., at age 5. He was a center until he was about 13, when at the urging of his father, Dick Carlson, he switched to defense. The elder Carlson manned the blueline at Division III Framingham State in Framingham, Mass., and was involved in coaching his son throughout his youth.

As a defenseman, Carlson saw his game blossom.

"We moved him to defense for a couple of reasons: He had a good head for the game and he had pretty good size," Dick Carlson said. "We thought he would be able to control the game a little more, and he did."

As a 16-year-old with the New Jersey Rockets, the younger Carlson led all defensemen in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League with 58 points. Later that year, he accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Massachusetts.

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