Defenseman Carlson set to make NHL debut with Washington Capitals

By Mark Giannotto
Friday, November 20, 2009

John Carlson had no idea they were talking about him, but as the Washington Capitals' 2008 first-round draft pick was doing shooting drills following Thursday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, assistant coach Bob Woods and forward Tyler Sloan stood behind the action, discussing the team's newest member.

They wondered out loud: Will Carlson, a 19-year-old defenseman with just 33 professional games under his belt, be able to hold his own when he makes his NHL debut Friday at Verizon Center against the Montreal Canadiens?

"It's always interesting when you see guys get their first taste and see how they react to a situation because some guys, they look like deer in the headlights," Woods said. "He looks like he's been here all year so far."

From early indications, Carlson doesn't appear to be the average prospect. After being selected 27th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft, Carlson had a strong season (16 goals, 60 assists) in juniors playing for the Dale Hunter-coached London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

He was so good that Capitals officials decided, once the Knights were eliminated from the OHL playoffs, to assign Carlson to Hershey for its Calder Cup run last spring in the American Hockey League. That's where he met Woods, who was the head coach at Hershey during Carlson's 16-game audition.

"He stepped into some pretty key situations and didn't look out of place, and right there, you knew it was just a matter of time before you see him up here," Woods said of Carlson, a puck-moving defenseman who had 10 points and a plus-14 rating in 17 games with Hershey this season. "He's just a guy who carries himself very well. He doesn't look nervous; he looks very confident. And there's a difference between cocky and confident, and I think he finds that right medium, and I think that's why he was able to step right in with us in Hershey."

Those traits should serve Carlson well, because his stay in the NHL could be short-lived. Defensemen Milan Jurcina (lower-body muscle pull) and Shaone Morrisonn (head) are likely to miss Friday night's game, but both are listed as day to day.

The Capitals could have elected to bring up 2007 first-round pick Karl Alzner, who also has a plus-14 rating in Hershey this season and played 30 games with the Capitals last year, but they went with Carlson because of his right-handed shot and salary cap considerations. Coach Bruce Boudreau said Carlson likely will be paired with veteran Tom Poti.

"You only get one first NHL game . . . but it's not gonna make his career or break his career," Boudreau said. "If he's horrible, it's gonna make no difference. We still think the world of him. If he's great, we still think he's a first-year guy who has played one game. So I hope he doesn't lose any sleep over this."

Carlson takes a slightly different view. Last season with London, he was usually paired with fellow 19-year-old Michael Del Zotto, who is a regular on the New York Rangers' blue line.

"Obviously, I'm nervous and I got the jitters and everything, but when you get out there, you just have to play with confidence and know you're good enough," Carlson said.

Capitals notes: Boudreau revealed that winger Alexander Semin (wrist) has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to last Sunday and can be ruled out of this weekend's games. . . .

Goaltender José Theodore, who missed Tuesday's game and practice Wednesday to deal with family matters, returned to practice and stayed on the ice longer than backups Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. Of his recent struggles on the ice, Theodore said: "I don't think it's anything technical, it's just being focused for 60 minutes and making key saves at the right time, the things I was doing earlier on."

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