When Bobby Carpenter joined the Washington Capitals last summer, there was speculation that he would some day become the best American to play in the National Hockey League. Some day may have arrived.

In his last 10 games, Carpenter has collected 10 goals, for a season total of 29, and six assists, besides posting a plus-eight rating and displaying confidence and ability that belie his age of 18 2/3 years.

Until last week, the one-season records for Americans in the NHL were held by Washington's Tom Rowe, 31 goals, and Hartford's Mark Howe, 80 points. Both have been surpassed by Neal Broten of Minnesota, with 33 goals and 85 points. Broten, however, is 22, with a college career at Minnesota behind him, as well as an Olympic gold medal.

Carpenter, coming out of high school, had a tremendous gap to bridge before he could begin to play at full potential. He appears to have done it, after a slow start, and at his current pace could overhaul Broten, who has 35 goals.

"We knew Bobby was a bit of a goal scorer, but to do so well offensively with the step he's made-- that's just outstanding," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "If he can get 30 or 35 goals this year, it will be a remarkable accomplishment. He's also shown he's capable of doing a good job defensively and all of a sudden he's bloomed into a pretty good all-round player."

The line of Carpenter, Bengt Gustafsson and Mike Gartner accounted for four goals in Sunday's 5-5 tie with the New York Rangers and the speedy, shifty trio is capable of applying relentless offensive pressure.

"Before, when the line would start going well, Gus would get hurt," Carpenter said. "Now he's holding together and we're producing. The longer you play together, the better you get.

"The more ice I get, the more times I can try different things. I'm learning more about what the goalies are going to do. Before, I'd make a great move and the goalie would be right there and stop me and I'd wonder what was going on. Now I'm trying more moves and they're working.

"It's been a long season and I think that has been the toughest adjustment I've had to make. At times you get down and you might want a day off, but you know you have to come out here and work to turn things around. Losing's not too good and the worst part has been when the team has been playing well and still losing."

Carpenter has set club rookie records for goals (29, topping Ryan Walter's 28), points (62, beating Gustafsson's 60) and shots on goal (230, erasing Gustafsson's 185).

Ryan Walter, who lost 12 pounds during his illness, may see spot duty tonight when the Vancouver Canucks visit Capital Centre for a 7:30 contest . . . Vancouver is the only team that has blanked Dennis Maruk this season . . . The Canucks have lost six straight and are winless in their last seven . . . Gartner was held without a shot in New York, for the first time in 95 games.