As if it wasn’t hard enough for Capitals rookie defenseman Connor Carrick to make his NHL debut Tuesday, he had to do so on the road against the defending champion Blackhawks about 30 miles from his hometown of Orland Park, Ill., in front of 15 to 20 friends and family members.
Solely based on the outcome, the 19-year-old’s debut is one he’d like to forget. He was involved in three of Chicago’s goals — on the ice for two and in the penalty box for another — in the Capitals’ 6-4 loss on Tuesday.
“Those were people I wanted to make smile more times than not,” Carrick said of his friends and relatives. “I would have liked a couple do-overs, but there’s no mulligans in this game, so I’ll live with it. That’s what pros do.”
Understanding how overwhelming a debut can be, coach Adam Oates left Carrick with a simple message as the Capitals boarded the plane back to Washington: “One down. It’s done.”
“Quite honestly, I think he did a pretty good job,” Oates said after Wednesday’s practice. “Yeah, he made mistakes, but we all did. … He’s been a great player wherever he’s played in the last few years of his life. … We just try to keep him upbeat and fix mistakes.”
Carrick, the Capitals’ fifth-round draft pick in 2012, earned his spot on the opening-night roster with a strong training camp and preseason, where he parlayed his poise and offensive acumen into an entry-level contract. He is just one of 16 teenagers to suit up in a regular-season game for the Capitals since 1990, further proving the confidence that the organization has in him and his ability.
Oates seemed to indicate that Carrick will be in the lineup again today when the Capitals open their home slate against the Flames.
“I’m a guy who needs to be comfortable, I need to feel at ease and I didn’t,” Carrick said. “That’s my own fault for not preparing myself mentally. It was my first game, so hopefully I have a better second.”