Connor Carrick looked at home among the baby-faced teenagers at Washington Capitals development camp, leading stretches near center ice, a bull’s-eye among the prospects hoping to crack through just like him. It was only last year that Carrick was here too, eager to impress and wondering what the future held. But on Wednesday, he was the veteran, the one with NHL experience, parachuting into town for some testing and skating alongside everyone else.
“Obviously things have changed a little bit here,” Carrick said. “It makes me even more excited to come back and get into it again. I cannot wait for camp. I am extremely excited.”
As a 19-year-old, Carrick appeared in 34 games for the Capitals last season, one body among the carousel of blue-liners employed by former coach Adam Oates. But the “awe factor,” as Carrick called it, remains. He would be watching old game film and notice the building’s logo and think to himself, “That is the Verizon Center.” Then he would notice the red jersey, numbered 58, whizzing down the ice and think to himself, “That is me.”
“I feel like I would’ve had a better grip on it now,” Carrick said, “but it still feels very surreal.”
At his introductory news conference in late May, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said he wished Carrick would have shuttled more between Washington and Hershey, so he could play as a first- or second-line option with the Bears. Carrick played in just 13 games for the AHL affiliate, notching four assists and 15 penalty minutes over that span.
Carrick, for his part, said he wouldn’t change a thing about his route last season.
“The thing about last year is, it’s over,” he said. “It’s not like I could go back and play more somewhere else or have a bigger role or play more with the Caps. You cannot get that time back. My opinion is, I know what I’ve learned. I learned some things the hard way, some things by being around those players every day. What I can confidently say is that if I were to choose playing elsewhere last year or having the experience I actually did, I am more confident with the latter going into camp.”
Perhaps star-struck at times, maybe more than he lets on, Carrick is still approaching the offseason like he belongs. Before his brief trip to the area – Carrick planned to leave Wednesday night – he had watched news conferences for Coach Barry Trotz and MacLellan, simply to get used to hearing their voice.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2012 out of the U.S. National Development Team, Carrick might find himself in a logjam of young Capitals blue-liners this season, created in particular after the recent free agency signings of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. But, true to form, Carrick spun the deals into a chance for himself, envisioning a preseason situation where he skates alongside Orpik and picks his brain.
“Or maybe he says something to you,” Carrick said. “Same with Matt Niskanen. I think you have to be excited about those things.
“Whenever you add two guys of that caliber, your depth chart is going to look stronger, deeper. The team said it was going to go out and get defensemen and it did. They’re both great players, players I’ve looked up to watching games and playing against them. It comes back to me on a very personal level.”