“It is an honor,” Carlson said. “It means a lot to me. It is something that whether I got it or ever did get it, you know, it wouldn’t really change necessarily how I would change going about things, but I think I’ve been around some really good leaders over my years here and looking forward to stepping up.”
Drafted No. 27 in the 2008 NHL draft by the Capitals, Carlson made his league debut during the 2009-10 season at 19 years old. He, as well as Washington’s once-young core, navigated the ebbs and flows of premature playoff losses and frustrating seasons until finally winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 2018.
The 29-year-old is coming off two career seasons, tallying 13 goals and 57 assists last year, with a career-high 25:04 average of ice time. During the team’s championship run, he recorded 15 goals and 53 assists, averaging 24:47 of time on the ice. He led all NHL defenders with points (68), and his 15 goals were tied for eighth in the NHL (three players tied for the league lead with 17).
“He’s a guy who has put his time in and kind of his body of work in the last five, six years that I’ve been here in terms of his growth as a player and as a leader and as a person, led to this decision,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “It is important his role on our team in terms of our defense and him being our main go-to guy back there in terms of leadership. We’ve got a ton of great leaders in the room and this is the decision we decided on.”
Carlson has always been seen as a leader, but wearing the “A” means a little more. Carlson will be relied on to take the other young defensemen under his wing, as others once did for him, and he’s up for the challenge. Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler, 22, and 19-year-old Martin Fehervary, who was drafted in the second round last year and yet to play in an NHL game, are expected to be in the lineup for the season opener against St. Louis on Wednesday.
It is expected Siegenthaler will skate alongside Carlson on the top pairing Wednesday night. It isn’t a new pairing; they skated together last year in the playoffs and have spent some extended time next to each other during training camp practice and preseason games.
“I think he has been here many years and worked hard and he deserves it,” Backstrom said of Carlson. “I mean I think he developed into a leader of the years so I think it’s a perfect fit, I think. For him back there, he can control all the d-men back there and a lot of d-men is probably looking up to him too so that’s a good thing. That is going to be his area to control.”
And while he doesn’t care much for the individual accolades, Carlson has continued to climb the ladder on his way to becoming an all-star for the first time last season. He has yet to win the Norris Trophy, but finished in fourth in voting last year.
Other candidates to wear the “A,” according to Reirden, were forward T.J. Oshie, often referred to as the “heartbeat” of the Capitals’ room, and forward Tom Wilson. Wilson is the youngest of the three, with clear leadership potential down the road. Oshie has been, and remains, one of the emotional leaders of the Capitals.
“I just think it’s a progression thing,” Carlson said. “Everyone has aspirations to be a captain or an assistant captain. Lucky for us there are so many that could be, but you know, yeah I’m excited about it though.”