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Getting to Know a Capital: John Carlson

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Headlined by stars like Ovechkin and Backstrom the Capitals are once again taking aim at the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Even with the big names there are always players outside the spotlight looking to make an impact. Here we take a look at defenseman John Carlson, a familiar name for sure but one who often gets passed over in favor of the big stars on the roster.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Before defenseman John Carlson debuted with the Washington Capitals during the 2009-10 season, he burst on to the hockey scene at the 2010 World Junior Championships, scoring in overtime of the gold medal game to give the United States the gold over the rival Canadians.

Two weeks after that goal, Carlson was called up from the AHL and made a permanent home on the Capitals blue line from then on. For five straight seasons Carlson featured in every game until and injury riddled 2015-2016 season. Carlson has been a steady fixture on the Caps’ back end as it underwent numerous changes over the years. Soaking up just under $4 million in cap space, he has provided the team the financial flexibility required to put them in position to contend for a Stanley Cup.

Name: John Carlson

Position: Defenseman

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 215 lbs.

Born: Jan 10, 1990

Drafted: Washington 1st Round 2008, 27th overall

2016-17 stat line: 72 GP, 9 G, 28 A, 22:42 TOI

2016-17 playoff stat line: 6 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 23:34 TOI

2016-17 stats vs Penguins: 3 GP, 0 G, 3 A, ~23:30 TOI

2016-17 5v5 Advanced Stats: 48.7 CF%, -4.8 Corsi Relative%, 101.6 PDO

2016-17 playoff 5v5 Advanced Stats: 53.6 CF%, 4.7% Corsi Relative, 103.9 PDO

Player detail (via The Hockey News Player Page)

HERO Chart (via Domenic Galamini):

2015-16 Washington Capitals player usage, via Corsica Hockey

Rolling Averages, via Corsica Hockey

Analysis: Starting with his first full season in 2010-2011, Carlson didn’t miss a single game until the 2015-2016 season where he was sidelined for 26 games due to injury. He missed 10 games this season but overall he’s one of the more reliable defenseman you will find. He was far and away the Caps top offensive blue liner before the team acquired Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline. He’ll run the point on the second power play unit where he can unleash a lethal shot. Carlson scored two goals in last year’s playoff meeting with the Pens. His $3.9 million cap hit will come in handy this offseason when the Capitals face a few difficult contract decisions. He’s a middle of the road possession player with a 48.7 CF% on the season which may look below average but since he hit a slump around Christmas, Carlson rebounded nicely to finish up the season and through the first round is sitting at a 53.6 CF%.

Most common line mates: This season, Carlson has had two primary defense partners, Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov. Over 23 of his ice time is alongside Alzner with the rest going to Orlov. Although most of his time is spend with Alzner, possession wise he has had significantly better success with Orlov at his side. The Carlson/Alzner pair posted a 45.94 CF% which pales in comparison to the 53.96 CF% the Carlson/Orlov pair put up this season. The one wrinkle thrown into this situation is the injury Alzner has been dealing with. With Alzner sidelined, Carlson spent most of his time with Nate Schmidt who replaced Alzner in the lineup. There were no solid possession stats for the Carlson/Schmidt pairing as it came together late in the season.

Why you should know who he is: Behind Shattenkirk, Carlson is the best offensive defenseman the Capitals currently employ. He’ll quarterback the second power play unit alongside Matt Niskanen (the Caps’ top unit uses 4 F and 1 D). Carlson can hammer the puck with his slap shot or pick a corner with a wrister. Depending on who he is paired with Carlson’s game can adapt to fit his partner. He won’t blow you away like Karlsson or Burns but his game suits the system Barry Trotz uses.

How the Pens can stop him: Similar to what they have done in the past against top end defenseman, the Penguins will need to rely on their speed to wreak havoc on Carlson. Even the best blue liners have fallen victim to turnovers and bad decisions when the Pens use their speed and relentless forechecking game. Anything the Pens can do to disrupt Carlson will go a long way to slowing him down over the course of the series. Even under pressure, Carlson is too good to be completely shut down but any little bit will help if they wish to advance.