There’s no argument. None. Not a single thing you can say about it. It’s official. Not up for discussion. Notta.
There is nothing you can say to argue the fact that John Carlson is an absolutely elite defenseman. The best on the team. One of the best in the NHL. Absolutely nothing.
I have heard way too much John-Carlson slander and read too much anti-John-Carlson propaganda in the past couple of years, and it has always been so foreign to me. I just can’t wrap my head around the arguments made against our perennial number-one defender.
What Washington fans disrespect and under-appreciate, other fans yell and scream for. The anchor on the back-end that holds down the entire ship and enforces stability. This is an accurate description of New-Jersey-native, John Carlson.
Who is John Carlson?
Let’s dive into just who John Carlson is and where he comes from. Although he took his first strides in New Jersey, John Carlson (that’s his full name; No middle name. Wild stuff) was born in Natick, Massachusetts on January 10th, 1990. While growing up in New Jersey, Carlson played in the New Jersey Rockets Organization before he moved on to the USHL for one season, playing for the Indiana Ice. As a result of his play in the USHL, Carlson was taken 27th-overall by the Washington Capitals in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
After backing out of a commitment to play at the University of Massachusetts, the defenseman took the unique jump of playing in the Ontario Hockey League as an American-born player and chose to join the London Knights, as they had selected him in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He played one season with the Knights before making the jump to the pro leagues for the 2008-09 AHL playoffs. He would bounce between the AHL and the NHL the following season.
It was this season where John Carlson would become a household name amongst hockey fans, as, in 2010, he scored the OT game-winner against Team Canada in the Gold Medal Game of the World Junior Championships for Team USA.
After becoming an American hero, he would join the Capitals and never look back.
The Carlson Effect
Now that you know more about the on-ice upbringing of John Carlson, I would like to discuss this interesting phenomena that surrounds Carlson at all times. Now, this phenomenon may not necessarily be unique to Carlson himself. It could happen around the league and instead be something that’s unique to defenders in the NHL. However, I have my head buried in Washington Capitals discussions online and so I am naturally biased to anything revolving around the Caps. And, to be honest, I still have yet to see this kind of phenomenon revolving around other elite defenders in the NHL.
That Carlson Effect I am referring to is the phenomenon where you are the number-one defender on the team and one of the best defenders in the league, and yet still receive gross amounts of unwarranted criticism from your own fanbase. I live near Toronto, so believe me, I’ve seen plenty of undeserving players receive unwarranted criticism. However, they’ve never had a defenseman of Carlson’s calibre (other than one great Morgan Rielly season) since I’ve been around.
Every game you see tweets from fans freaking out at Carlson when he makes mistakes and saying “he’s doing it again,” which just blows my mind to an insane degree. Do we think no other players make mistakes? Has no other played blown coverage in their own zone, or lost track of their assignment? Apparently not accoriding to some fans. From the outside, looking in, you’d think this guy didn’t even know how to skate properly.
But Carlson was nominated for the Norris Trophy two seasons ago after scoring 75 points in 69 games. People were upset with him then. He followed that up with 44 points in 52 games, on pace for 69 points over an 82-game season. People still weren’t fans of him. This season he has 24 points in 28 games and is on pace for 70 points over an 82-game season. The guy is a perennial 70-point defenseman which, last I checked, didn’t grow on trees, and fans still think he’s a bum who sucks at hockey. And I know the argument against Carlson isn’t for his offense, but I wanted to throw these numbers up to show how valuable of a player he is.
Offense from your blue line is critical, especially come playoff time. So, having Carlson who is arguably but not really arguably the best offensive defenseman in the league and leads all defense in scoring over the last five seasons with 281 points (Victor Hedman is second with 244) is a major advantage. Plus, speaking of value in the playoffs, he was the Capitals’ beast on the point in 2018 when they won the Stanley Cup, playing over 25-minutes per game and scoring 20 points in 24 games.
I also know people love to say that he gets his points from throwing the puck to Alex Ovechkin on the power play, yet Ovi has one goal from his office this season on the power play and Carlson is still on pace for 70 points. It’s almost like people who still say Ovi can only score standing still on the power play; Just an uninformed opinion.
Like I mentioned, it’s not his offense that takes the beating from his critics, however. It’s his defensive play. Obviously, Carlson is better at offense than he is at defense, but that’s only because he is so elite offensively. There isn’t a large enough gap between his offense and his defense that it diminishes his overall value as a player. He is more than capable of handling himself in his own zone, it just pales in comparison to what he is able to do in the other teams’ zone. Although, there are plenty of Washington fans out there that will disagree.
For stats’ sake, let’s discuss some of Carly’s defensive stats this year. So far this year at 5-on-5, he has an Expected-Goals-Against Average of 18.23%, an Expected-Goals-For Average of 19.69%, and a total Expected-Goals-For Percent of 51.92%. What this means is that, when he is on the ice, his team is expected to score more often than they are expected to be scored on due to the quality of chances. Again, what this means is that Carlson is contributing to keeping the high-quality chances away from Washington’s net and more towards the opponent’s net.
In fact, he has 81 High-Danger-Chances Against, and 83 High-Danger-Chances For (HDCF), and a total HDCF% of 50.61%. So, although the gap between these two numbers isn’t large, he’s still a positive player in terms of keeping high-danger chances on the Capitals’ side of things.
I am by no means an advanced-stats guy, and I have made that clear. It’s just nice to look at these stats and confirm what I see every game: John Carlson isn’t the best defensive player in the league, which I know, but he’s also not a complete defensive liability like so many people seem to think he is. He’s an above-average defender and an elite offensive talent. People seem to forget the former because there is a microscope on him whenever he makes any sort of mistake.
When I watch Carlson play in his own zone, I see a guy who works his absolute bag off to get the puck out of his own zone. He does a lot of little things in the defensive zone that not a lot of average viewers will notice. He will go full throttle into the boards to win a puck race/battle and take a hit from a forechecking forward before going to battle with somebody in front of the net. He wins most of the puck battles he’s in when he’s on the wall too. He also has arguably the best poke check in the league when he’s battling because there are multiple instances a game where he will enter the battle and extend his stick with one arm to poke the puck past the imposing player before poking it again either to get it out of the zone or over to another Capital to break it out. Not to mention, there are few better players in the entire NHL at keeping the puck in the offensive zone than Carlson. His stick work on the line is masterful.
I know people may view these little things as insignificant and that it doesn’t compare to when he misses assignments or turns the puck over, but over the course of a game it has a greater impact than you may realize. Plus, fans have to understand that he averages about 24 incredibly hard minutes per game. Again, people may not take in that playing over 20 minutes per night, and sometimes closer to 30 minutes, is not an easy task against the best players in the world. Mistakes are bound to happen, but he more-often-than-not makes up for them with his offense. He is a complete horse for the Washington Capitals.
As we all know, I absolutely love John Carlson. He is one of my favourite players and is easily my favourite defenseman. He could commit various war crimes and I would still pump his tires like I worked at the bike shop.
I primarily just wanted to write this to affirm the fact that John Carlson is a #1 D-man in the NHL and the best defenseman on the team, which, in all honesty, shouldn’t need to be explained to fans. I know that everybody’s favourite player, Nick Jensen (who I actually really like so this isn’t an insult), is probably the better defenseman at defending (seeing as how he is a defensive defenseman), and I also know that’s the primary role of a defenseman. However, John Carlson is just the better player overall and is the Washington Capitals’ best defenseman. It’s not up for debate. He is a more-than capable defender and nobody can hold a candle to what he does offensively. When you combine the two, you have the best D-man on the team.
He is worth every cent of his 8-year, $8million deal he signed back in 2018, and it actually teeters on being a bit of a steal in my eyes. I may not know a lot, but what I do know is that John Carlson is an under-appreciated stud of a hockey player, and this is one of the sickest goals I’ve ever seen: