We knew John Carlson was good, but we didn’t know he could be this good.

Carlson led all defensemen in points last season with 68, shattering his previous career-high of 55.

The 28-year-old blueliner established himself as the team’s top defenseman in the wake of an injury to Matt Niskanen. In the month Niskanen was out of the lineup in October and November, Carlson led the NHL in time on ice per game at 27:47.

Before, Carlson was known as a puck-moving defenseman who was far more skilled in the offensive zone than the defensive. Playing nearly 30 minutes per game, Carlson showed he was a much more balanced player than previously thought as he was tasked with playing difficult minutes against tough competition on both ends of the ice.

It was an eye-opening season that established Carlson as a top defenseman, and he did it while playing the majority of the season with a rookie defenseman as his partner in Christian Djoos.

The addition of Michal Kempny to the lineup gave the Caps’ blueline a boost last season and solidified the team’s top-four on defense. Now, Carlson and Kempny are expected to start the season as the team’s top pair, giving Carlson an advantage he did not get in his career year last season.

Even with a new long-term deal in hand, don’t be surprised if Carlson looks even better in 2018-19. He established as one of the top defenseman in the league, and defensive guru Todd Reirden is now the man in charge as head coach. As he enters the season on the top pairing with an established partner, there’s no reason to think Carlson won’t put up similar offensive numbers as last year, that he won’t continue his strong play on the defensive end of the ice and that he won’t be among the finalists for the Norris Trophy.