In 2018, coming off a Stanley Cup victory, the Capitals had what looked at the time to be a tough decision to make. Should the team re-sign John Carlson or let him walk in free agency? Carlson ended up re-signing and it's a good thing given how good he has been since then. It was always known that Carlson was a good player, but who knew he could be this good? Karl Alzner did.
Alzner, who played in Washington from 2008 to 2017, was frequently paired with Carlson on the blue line. To him, it has been no surprise to see Carlson go from a top-four defenseman to an all-star, to a Norris Trophy runner-up.
"[Carlson] has everything that you need to be a great defenseman," Alzner said on the Capitals Talk Podcast. "Super athletic, sees the game really, really well, confidence. He's one of those guys that, some guys if you get on them too hard then they just kind of shut down. He was always the guy that the harder you were on him after bad shift or bad period, the better he seemed to respond. That's something that's very, very hard to teach so I was always impressed by that."
Carlson made his NHL debut a season after Alzner, but both players became full-time NHLers in the 2010-11 season. Alzner saw that the skills were there for Carlson and then he saw him put in the work to be among the best.
Alzner credits the work Carlson did with Todd Reirden, who was an assistant coach in charge of the defensemen before becoming head coach, for helping him get to that elite level.
"You could see, him and Todd were working so closely before practices and trying to figure out how to get him to that next level," Alzner said. "Todd had Kris Letang in Pittsburgh and I think he did a lot of really good work with him and took him to the level he was at so I think he saw that in John and they would work at it. Kind of gave him the freedom to go out there and do whatever was necessary to get to that point."
Carlson's game has certainly been elite the last three seasons which is why Alzner is a bit discouraged by what he sees as a lack of recognition.
In 2018, Carlson fell just short of being named a season all-star, coming in fifth in the voting. In 2019, Carlson was not among the finalists for the Norris Trophy after coming in fourth in the voting. Finally, in 2020, Carlson was the runner-up for the Norris, coming in second to Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators.
"I wish [Carlson] would get more recognition," Alzner said. "And he is, I'm sure, in the D.C. area, but even just around the league with him not winning the Norris this year was disappointing for me. It wasn't even me in the running, but it was disappointing for me because I want to see those guys get the credit that they deserved. There's a few guys in Washington that sometimes get a little overshadowed just because when you have the best goal-scorer of a generation on that team, it sometimes kind of soaks it all up. But there's a few players and John being one of them that I think deserves the credit that he's been finding a way to the top defenseman in the league, in my opinion, for a few years now."