ST. LOUIS -- During the "Young Guns" era of the Capitals, Washington's hockey team was known for one thing and one thing only: Offense. Even the biggest name defenseman on the roster, Mike Green, was an offensive defenseman. He was among one of the top offensive producers in the game, but his defensive acumen often left much to be desired. When Green left Washington, John Carlson was quickly painted with the same brush.
A defenseman who can put up numbers playing with the Caps? Well, he must not be any good defensively. That perception followed Carlson for many years and he never seemed to get the recognition that his all-around play warranted.
Now in his second straight All-Star Game, that perception finally seems to have changed. Now there is no question that Carlson ranks among the top defensemen in the league, at least according to some of the game's biggest stars.
"I enjoy watching his highlights and just seeing where I can pick up from him," Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes said. "He's having a great year and it's good for him."
"I just feel like he's been on fire right from the first game of the year," said Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, who won the Norris Trophy last year as the league's top defenseman. "To be able to put up those type of numbers, trust me, it's looking a lot easier than it really is out there."
Carlson has finished in the top-five in the Norris in each of the past two seasons, but has never been a finalist. Now at the All-Star Break he appears to be the front-runner.
The Pro Hockey Writers' Association released its midseason awards on Thursday, a good reflection of where the trophy races stand at this point in the season. Carlson was voted No. 1 for the Norris. That should come as no surprise considering the historic season Carlson is having.
Through 49 games, Carlson has 60 points, the most among all defensemen. That puts him on pace for exactly 100 points by the end fo the season, a mark that has not been reached by a blue liner since Brian Leetch in the 1991-92 season. Heck, no defenseman has even reached 90 points since Ray Bourque in 1993-4. That's how rare and how special Carlson's current season is.
"It doesn't surprise me at all," T.J. Oshie said of Carlson's season. "Ever since I got to the Caps, you can kind of tell that he wasn't fully matured yet and his game wasn't to the level that it was going to get to yet. Over the last four and a half years now, he seems to just keep growing, keep getting better, keep getting smarter, more experienced. "
One-hundred points is a special number among defensemen as plenty noted at All-Star media day.
"It's pretty special," Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. "I mean, 100 points, that's a lot of points. Just for him to be on pace for that is pretty special."
"For a lot of guys it's unrealistic so you don't really focus too much about it," Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said, "But with the way he's playing and with the consistencies he's having with the production this year, I hope he breaks it."
But while Carlson's offensive production is certainly driving the Norris conversation, that is not why he is looked upon so highly around the league. He is praised as one of the top defensemen because of what he is doing at both ends of the ice.
"As a D-man, you look back, you talk about offensive defensemen, you talk about defensive defensemen. Nowaday you talk about two-way defensemen and John Carlson is a great two-way defenseman," Hedman said. "He plays against another team's top lines, power play, PK and production at that rate is unheard of."
For those who work with Carlson, the attention and praise Carlson is finally getting is overdue. To them, his play is only confirming what they already knew, that he is one of the best defensemen in the game.
"We're not perfect in any aspect of our game right now, but we're in a good spot because of John Carlson," head coach Todd Reirden said. "He's really received some more recognition than he has in the past and it's all well-deserved."
"Everyone talks about the points he has which are pretty amazing and pretty special," Oshie said. "But his play all around, playing PK, playing big minutes defensively, to play against other team's top units and top lines, in my eyes I think he's the best defenseman in the league."
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