As defenseman Connor Carrick whizzed around the ice during drills at the Washington Capitals' development camp Wednesday, nothing seemed amiss.
Forget that the 20-year-old unexpectedly made the Capitals' opening-night roster last fall, made his NHL debut in front of countless family members and friends in Chicago against the defending champion Blackhawks or scored his first goal in Washington's home opener two nights later.
The baby-faced veteran of 34 games fit right in among the prospects hopeful to make a lasting impression, knowing that he will have to do the same at training camp under a new regime led by coach Barry Trotz.
“Obviously things have changed a little bit here,” Carrick said. “It makes me even more excited to come back and get into it again. I cannot wait for camp. I am extremely excited.”
Carrick's advanced maturity is what stood out to management last season, but there is still a childlike sense of wonder within him, especially when discussing his dizzying rookie year.
Watching old game film, there was still an "awe factor" as he relived himself lining up behind Nicklas Backstrom during a faceoff or threading a pass toward a hard-charging Alex Ovechkin.
“That is the Verizon Center. That is me," he recalled. "I feel like I would’ve had a better grip on it now, but it still feels very surreal.”
Those opportunities may not be as readily available next season. The Capitals' defensive corps underwent a $67 million renovation last week when former Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen joined the organization. Those additions will make it more difficult Carrick to crack the main roster again.
Yet as is his way, Carrick found an enormous opportunity in the smallest of places.
“Maybe [Orpik] says something to you,” Carrick said as he envisioned skating alongside the 33-year-old during the preseason. “Same with Matt Niskanen. I think you have to be excited about those things.
“Whenever you add two guys of that caliber, your depth chart is going to look stronger, deeper. The team said it was going to go out and get defensemen and it did. They’re both great players, players I’ve looked up to watching games and playing against them. It comes back to me on a very personal level.”
Perhaps Carrick would have been better off shuttling between Washington and its minor-league affiliate in Hershey last season as general manager Brian MacLellan pointed out upon his promotion in late May.
Carrick, however, would not have changed a thing.
“The thing about last year is, it’s over,” he said. “It’s not like I could go back and play more somewhere else or have a bigger role or play more with the Caps. You cannot get that time back. My opinion is, I know what I’ve learned. I learned some things the hard way, some things by being around those players every day. What I can confidently say is that if I were to choose playing elsewhere last year or having the experience I actually did, I am more confident with the latter going into camp.”
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