I originally posted an abbreviated version of this in a Ranking the Caps thread, but I thought it might merit a bit more discussion.
D'ohboy commented on the expectations many of us have for John Carlson, forcing me to wonder, what should we be expecting from Captain America?
From what I've observed in watching him play, Carlson brings a strong, accurate shot from the point, while also delivering solid puck handling ability, speed, and finesse. He's no Anton Volchenkov, but his play in the defensive end looked quite strong for a 20 year old NHLer.
Some estimate based on his performance from last season, that we could see as many as 40 points from Carlson next season. If Carlson plays 75 games next season, I think a reasonable expectation would put him around 25 points. 30 points would be an exceptional season for him.
Lets use the amount and type of ice time Carlson was getting in the playoffs last year as an indicator of what he'll be getting next season. Looking at his TOI during the playoffs, Carlson was 2nd among Capitals defensemen in PK TOI (behind only Tom Poti) with 3:10 SH TOI/G. With Green and Ovechkin working the point on the primary power play unit, Carlson worked :31 PP TOI/G with a man advantage.
Considering that over the course of the 2009-10 season, the Caps had the best power play in the NHL by a wide margin, and the PP personnel look to be back for the '10-11 campaign, you would imagine the changes to the unit will be few. Based on Carlson's SH TOI in the playoffs, it seems likely we'll see Carlson getting regular work on the PK unit as well. The Caps PK unit was far better in the playoffs than during the regular season, and we have yet to see any elite penalty killers added this off-season.
At even strength, 10 rookie defensemen have tallied 20 or more points since the 1997-98 season. If Carlson performs at the average rate among this elite group, he will tally about 22 even strength points.
Looking over the data for rookie defensemen since the lockout, the guys putting up point totals in the mid to upper 20's are generally picking up 1/3 or more of their points on the power play.
I calculate our total powerplay time for 2009-10 at about 480 minutes. Green and Ovie worked the point on PP1 pretty much all season, with Green playing 380 minutes, and Ovi playing 364. I don’t see Carlson, as a rookie, taking significant time away from either of the point men on a power play that scored on 25% of their opportunities. Moreover, both Green and Ovie missed games with injuries and suspensions this season, had they both played a few more games, their PP TOI would likely be even higher.
For reference, the rookie defensemen who have put up 40 points in a season since the 1997-98 season (as far back as NHL.com has comprehensive data) are:
Dion Phaneuf – 49 Points – 33 PPP – 72% - 436 Mins of PP TOI as a rookie*
Matt Carle – 42 Points – 26 PPP – 62% - 354 Mins of PP TOI as a rookie*
Tyler Myers – 48 Points – 16 PPP – 33% - 244 Mins of PP TOI as a rookie
*led the NHL in rookie defensemen in PP TOI
Myers was 2nd in the NHL among rookie defensemen in PP TOI.
Clearly, putting up huge point totals as a rookie defenseman requires picking up points with a man advantage.
If we figure Carlson is likely to work 80 minutes on the PP unit (which might be a bit generous) based on the point production per minute of the three outstanding rookie defensemen above, we might expect Carlson to add about 6 points to his total.
So if he performs exceptionally well at even strength, stays healthy, and gets generous PP time, we could expect Carlson to produce about 28 points next season. That would be a great season for a top prospect defenseman, and would probably be an upgrade over Corvo in terms of offensive contribution. Over 30 points with less than 100 Mins of PP TOI should put him in the Calder conversation if he plays sound defensive hockey.
If we set the bar too high, we're sure to meet disappointment. When game 32 or 33 rolls around this season, and Carlson has "just" 10 points, keep in mind, that is actually a very impressive mark for a defenseman selected late in the First Round who isn't old enough to drink.