Carlson primed for OHL debut

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

John Carlson will play his first OHL game Friday.

To date, he has already been a first-round NHL draft pick, attended his first Washington Capitals training camp, picked up assists in two preseason games and fulfilled a dream by playing in his original hometown of Boston against his beloved Bruins.

If the big defenceman is in awe when the visiting Saginaw Spirit show up at the John Labatt Centre, it will be a surprise.

"I'm looking forward to playing -- this is why I came here," said the 18-year-old, picked in the second round of the OHL draft from the U.S. Hockey League's Indiana Ice. "I learned a lot at (Caps') camp. I'm ready to help any way I can. I watched the team. It's a good one. We have the goaltending. We have great captains leading the way. But it just can't be them . . . we can use some more leadership and hopefully I can provide it."

The Knights are counting on it. London has a couple of smaller veteran defenceman and some younger, big ones.

Carlson, a U.S. world junior team candidate, should bridge the gap. He's on a high after playing in Beantown on Saturday in front of a big group of family and friends.

"Before we moved to (Colonia) New Jersey when I was about six, our family lived in Boston," the six-foot-three, 210-pounder said. "My dad (Dick) loved hockey and he loved the Bruins. It was kind of the end with Ray Bourque there. You know when you're in kindergarten and everyone is asked what they want to be when you grow up? . . . for me, it was always a hockey player."

Washington was impressed with his conditioning. Against Carolina, he appeared on power play. In Boston, he played significant minutes.

"I was more comfortable in Carolina just because in Boston, there were a lot of people watching me and I had dreamed of playing there for a long time. It was a great experience and now that I'm back, I can't wait to play here."

He roomed with fellow Knight Justin Taylor at Washington's camp. That was a bonus.

"You never really want to room with someone you don't know because it kind of puts you on edge," Carlson said. "With Justin, it was more relaxed. I could tell him anything. He's a great teammate and that really helped a lot."

Before he went to Washington, he asked ex-Caps forward and Knights head coach Dale Hunter what to expect.

"He gave me good advice. He told me no matter what happens, if I had a bad day, just forget about it, get up the next morning and do the best you can."

A lot of Alexander Ovechkin's best moves can make a young defenceman have doubts, but Carlson didn't encounter that much.

"I lucked out because I didn't have to match up with him on one-on-ones very much. He's ridiculous."

Already committed to the University of Massachusetts, a lot of OHL teams figured the Hunters were taking a major flyer on drafting him in the second round in May.

But right before their pick, GM Mark Hunter, Dale Hunter and co-owner Basil McRae huddled and agreed it would be a coup to get Carlson.

"We look at John as a player who is going to be capable of logging 30 minutes a game for us," said assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "But it's going to take some time and he has to get used to the major junior level. He just played with NHL players who know where they have to be and what their responsibilities are, so there's going to be an adjustment period for him. We're excited about what he's going to bring to the table."

Carlson had 11 goals and more than 40 points last year, so he could help on the power play. The only players still missing from the roster are Akim Aliu (Chicago's camp) and Phil McRae (mono).


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