When the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors selected Trevor Carrick with the 85th pick in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection, both parties knew it was a pick not for the present but for the future.
As hosts of the 2011 Memorial Cup, Mississauga had acquired through trades and previous drafts a stable of veteran blueliners. Carrick, a raw, puck-moving defenseman, was assigned to the OJHL's Stouffville Spirit.
Two seasons later, Carrick and Mississauga are reaping the benefits of that decision.
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While Mississauga readied for the Memorial Cup -- they lost in the championship game to the Saint John Sea Dogs -- Carrick, a native of Stouffville, Ont., led his hometown team to the semifinals of the OJHL playoffs while earning league Rookie of the Year honors in the process. In 19 playoff games, Carrick was Stouffville's second-leading scorer, with two goals and 11 assists.
He then made an instant impact for Mississauga in 2011-12. The Majors -- to be known as the Mississauga Steelheads starting next season following an ownership change -- relied upon the 17-year-old early and often as injuries depleted the blue line, and by the end of the season Carrick was skating on the top duo with Stuart Percy, a Toronto Maple Leafs 2011 first-round pick.
"It served Trevor well to stay in Stouffville for that season," Mississauga coach James Boyd told NHL.com. "We've had success with defensemen starting in our league in Tier 2, easing them in. And I think his confidence, he really gained a lot of confidence playing on that team and it helped him make the jump to this league."
NHL Central Scouting affirmed Carrick's meteoric rise by listing him at No. 44 in its final ranking of North American prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft.
It wasn't always smooth sailing for Carrick -- "It was a little nerve-wracking at the start," he said -- and by Christmas, his plus/minus was hovering around minus-20. But a turnaround over the second half, helped by Percy's return from injury in early February, improved that rating to minus-5 for the season on a team that had a minus-18 goal differential.
"Percy was one of the guys who was injured -- two different times," Boyd said. "Trevor kind of played with everybody up until that point when Stuart came back and we were able to put them together. They were an excellent pairing.
"Down the stretch, I think he was night-in, night-out one of our best players."
Carrick said skating with Percy, widely considered one of the OHL's top players in 2011-12, did wonders for his development.
"Stu is a great defenseman and I couldn't really ask for a better defenseman to play with," Carrick said. "He taught me a lot, he made it easier for me to play, he slowed the game down and he was easy for me to find out there."
Scouts have Carrick following in Percy's footsteps, too, as one of the highest-ranked defensive-minded blueliners heading into the draft.
"It served Trevor well to stay in Stouffville for that season. We've had success with defensemen starting in our league in Tier 2, easing them in. And I think his confidence, he really gained a lot of confidence playing on that team and it helped him make the jump to this league.""
-- Mississauga coach James Boyd
"He’s a very reliable guy. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes … he's going to make a good first pass, get the puck out of the zone and go," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He'll be a very reliable guy who will eat up a lot of minutes for a team. He’s a stay-at-home type of guy whose plus/minus is probably going to be very good at the next level."
For all of his skill -- Carrick is an effective skater, makes crisp passes out of the zone and possesses a wicked point shot -- Edwards told NHL.com that his hockey IQ is what sets him apart.
"He's a very smart guy on the ice," Edwards said. "I think that's his biggest asset going forward."
Those hockey smarts were cultivated from a young age, as Carrick is one of four hockey-playing brothers -- including brother Sam, drafted in the fifth round by Toronto in 2010.
"I don’t think [sibling rivalry] puts much pressure on me," Carrick said. "It's definitely nice having a brother who's kind of going through the same things as me."
With many of Mississauga's blueliners -- Percy included -- moving on next season, Carrick will need to evolve into a leader for the Steelheads in 2012-13. Boyd welcomes the prospect.
"If Trevor continues -- from the time I first saw him play hockey, and I've had the chance for a few years now to watch him -- if he continues to get better every day like he has," Boyd said, "the sky's the limit for this player."