Daniel Carcillo quickly is evolving into an all-around NHL player.
And while his powerful fists already are well-known around the league, opposing goalies and other NHL observers are starting to notice his hands can be soft, too.
Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky likens Carcillo (5-foot-11, 203 pounds) to a young Sean Avery and is predicting the 22-year-old forward from King City, Ontario, someday will become a 25-goal scorer every year in this league.
Captain Shane Doan
also believes that’s possible.
“He’s a lot better player than he gets credit for,” Doan said. “Everyone looks at his willingness to fight and all that, but he’s actually a very good player and someone we count on a lot to create offense for us.”
Carcillo was one of several rookies the Coyotes counted on to provide offense this past season, and beyond. But unlike first-year centers Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal
, Carcillo, a fearless brawler, also is expected to be the team’s agitator and enforcer.
Wanting to stick in the NHL, Carcillo takes that role seriously and has logged plenty of penalty minutes to prove it.
Two months into the season, Carcillo led the league in penalty minutes and was on pace to break the NHL’s season record set in 1974-75 by Dave Schultz of the Philadelphia Flyers, Carcillo’s favorite team as a kid.
“If I really wanted to, I could break that record, but that’s not the role I want to play,” Carcillo said. “I’m always going to get penalties and get in fights. Nowadays in this league, if you’re a middleweight you can find a fight in every game, if you really wanted to. And the style that I play, I could easily find a fight in every game. That will always be there, but I want to be the most complete player I can be and get points and put goals in the net.”
He would finish the season with 20 major penalties that helped him earn 324 penalty minutes in just 57 games played.
Carcillo plays with an edge and his on-ice fuse is short.
“Every team wants a player like him, but they’re hard to find,” Doan said.
The Coyotes found Carcillo languishing in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ minor-league system and acquired him a few hours before the trade deadline during the 2006-2007 season along with a third-round draft pick for enforcer Georges Laraque.
Carcillo was thrilled to leave Pittsburgh because the Penguins were loaded with other talented young forwards – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to name a few - and he felt he wasn’t going to get a chance to develop into an NHL player there any time soon. Meanwhile, Carcillo was ecstatic to learn he was traded to Phoenix, a team committed to rebuilding with young players instead of a team packed with veterans and few job openings.
“There’s no other team that I’d rather be with right now than Phoenix,” Carcillo said. “I see a bright future for this team with kids like Mueller and Hanzal, and Blake Wheeler and Kyle Turris coming up. I played with them last summer at our rookie camp and they’re all amazing for their age. I can see us being a very good team and contending for a championship down the road.”
Carcillo volunteered to play with the other prospects in the summer rookie camp. It was a decision that earned him points with Gretzky and his teammates.
And yet, Carcillo doesn’t seem to mind being left out of the conversation when the topic of discussion is the Coyotes’ full cupboard of young players. He knows Mueller, Hanzal, Wheeler and Turris all were first-round draft picks and that he was a third-round pick in 2003. He also knows there are no guarantees that he will stick in the NHL. He’s seen too many teammates come and go between the NHL and the minor leagues to become complacent.
Gretzky said he is OK with one of his players leading the league in penalty minutes. He only asks that the player doesn’t commit too many “dumb” penalties. There’s a fine line, Gretzky said, between being an aggressive hockey player and being a reckless hockey player and Carcillo, who was suspended multiple times while playing in the Ontario Hockey League for anger-inspired hits, still is learning that.
“I think he’s matured tremendously over the last six months,” Gretzky said. “He’s a good young kid and every now and then we’ve got to put the reins on him, but that’s the way he is and he’s always going to be that way. He’s an agitator. He’s one of the only guys that I’ve seen in professional hockey, or even minor hockey, that you never have to tell him to finish his check. He finishes his check almost to a fault. What we’re trying to do is teach him that sometimes finishing your check isn’t the right thing for him to do. It’s an ongoing process. He’s a challenge sometimes, but I really enjoy coaching him.”
Carcillo has heard Gretzky compare him to Avery, arguably the league’s least popular player among the players, and, frankly, Carcillo doesn’t see it.
“I chirp more at the refs than I do at the other players,” noted Carcillo, who lists Steve Thomas as the player he tries to emulate. “He’s a solid, all-around player. He’s got skill. He’s got grit. And he gets in there and mixes it up.”
Carcillo also has heard Gretzky’s prediction that he’ll consistently score 25 goals per year in the future.
“I think I can do that,” Carcillo said. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’m pretty hard on myself and I think I can reach that goal. (Scoring) 20 goals was my goal when I was working out last summer. But it’s hard to score goals in this league. I realize that now. I was a bit naïve coming in thinking it wasn’t going to be that tough, but it’s tough.”
Carcillo netted 29 goals in 68 games while playing for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL in 2002-03. He followed that with 30 goals in 61 games for Sarnia in 2003-04. In 52 games with Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League in 2006-2007, Carcillo lit the lamp 21 times.
This year, Carcillo pumped in 13 goals in 57 games so if you project that out over a full season of 82 games, he was pretty much on pace for his goal of 20 goals.
Carcillo gets upset at himself when he goes more than a few games in a row without scoring a goal for the Coyotes.
Losing a fight also irks him.
When asked which would mean more to him, scoring a goal in a game or winning a fight in the same game, Carcillo said: “Scoring goals is the most important thing to me.”
But then he paused, flashed a mischievous smile and added:
“But winning a fight is always nice, too.”