It wasn’t long ago that Brett Carson took the ice as the new guy - the rookie among a group of veteran defensemen. In just a few short months, the opposite is true.
Due to trades and injuries, Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen are the only defensemen on the roster that have played more games with the Hurricanes this year than Carson’s 42. With those two players absent from Friday’s practice at the RecZone, Carson suddenly found himself in a strange position as the longest-tenured blueliner on the ice.
”It’s a little bit of a shock, but the guys we’ve got in here have played games before,” said Carson, referring to players like Brian Pothier who are older but much newer to the organization. “It’s a very different D corps than when I first came here.”
Carson’s seniority won’t last too long as Pitkanen is expected to play back-to-back games this weekend in Pittsburgh and at home against Buffalo. However, even being that close is something new for the 24-year-old, who played his just his sixth NHL game as recently as December.
“He’s a veteran guy,” said coach Paul Maurice with a slight grin. “He’s sitting at the back of the bus now.”
When Joe Corvo suffered a leg laceration on November 30 and faced 8-12 weeks on the sidelines, Carson entered the mix of players from Albany in line to replace him on the roster Bryan Rodney came up first and played a few games before being reassigned, with Carson not banking on a whole lot more than that when given his chance on December 7.
”When I came up they told me to pack for two weeks, and you don’t really know what to expect for the first little while there,” he said. “It’s an ‘Am I still going to be here tomorrow?’ kind of thing.”
Tomorrow came with no visit to the coaches’ office. Then, the next day and the one after that, until those worries finally faded away.
”Eventually you have to get rid of that mindset and tell yourself that you belong here and you’re going to stay,” said Carson. “That’s kind of what I did, and it’s worked out for the best.”
Carson hopes that confidence will continue to improve, even in the offensive end. The stay-at-home defenseman, who has never scored more than 11 goals in a season dating back to his first days major junior, tied Thursday’s game against Washington with a rocket from the right point that harkened back to the days of Anton Babchuk.
“It set right into the wheelhouse and I just leaned into it,” said Carson. “It’s nice for those to go in, and I’m going to try to get some confidence on that and shoot a few more pucks.”
The Canes will also need him to use more of his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame. With Gleason out and a more finesse-oriented Rodney set to replace the injured Alexandre Picard for at least a week, the team will need to balance out the sudden influx of puck-movers that includes the talented Jamie McBain.
”You’ve got to concentrate on being in good position when pucks are dumped in so you can use that asset and move the puck quickly,” said Maurice of the defense’s new overall dynamic. “The downside is that we’re not nearly as physical on back end as we would be with a guy like Timmy in.”
Maurice noted that Carson contributed in that area against the Capitals, which helped the Canes earn the victory over their division rivals. More of that could still help him improve as a player, even though he long ago cemented a spot on this year’s team and probably on next year’s as well.
However, from his experiences as an American Hockey League player and those nervous days earlier in the season, he knows not to get too ahead of himself.“I just play my game,” he said. “That’s all you can do and that’s all you can control.”