Sam Carrick scored his first NHL goal on March 26 against Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers. It could have come earlier than that. Just three days earlier against the Minnesota Wild, Carrick had what would have been his first goal tapped in by Jake Gardiner
Needless to say, Gardiner took the necessary ribbing for taking a rookie's first goal. Luckily — to channel Rasheed Wallace — puck don't lie. A beautiful play by Morgan Rielly set Carrick up for a tap-in of his own to open his NHL goal-scoring account in his 14th game.
While that night marked a personal milestone for Carrick, it also represented further progress in his play. He set career highs in minutes (11:30), shifts (15) and the Leafs outchanced the Panthers with him on the ice. His performance as a whole was another step towards establishing himself as a full-time NHLer.
Carrick took his 16 games of experience back down to the AHL and was a crucial piece for the Toronto Marlies down the stretch. His play helped the team to a seven-game win streak to close out the season. He was also one of the Marlies' most consistent performers in their quarterfinal against Grand Rapids.
With a roster conceivably in flux, the Leafs will have jobs available in training camp next season. The key for Carrick will be turning his experience into momentum.
"They gave me a great opportunity, playing a handful of games up there," said Carrick. "I gained a lot of experience and I think have a better idea of what type of summer I have to have to go up and have a good year next year."
The opportunity to be with the big club was an eye-opener for Carrick. Coaches often cite consistency as the biggest difference between rookies and veterans in the League. That's the focus for his game moving forward.
"Just what it takes to get there and stay there. I think they gave me the opportunity to showcase where I've come in the last couple of years," said Carrick. "The biggest thing for me is being able to stay there. Be consistent every night and be the type of player coaches know what they're going to get out of every night."
Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan noted "the attitude and the way we play" as a focus for improvement next season. The club wants players with a good work rate who are enthusiastic about wearing the Maple Leafs crest.
If you're looking for players who fit the bill in the organization, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option than Carrick. The Markham, Ont., native is an aggressive player in each zone and causes headaches for the opposition. His approach is reminiscent of many past fan favourites to play in this city and his approach has made him a coach's favourite since his days in junior. That has carried through as a player who usually draws the toughest assignments and sports a letter on his sweater.
The key for Carrick moving forward is bringing it at an NHL level every night. With a good summer of work, he could be a regular face at Air Canada Centre by the fall.
"Playing the 16 games I feel I am close," said Carrick. "I just need to work on being consistent and being that player coaches can rely on that they know they're going to get 100 per cent effort every night."