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Capitals' rookies ready for opening night

by Dan Rosen /

CHICAGO ­-- Washington Capitals rookie Connor Carrick scrounged up 10 tickets for friends and family to see him make his NHL debut against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at United Center.

"I don't think it's going to be enough," the 19-year-old defenseman said.

It probably won't be because Carrick is from nearby Orland Park, Ill., which is approximately a 30- to 35-minute drive from downtown Chicago. He used to attend games at United Center when he was a kid, and now he gets to play his first NHL game in the same building.

Capitals rookie center Michael Latta, 22, is doing the same thing, and 19-year-old right wing Tom Wilson is making his regular-season debut after appearing in three games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.

Carrick is playing ahead of Steve Oleksy, while Latta is in instead of Jay Beagle. Wilson is playing because the Capitals cleared a roster spot Sunday by trading Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks.

"I got to experience [my NHL debut] last season, and it was probably the best day of my life," Wilson told "Those guys [Latta and Carrick] are really excited, and it's definitely going to be really cool for all three of us to go through it tonight."

All three earned a spot in the opening-night lineup by playing well in training camp. Carrick, who was playing for the United States National Team Development Program when he was drafted in the fifth round (No. 137) of the 2012 NHL Draft, said he came to camp hoping to show the coaches he could be a good player in the American Hockey League.

He did a bit more than that.

"While the stakes are higher, I'm getting more comfortable with each day," Carrick said. "I'd say today was the most comfortable I felt on the ice, really. That's just because you learn the practices, the drills, the little things that fans and media sometimes can't experience. I'd say today was the most comfortable I felt even though I know how important it is."

Latta said he figured coach Adam Oates would go with Beagle rather than him in that spot because of the experience factor. Latta, who was acquired last season in a trade with the Nashville Predators, has been a full-time AHL player the past two seasons and was a longshot to make the team even last week.

Oates, though, likes what he sees in Latta because of the grit he plays with and his ability to play on the penalty kill, so he's getting a chance Tuesday to center the fourth line, between Wilson and Martin Erat.

"I just have to keep my emotions in check," Latta said. "This building, with the banner raising, emotions will be floating around, but I have to stay in my game, be solid, don't get scored on and hopefully chip one in. If I get some [penalty kill] time, I need to be solid. I need to play a hard game, be tough to play against."

Wilson said he has to do the same thing. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound forward was a first-round pick in 2012 (No. 16).

"Just go out there and play a steady game, stay on the positive side and just get the momentum through my physicality," Wilson said. "Just chip in and get momentum for the other lines and hopefully stay a plus."

Here is Washington's full lineup for opening night:

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Brooks Laich - Mikhail Grabovski - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Eric Fehr - Joel Ward

Martin Erat - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - Mike Green

John Erskine - John Carlson

Jack Hillen - Connor Carrick

Braden Holtby

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Steve Oleksy, Aaron Volpatti, Jay Beagle

Injured: none


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