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Carlson is latest top pick from New Jersey

NHL.com @NHL

The common wisdom is that Michigan, Minnesota and Massachusetts are the hotbeds of hockey in the United States. Not so fast! New Jersey can now to be thrown into the mix.

When the Washington Capitals selected John Carlson at No. 27 in the 2008 Entry Draft, it marked the fourth-consecutive year a New Jersey-born or trained player was taken in the first round. Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks was chosen No. 2 in 2005, Bobby Sanguinetti was drafted No. 21 by the New York Rangers in 2006, and James vanRiemsdyk was taken No. 2 by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2007 Draft.

Ryan, Sanguinetti and vanRiemsdyk were born in New Jersey; Carlson was born in Natick, Mass., but played for the New Jersey Rockets in Bridgewater, after his family moved to nearby Colonia, N.J..

"I really just played for the New Jersey Rockets all my life," Carlson said. "Played junior there in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League."

With the Rockets he impressed coach Bob Thornton, who relied on him to shut down 20-year-old players when he was just 16.

"He was still a little bit of an unknown then, but that season he really broke onto the scene and put himself on the map," Thornton told the Courier News. "He came out of nowhere ... but he dominated the league that year. He was my anchor on defense, and he was competing with 20-year-olds."

Carlson played the last two seasons with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League. Last season, he led the club's defensemen with 12 goals and 31 assists, and was second among the league's defensemen with 43 points in 59 games.

Carlson thinks his time in Indiana will help him find his way to Washington, even though he experienced a culture shock when he moved to the Midwest.

"It was a great experience for me," Carlson told the newspaper. "It was the first time I ever moved away from home, which seemed hard at first, but I got used to it. I met a great group of guys on the team and met some of my best friends in school. (Indianapolis) is not your typical New Jersey town, but it was definitely a great learning experience."

Carlson had another great learning experience when he was named the alternate captain of the U.S. team for the 2008 World Under-18 Championship.

"John Carlson is a big, burly defenseman; he is a real good skater...He's a very self-assured kid and rightfully so — he's a boy, yet in a man's body and very physically strong.”

-- Jack Barzee of NHL Central Scouting

"I definitely think that the experience I had overseas was great," Carlson said. "It was a feeling unlike any other thing when you throw on the jersey with Team USA on the front. I've never gotten that before, and I've never experienced playing against European players or anything like that. It's a great experience for me overall."

While Carlson is more of an offensive defenseman, his favorite player growing up was Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils.

"He played a smart, mean type of game, but I like to play a little more offensively," Carlson said.

Unlike Stevens, Carlson plays the point during the Ice's power plays and has a booming shot that can easily elude opposing goalies. He's a solid skater with a 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame.

"John Carlson is a big, burly defenseman; he is a real good skater," said Jack Barzee of NHL Central Scouting. "He runs the power play from the top of the umbrella and he has a very heavy shot. He's a very self-assured kid and rightfully so — he's a boy, yet in a man's body and very physically strong."

Carlson's maturation process will continue with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. With Carlson and 2007 first-rounder Karl Alzner of the Western Hockey League's Calgary Hitmen, who won the Bill Hunter Trophy as the WHL's top defenseman, the Caps' future on the blue line looks good.

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