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Carlson lets play speak for itself during fast start with Capitals

Defenseman leads League in scoring, is third ever at his position with 18 points first 10 games

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- John Carlson's fast start has him being mentioned in the company of some of the best defensemen to play the game.

The Washington Capitals defenseman isn't the kind to bring up his own name in such conversations, but he's done plenty of talking with his play over the first 10 games.

Carlson leads the League with 18 points and 15 assists after assisting on Alex Ovechkin's goal in a 5-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. The 29-year-old is the third defenseman in the NHL to get as many as 18 points in his team's first 10 games, and the first to do it in 31 years, following Bobby Orr, who had 18 points in the first 10 games with the Boston Bruins in 1969-70 and 1973-74, and Paul Coffey, who had 20 points in the first 10 with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1988-89.

Although Carlson acknowledges that being in the company of Hockey Hall of Famers such as Orr and Coffey is "pretty cool," he downplays his early season production.

"For a defenseman, I just think there's so much luck involved," Carlson said. "I think I'm making good plays, don't get me wrong. I'm not just dumping the puck in, although I did have one or two of those as well. But chances happen, chances get created and sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't. They seem to be going in right now, which is nice, so I'll just keep working the same way."

With the Capitals encouraging their defensemen to be more active in the offensive zone, Carlson has points in seven straight games (15 points; three goals, 12 assists) to match his NHL career-high point streak from Dec. 10-21, 2015. He has four games remaining this month, beginning against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; SNF, NBCSWA, NHL.TV), to become the fourth defenseman in the League to get at least 20 points in October.

He'd join Coffey (20 points in 13 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 1981 and 21 in 11 games with Pittsburgh in 1988), Al MacInnis (25 points in 13 games with the Calgary Flames in 1990) and Brian Leetch (21 points in 14 games with the New York Rangers in 1990).

Video: TOR@WSH: Carlson pots PPG on two-man advantage

Prior to Carlson, the last two defensemen to lead the NHL in points after his team played at least 10 games were Leetch with the Rangers in 1991-92 (16 points in 12 games) and MacInnis with the Flames in 1990-91 (27 points in 14 games), according to NHL Stats. Each held the lead for one day.

Orr is the lone defenseman to lead the NHL in points after the full season with 120 in 1969-70 and 135 in 1974-75.

"For me, he's a future Norris [Trophy] winner," said Michal Kempny, Carlson's defense partner. "He's a great guy, great teammate, obviously great defenseman. He's unreal. He's hot right now, and he's feeling it."

The Norris Trophy is voted for the top defenseman in the NHL each season, and consideration has been coming slowly for Carlson. He was fourth in the voting last season after he finished fourth among defensemen with an NHL career-high 70 points (13 goals, 57 assists). Carlson was fifth in the Norris voting in 2017-18 after he led defensemen with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists).

The only other time in Carlson's 11 NHL seasons that he received Norris votes was in 2014-15, when he finished 10th.

But Carlson has been getting more attention since he helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 2018, when he had a career-high 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 24 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Last season, he made his first appearance in the NHL All-Star Game and was voted to the NHL Second All-Star Team, his first time as a first- or second-team all-star.

"Honestly, he's been like this for years," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "It's just that media hasn't recognized that, and I think it's just unfortunate. But at the same time, he gets a lot of credit in the locker room."

Washington's first-round pick (No. 27) in the 2008 NHL Draft, Carlson is fourth among defensemen in Capitals history with 421 points (93 goals, 328 assists) in 698 regular-season games. He's closing in on Kevin Hatcher (426 points) and Scott Stevens (429) for third and second, respectively, and could pass Calle Johansson (474) as the Capitals all-time leader among defensemen by season's end.

Larry Murphy's single-season Capitals record for points by a defenseman of 81 from 1986-87 could also be in jeopardy.

Carlson has three three-point games and three two-point games this season. His six multi-point games in the first 10 tie for the most by a defensemen in League history, according to NHL Stats, putting him in a group with Orr (1968-70, 1971-72, 1973-74), Brad Park (1972-73), Denis Potvin (1978-79), Borje Salming (1980-81), Coffey (1988-89), MacInnis (1984-85) and Eric Desjardins (2005-06).

But Carlson's importance extends beyond point production. He plays in all situations -- against top lines 5-on-5, power play and penalty kill -- and is fourth in the NHL in averaging 25:52 in ice time per game.

Carlson has also grown into the one of the Capitals' leaders and was named to replace the retired Brooks Orpik as an alternate captain before this season. That responsibility has included mentoring young defensemen such as 22-year-old Jonas Siegenthaler, who played with Carlson in the Capitals top pair while Kempny missed the first eight games with a torn hamstring.

"My big thing is getting people as comfortable and confident as possible and not really necessarily teaching players, that's not our jobs, but to show players the way and set examples on and off the ice," Carlson said.

The Capitals had all of this in mind when they convinced Carlson to pass on an opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent by signing him to an eight-year, $64 million contract on June 24, 2018. He's more than lived up to that contract so far.

"This is just the next level of his maturity process," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. "I've been fortunate enough to see it first hand for the last five and now six years the growth of him of him as not just a player on the ice but a person, a dad. And the contract that he's earned and how it hasn't affected his play, it's only actually helped his play, is a strong compliment about him."

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