That name in the headline, Adam Carlson, may ring a bell to you. The Washington Capitals signed him direct out of his freshman year at Mercyhurst (Atlantic Hockey) to a two-year entry-level contract in late March. He immediately reported to the Hershey Bears on an Amateur Tryout.
Why did they do it? Why did the Capitals sign an unproven freshman out of a college whose only top-quality competition came against Michigan, games Carlson didn’t even play? There are a few theories to his signing; allow me to exam them.
“DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH”
This is a term tossed around a lot with players who do not fit what is deemed “the mold” for players. For Carlson, a 6′ 3″ goalie in a sport where goalies keep getting bigger, this more refers to where he comes from. Mercyhurst is, to put it nicely, not part of the college hockey powerhouses.
In fact, over the last 23 seasons under head coach Rich Gotkin, the Lakers only made it to the NCAA Tournament three times (2001, 2003, 2005), corresponding to their only three Atlantic Hockey conference championships. Out of the entire roster from this season, only Anthony Mastrodicasa and Mychal Monteith signed professional deals… for the Rapid City Rush and Evansville IceMen of the ECHL. Carlson is the first goalie and first freshman in the program’s HISTORY to sign an NHL deal.
Carlson was not the regular starter for the Lakers. He played in 17 games with a 7-7-3 record, 2.85 goals against average, and .919 save percentage. What made him the target for Washington?
One answer is that nobody else is looking at Mercyhurst to provide an NHL player. The Lakers are often overlooked as a program, making them an opprotune target to recruit someone. He may be a stud at the professional level, and the Caps got him first with top notch recruiting.
GOOD OLD-FASHIONED DEPTH
With Dan Ellis at 35 and Justin Peters at 29, both on expiring contracts, the Capitals needed someone young to turn to after this season. With Vitek Vanecek turning heads in South Carolina, he is likely to be promoted at the end of this season (it helps that he won in his AHL debut with a depleted offense in front of him in the final game of the season).
Carlson offers the club options at the goalie position. He can be part of the South Carolina Stingrays, the Bears, or, if he’s REALLY good and we just don’t know it yet, the Caps. As of next season, Washington only has Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer (RFA at year’s end), Vanecek, and Carlson under contract.
Then there’s my favorite angle…
THE ILYA SAMSONOV QUESTION
Washington drafted Ilya Samsonov in the first round in 2015. He currently plays for his hometown team, and recently crowned Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) Gragarin Cup Champions, Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Samsonov is 19-years-old with World Junior experience for mother Russia and a few years left to play out on his contract in Magnitogorsk.
He can go the Evgeny Kuznetsov route and keep Washington in limbo by signing an extension before coming over, or try to make the jump to North America once his contract expires. Either way, he will need time to adjust to the North American game, and this is where Carlson comes in.
Having someone, especially a goalie, on the roster who can ease the transition from European rinks to North American rinks is crucial. Mark Dekanich served that role in South Carolina with the rookie Vanecek.
No matter the actual reason, Carlson has a hefty task ahead of him when he reports for development/rookie camp later this summer: prove his worth. His last game action came March 11 against RIT. He’s sat on the bench as a backup in one AHL game and seven ECHL playoff games. Carlson has two years before this two-way contract is up.