From the time that John Carlson moved from Natick, Mass. to Woodbridge Township, NJ as a pre-teen there was no doubting that he was going to be a special hockey player. Shortly after the move Carlson joined the New Jersey Rockets youth hockey team, a premier youth team which traveled across the United States and Canada on the AAA hockey circuit. The circuit is known as a breeding ground for future college and professional hockey players.
At the age of 15 Carlson was rewarded for his obvious skating ability, calm demeanor on the puck and defensive prowess with a spot on the New Jersey Rockets Tier III Junior A Hockey Team which at the time played in the well regarded Atlantic Junior Hockey League. This opportunity was no small feat for Carlson as he was playing against mostly 18, 19 and 20-year-olds on a full time basis which would overwhelm most people.
Of course the youngster was not overwhelmed as he was great during his first year of junior hockey. In this season he played in 38 games and compiled 12 points which started to draw the eye of professional scouts. These eyes were stretched wide open when Carlson compiled 12 goals and 38 assists in the AJHL as a 16-year-old to rank first amongst all players on the Rockets and first amongst all defensemen in the league.
Suffice to say Carlson found playing in the AJHL to not be much of a challenge, and when the Indiana Ice of the USHL gave him a chance to shine during the 2007-08 season he embraced it with open arms. During that season he became the top defenseman for the Ice, playing in 59 games and picking up 43 points for the team that would fall in the league semifinals.
To be doing this at the age of 17 was no small feat for Carlson as nearly every player in the USHL goes on to play college hockey, and the league boasts Brian Rafalski, Paul Stastny and Joe Pavelski amongst its alumni. Performing exceptionally in this league gained Carlson the No. 1 ranking amongst USHL players on the midterm NHL Central Scouting Rankings during the 2007-08 season and ultimately led to the Washington Capitals selecting him No. 27 overall in the 2008 NHL Draft.
Instead of sticking around the USHL for another season after being drafted, Carlson decided to once again move only this time to the highly competitive and professional-like Ontario Hockey League. During the 2008-09 season he played with the London Knights, picking up an astounding 76 points in 59 games and showing a legitimate ability to perform as a a puck-moving defenseman at the NHL level sooner rather than later.
That opportunity ultimately came very soon as at the end of the Knights’ playoff run Carlson joined up with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. During the Bears’ playoff run the youngster played in 13 games and showed that he could not only perform at the AHL level but very well could have been ready for the NHL already.
During the early stages of the 2009-10 season Carlson was stuck back in Hershey to develop, and at this point he received his first chance with the U.S. Hockey program. This came in the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships when Carlson was named the U.S. assistant captain, a great honor for any player. Carlson responded in a great manner, picking up seven points in seven games and scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of the championship game against Canada which earned him the nickname Captain America.
Shortly after returning from the tournament in early January, Carlson became a mainstay in Washington and he has never looked back. Since the beginning of the 2010-11 season the defender has not missed a single game for the Capitals, picking up 114 points and a +24 plus/minus in 268 games along the way. These statistics have been indicative of the fact that Carlson is not only a viable top four defensive option for any team but a future Norris Trophy candidate.
Still, some people have and will continue to doubt whether Carlson deserved to be named to the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, and there is no doubting he will prove them wrong. After all, the man known as Captain America has never before been stopped by high expectations, so it would be hard to bet against him now.