Connor Carrick is the often forgotten member of the Toronto Maple Leafs defence. Acquired around the 2016 trade deadline in an absolute steal of a deal that sent Daniel Winnik to Washington, Carrick’s play has sparked rigorous debate among the Leafs Nation in regards to his future role on the team. With a full NHL season under his belt, Carrick is looking to firmly establish himself as a capable NHL defender.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Connor Carrick
If Connor Carrick’s 2016-17 season could be portrayed as a fictional character, it would certainly be that of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There would be nights where Carrick would channel Mr Hyde, looking like a capable, top four NHL defenceman. He would connect on thundering checks, complete outlet passes with great vision, and look completely at ease handling play in his own end.
On other nights, however, Dr Jekyll would rear his ugly head. When that happened, Carrick would look lost at times, seemingly unable to keep up with the pace of the NHL game. Most visibly, there would be frequent occasions when Carrick seemed to forget the first lesson each and every minor hockey coach teaches young defenceman, that being, do NOT throw the puck up the middle of the ice. Yeah, Carrick did that a lot.
The advanced numbers from the 2016-17 season are kinder to Carrick than one would imagine. Surprisingly, he finished the season having the best CF/60 rating at even strength on the entire team. While those numbers paint a flattering picture, they are mainly due to situational circumstance.
Being a young defenceman, Carrick’s minutes were sheltered quite heavily. Playing the majority of the season with Jake Gardiner, who emerged as Toronto’s top defenceman, and frequently beginning his shifts in the offensive zone, Carrick was all but guaranteed to put up positive possession numbers. Furthermore, he was consistently on the ice with one of Toronto’s top two possession driving forward lines, perhaps inflating his possession numbers further.
Offensively, Carrick was one of the least productive players on the Leafs. Finishing the season as the 18th leading scorer on the team, he put up two goals and six assists for eight points, in 67 games. Carrick’s offensive production at even strength was also incredibly low, as he averaged 0.3 primary points per 60 minutes played.
Such a low rate of production served as a surprise for those who watched Carrick emerge as the Toronto Marlies top defenceman in the 2015-16 AHL playoffs and dominate offensively.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 191 lbs
NHL Entry Draft: Fifth round, 137th Overall in 2012 by Washington
Contract (via CapFriendly)
The Leafs re-signed Carrick to a two year, $1.5 million contract extension last summer. Getting a young defenseman with top-four potential for under a million dollars a year was a remarkably shrewd move. Carrick’s salary actually goes up this year, from $650,000 to $850,000, however his cap hit remains steady at $750,000.
With Carrick’s contract expiring at the end of this season, he is presented with a unique opportunity to earn a significant raise and a long term guarantee.
The 2017-18 season will undoubtedly be one of the most important of Connor Carrick’s career. Carrick showed flashes of top four potential last season, often creating an effective pairing with Jake Gardiner. However, it is imperative he takes that next step forward.
If he is able to prove that he can drive possession on his own, outside of his sheltered minutes, then he can establish himself as a valuable blue line piece.
Mike Babcock recently let slip that he will be pairing Gardiner with Zaitsev, leaving Carrick to be the anchor on the third pairing. If he proves up to that challenge and can show that he can drive a defensive pairing on his own accord, it would not be surprising if he earns a long term contract next summer.
Right now, Connor Carrick is in charge of his own future.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images