Devils Defensive Depth Improved with Carrick

Of the four trades that the New Jersey Devils made ahead of the NHL’s Trade Deadline only one brought back immediate help a.k.a. not a draft pick. While the trades of Brian Boyle (2019 2nd round pick), Marcus Johansson (2019 2nd round pick, 2020 4th round pick), and Keith Kinkaid (2022 5th round pick) brought back some assets that the Devils could us in the future, the trade of Ben Lovejoy to the Dallas Stars brought back 24-year-old defenseman Connor Carrick and a 2019 3rd round pick. 

A veteran of 181 career NHL games with Washington, Toronto, and Dallas before the trade to New Jersey, Carrick had just 34 career points before the trade and in his first game with his new club he immediately picked up two assists. The right-handed defender showed his puck-moving ability and that he can be an asset on the power play. “He’s playing good. He can move the puck and he can get his shot on the net,” said Devils’ defenseman Sami Vatanen. “I think he’s a good add on for this team.”

Carrick Feeling Comfortable

New Jersey beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in Carrick’s Devils debut and both were similar plays – deflectable shots from the point; the opening goal was Nathan Bastian’s NHL first goal. “I think in the past I’ve had an offensive flair to my game where I was able to be creative along the offensive blueline – simple, but effective. That’s something that I think with a group that’s so, from coach (John) Hynes down it seems like we’re a committed group to getting to the front of the net,” said Carrick. “He’s going to demand that. That makes every defenseman’s shot dangerous. You’re not going to beat a goaltender like Carey Price clean very often so you have to make things super ugly for him and that was evident on both goals (tonight).”

He also said that the coaching staff really made him feel comfortable right away, and he felt like he was a good fit with this group. “It was cool,” he replied when asked what it was like to have Hynes as his head coach during a game. “I’ve been super impressed with the level of detail and preparation from the coaching staff, and what they are demanding. I’m excited to be a part of it in the biggest and best way I can.”

Talbot Bastian Carrick Provorov Gudas
Connor Carrick digs for a loose puck in the Flyers’ crease. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

It’s not the easiest thing to join a new team when the season is already 3/4 of the way done as Carrick noted following the game on Feb. 25. “This time of year the NHL is such a different game, such a polished game compared to the beginning of the season. You have to have good team structure and guys have to be working, and willing their way to impact a play,” he said. “I thought we had 20 guys doing that tonight. It was difficult early, trying to establish a flow and some physicality. I thought from there it got more comfortable and the other four guys I was with on the ice, we did a good job competing as a unit of five.”

At 24 he’s already on his fourth team, and you only get so many cracks at staying in the league. Carrick has even compared it to being like a cat who has nine lives. So when The Hockey Writers asked if he was eager to prove himself to Devils management over the final month of the season the answer was without a doubt.

Hungry For a Chance

“I’m hungry,” confirmed Carrick. “I don’t want to belabor the past but I thought Toronto was a bit of a rocky ending, things had started off strong and the organization went in a little bit of a different way. Dallas started out really strong and I suffered the most demanding injury of my career. There were some trying times there the last little bit and I tried to stay positive and support the guys in that room the best I could. In hockey that’s the only way you can handle your business until you’re staring at another opportunity and then you have to do your best with that.”

Stars defenseman Connor Carrick
Connor Carrick only played 14 games with the Dallas Stars before being traded to New Jersey. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

“I’m thrilled to be here, super-hungry to showcase myself within the team concept. That’s what cool about coach Hynes, his message is ‘if you think you’re going to come in at this time of year and play selfish hockey on a tryout mentality there is going to be no reward for that.’ He’s very clear on what he expected out of, I thought every player in our lineup, and we were able to do that I think pretty well tonight. That it’s something we can build off of.”

The Devils are hoping they found a piece of the puzzle on their backend as they try to retool and reshape their roster after what has been a disappointing season. But it is one where a plethora of young players like Carrick are getting a chance to prove if they will be in competition for a roster spot at September’s training camp.