Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson’s start to the season has heads more than turning, it has them spinning. His start isn’t just amazing, it is downright historic and that’s not being hyperbolic.
The NHL all-star has accumulated 20 points (5 goals and 15 assists) in the month of October to lead the NHL in scoring. Let that set it. He isn’t just leading defensemen in scoring, he is leading the whole league. His next two closest pursuers, Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak, trail him by three points. The next closest defenseman is Nashville Predators’ Ryan Ellis who sits a full eight points back.
Carlson’s start isn’t just noteworthy for this season, it positions him to be compared to some of the biggest legends of the game. Let’s take a look at how his numbers stack up.
Carlson’s Start – By the Numbers
So, just how does Carlson’s start stack up? Pretty amazingly. First, he is only the fourth defenseman in NHL history to accumulate 20 points or more in the month of October. The company he keeps on that list is impressive, including Paul Coffey (1981 and 1988), Al MacInnis (1988), and Brian Leetch (1990). That isn’t even mentioning the fact that he still has three games left to finish up October. In other words, no one has done what he is doing in 29 years.
Before we start comparing Carlson’s start to such legendary names, let’s concede that we all know that some of those other players’ statistics are from different eras, that the game has changed a lot, and that Bobby Orr blazed the trail for every defenseman that came after him.
With that said, Carlson is on pace for a 149-point season. The NHL record for most points by a defenseman in one season was set by Orr in the 1970-71 campaign with 139 points when the Hall-of-Famer came second to Phil Esposito and his 152 points. That season, Orr played in 78 regular-season games and averaged 1.78 points a game. Carlson is currently averaging 1.82 points a game. (As a side note, Orr’s plus/minus in the 1970-71 season was an amazing plus-124 with the Bruins).
Is it a stretch to think that Carlson can maintain this pace? Probably. The NHL’s skill level is deeper and the scoring is down from its historic highs of the 1980s and 1990s. If Carlson is to break Orr’s mark, he would also likely have to stay healthy throughout the campaign. In addition, if he maintains this pace, teams will have to begin to adjust their schemes to account for him, which will ultimately lead to less opportunity.
Earliest Norris Contender Ever?
Closer to home, Carlson’s mark is also breaking Capitals’ franchise records. His march to 20 points is the fastest to the mark in team history, including names like Alex Ovechkin, Peter Bondra, Nicklas Backstrom and Dennis Maruk.
It’s no surprise then that his teammates have begun to hype his chances of winning the Norris Trophy this season for the NHL’s most valuable defenseman. Speaking to reporters after the team’s recent win in Calgary, Capitals’ captain Ovechkin sounded Carlson’s praises, “Johnny for Norris. That’s a hashtag right now.”
Ovechkin’s push for his teammate may be early, but it isn’t unrealistic. Since the 2017-18 season, Carlson is tied for the most points by a defenseman with San Jose’s Brent Burns with 158 points.
The numbers Carlson is putting up are impressive, but that’s not all he brings to the table. He is a leader in the dressing room, leads by example on the ice, and no one disputes that his play anchors the entire defensive core for the team.
If Carlson can even come close to maintaining this pace, it will be what people focus on, but his defensive skill and leadership are what underpins his worthiness for the Norris Trophy.
Carlson has speed, leadership, and, especially this season, a golden touch around the net. Will he also add the Norris Trophy to his resume? Time will tell, but the trip will be fun to watch.