April 22 2014 08:38PM
After Sam Carrick scored the game winning goal in last weekend's regular-season finale, he seemed more than happy about his frame of mind. "It feels good to have some confidence going into the playoffs". He'd go on to talk about the team effort, but it got me thinking about his play of late.
I'll be the first to admit that when the Toronto Marlies opened up their season in October, I didn't have him pegged as a significant part of the roster. With just four points in ninteen games last year and not a whole lot else to back it up, it was hard to drum up that much enthusiasm for the 21 year-old.
Even the start of this year was similar. It took him a month to earn his second point and first goal. He was contributing a bit defensively and showed signs of an edge, but it wasn't enough to jump out at you. But after an early sputter, Carrick has developed into one of the team's most versatile and effective forwards down the stretch.
As you can see in this crudely made Microsoft Excel chart, that's a quiet start met with a big end. But how does his play actually stack up? Here's what I've got with the limited stats the AHL provides.
Two of Carrick's assets are his ability to cause commotion in the offensive zone, and with the opposition. Without going full #gritchart, I just wanted to point out that in no way did he sacrifice one element to encourage the other at any point this year. The overlap between his shots on goal (the best available statistical implication of offensive control) and penalty minutes (same thing for the pesty, grindy type of stuff) is crazy. Not to say the ideal ratio of the two is 1:1, but more important is the consistency of the gap than the actual size of it. This is a guy who, while he's made his game more effective, has done so by getting better at it, rather than changing it.
Carrick finished tied for second on the Marlies in shots, and tied for third in penalty minutes.
I'm not a huge plus minus fan, but that and "he plays on the penalty kill and this is how his team's PK is doing" are the two strongest metrics in the league. Carrick's plus minus takes a slow crawl up; unsurprising on a team with good save percentages and decent shooting, but still proof that he's not a liability. Carrick's +17 rating lead all forwards in the stat and trailed only Petter Granberg for the team lead.
The above is a 10-game rolling average of Carrick's points-per-game, and shows a few things about his season.
- As mentioned before, he wasn't doing much to start. Game #10 is even boosted by being a two point night.
- Carrick has spent significant time this season as a ~0.6pts/game (45 points over 76 games) player. That's a very respectable number compared to what we saw out of him last season, and looks a lot like what we saw out of Jerry D'Amigo last year at the same age.
- There was a bit of a dip as he recovered from his mid-season shoulder injury, But the last few games has really made up for it.
When you see an big spike like that, you wonder if a player is just having puck luck. So I took a look at his shooting percentage throughout the season.
It would be silly to say he hasn't had it recently, as he made some very late gains, but I don't think its a severe enough level to matter too much. His end-of-season SH% is still under 10, which seems low given the chances. His stick probably won't stay this hot, but I doubt we see him in the sub-6.5% mark at this point next year either.
One of the things that Carrick is giving credit to for his success? His linemates. "It's great playing with them, even with Leivo on the left wing. He's a righty, but he's done a great job. Kegger, we all know what he can do. We've had some good chemistry together, and hopefully they keep us together."
Doing so takes him out of his natural position of centre, but the alternative at this point might be sitting out. At one point this year, injuries to both the Leafs and Marlies made him the top line pivot at this level, but with the Leafs out and many players recovered, the room just isn't there. Being able to play on the Right Wing has given him staying power. If the opportunity were to arise again, however, Carrick is likely the go-to choice to fill in for just about any injury replacement, with the tool set and current performance to play a top or bottom six role.
Possibly his biggest setback this season was a shoulder injury that pulled him out for several weeks and thirteen of his fifteen missed games. At one point, he came back into the lineup, only to play for a shift or two before heading off again for two weeks. "It did take a while, it was kind of frustrating, but it's 100% now and I've got no issues with it. You really take it for granted when you're not injured. It feels good."
As Sam went on to explain, there was a silver lining to missing the time that he did. "It's always good to sit back and watch the games from up top, even though you want to be playing every night. It helped me focus on what I needed to do out there, and when I did come back, I was more than ready and more than hungry to continue my season."
Head coach Steve Spott had some high praise for him after Saturday's game. "Sam Carrick is one of those guys that when you talk about the identity of our hockey club, he's one of the guys... he embodies everything we believe in this team." When you consider Spott's affinity for "character" play, it's no surprise that he feels that way.
I don't see Carrick as a guy that will ever be in your NHL top six, but if his play this year is any indication, he'll be a guy to look out for in a bottom six at some point. He's becoming more effective offensively, stays involved with the play, is defensively responsible, and irritates the opposition. Combine that with his ability to get under his opponents' skin and his willingness to drop the gloves (nine fights this year, his highest at any major level and third on the team), and I have no doubt he'll be on someone's radar.
He's all about the radar talk too. But for now, it's about his team, not himself. "I think a lot of teams didn't really predict us to make the playoffs, but we turned a lot of heads this year. Now that we've won the division, nobody is going to be surprised any more, so we have to answer the bell."
Check back here on Thursday for your Marlies/Admirals Round 1 Preview.
Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com