Sometimes, maturity is the best thing that can happen to a player to allow him to grow and improve his game. If it is the case this year for Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Connor Carrick, he could become the strongest candidate to be this season’s breakout performer on the roster.
Since joining the Leafs via trade during the 2015-16 season, Carrick has been restricted to a marginal role on the team’s blue line, but he has finally told TSN's Kristen Shilton that he is ready to reclaim his role on the back end in Toronto. Last year, Carrick was often a healthy scratch and played in only 47 games this past season, often sitting out in favour of Roman Polak. The departure of Polak this offseason leaves a vacancy on the Leafs third defensive pair and Carrick is ready to fight for the spot.
The 24-year-old also knows why he might have failed last season...
“Jealousy is a difficult thing to chew on,” Carrick said after an on-ice session at MasterCard Centre on Tuesday. “[The] treat in hockey is playing time and a personal role and being closely involved in the team’s success. I didn’t get to do a lot of that. So you go home, get set, refresh and you re-grow that love of the game.”
The Leafs signed Carrick to a one-year, $1.3 million contract extension in June: the young defender just needs to prove he is worth every penny. Carrick had four goals and eight assists in 47 games last season, the highest point total in his NHL career, but he is looking for more.
Back in March, head coach Mike Babcock saidthat “no one works harder at trying to get better every day” than Carrick, though he did admit he did not trust him killing penalties. However, Carrick seems up for any challenge for the 2018-19 season.
“You want to play on a great team,” Carrick said. “And we have a chance to do that here. And you want room to grow your own personal role. As an individual and a team, as far as that goes, there’s nowhere I’d rather be [than Toronto].”
Potential suitors such as Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov and Andreas Borgman may challenge for the same roster spot in training camp, but a mature Carrick seems ready for some healthy competition.