Pronger. Timonen. Coburn. Carle? C’mon.
Normally we wouldn’t get all gushy about a guy who storms out to the early-season points lead among defensemen (after all, Paul Mara is tied for second), but Philadelphia blueliner Matt Carle represents an interesting case.
With one goal and six points through three games, Carle is off to a blazing start. This after he spent last season trying to memorize new zip codes after being dealt from San Jose to Tampa to Philly.
Carle, a 2003 second-rounder and the 2006 Hobey Baker winner, showed a ton of potential in the infant stages of his NHL career. He joined the Sharks from the University of Denver for 12 games at the end of the 2005-06 season and asserted himself well in 11 playoff games that spring.
He landed on the 2007 All-Rookie Team after a solid freshman campaign that saw him pop a promising 42 points in 77 games.
Then things came a bit unglued. An injury-shortened 2007-08 campaign preceded Carle being packaged up in the deal that brought Dan Boyle to San Jose from Tampa in July of 2008.
Twelve games and two points into his career as a Bolt, Carle was on his way to Pennsylvania in exchange for Steves Eminger and Downie.
Carle’s turnaround actually began last season, when he really straightened out his play with the Flyers. Now, a guy who just turned 25 in September, is showing vibrant signs of jumping from steady to productive.
What a boon his mobile game would be to an increasingly scary ‘D’ crew in Philly. Carle is averaging just more than 22 minutes of ice time per game, slightly behind Chris Pronger, Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen, but significantly more than the third pairing of Ryan Parent and Danny Syvret.
Even that last duo, to me, has some distinct potential. Parent was taken 18th overall in 2005 and though he’s never going to fill the net, his game has legitimate shutdown capabilities. Syvret has been trying to prove himself worthy of the NHL for several American League seasons and from what I’ve seen of him in the minors, he can fill the role of sixth defenseman more swiftly than most. He’s no bruiser, but any team with Pronger on its roster has to figure it already has that aspect of the game taken care of.
As for Carle, even assuming his fast start – one that includes a four-assist game versus the Caps – is a bit of an aberration, he’s clearly staking his claim to a prime spot among one of the very best defense corps in the league.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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