December 1st, 2013
TORONTO– With a depleted roster up the middle, the Toronto Marlies have turned to prospect Sam Carrick for added offence.
The 21-year-old, who was pegged at the beginning of the season as a bottom-six centreman by head coach Steve Spott, has been moved up to the top line because of call-ups and injuries and he hasn’t disappointed so far in his expanded role.
“He’s a hockey player, no other way to describe it,” said Spott. “I’ll tell you what. People have asked me who has been the most pleasant surprise. I know what guys like John-Michael Liles and Korbinian Holzer can bring, it’s been Sam Carrick.”
In his past two games, with regular number-one Greg McKegg out of the lineup nursing an upper-body injury, Carrick has produced two goals and four points, including a shorthanded goal Saturday in a 3-2 win against the Rochester Americans.
On top of taking on number-one centre duties, the Stouffville, Ont. native has added the power play to his resume while still being part of the penalty kill.
“I want to be a reliable, two-way centreman, someone they can put out in any situation,” said Carrick. “I think I have enough to offer to be a guy to put out at the end of a game whether we’re up or down a goal.”
Last season as a rookie, Carrick felt the struggle of the NHL lockout and a Marlies roster which included loads of veterans. In total, he dressed in only 19 games with Toronto and spent most of the season in the ECHL playing for Idaho. With the Steelheads, Carrick showed he had offensive abilities by recording 16 goals and 37 points in 50 games. While being shipped down south could have been discouraging, Carrick found many positives with the situation after four years of junior.
“It was great, just kind of ease into pro hockey,” said Carrick. “Coming out of junior you’re living in billets so it was good for me to move there. The league was a lot better than I expected it to be and I developed my game a lot more.”
Carrick is taking advantage of the added ice time and chance to play with higher skilled wingers, but he understands that he is still in the early stages of developing into a pro hockey player and needs to continue working on other components of his game. One skill he’s looking to improve on is face-offs, which he feels is a priority whether he’s on the top line or back on the fourth where he started the season. Against Rochester he matched up many times against former Marlie Mike Zigomanis and finished the game winning less than 50 per cent of the draws against the veteran in both the offensive and defensive zones.
“It’s basically a one-on-one battle and they’re a huge part of the game,” said Carrick. “You’re either starting with the puck or starting on the back check.
“That’s what it’s all about. You look at games and the teams that are winning are winning face-offs.”
Andrew Crescenzi joined Carrick as the only two regular centres in Toronto’s lineup against the Americans. Spott used wingers Tyler Biggs and Kory Nagy to fill in the other two lines and turned to Josh Leivo on the second-unit power play.
The head coach told reporters post game that McKegg will be sidelined a couple weeks and Kenny Ryan is out at least seven days after taking a puck in the groin at practice. Trevor Smith and Jerred Smithson, who were expected to play with the Marlies, are currently up with the Maple Leafs.
Carrick, six-foot and 207-pounds, has led all Marlies in shots on goal in his past two outings and was out to kill a Rochester power play in the third period with a one-goal lead. Moving forward he will be the guy Spott relies on up the middle until McKegg is healthy enough to return or Smith is sent back, which currently has no timetable.
“I think the ultimate trust factor is when we’re killing a penalty late in the game and the coach puts you out on the ice. That’s what speaks for me,” said Spott. “It’ll be hard to move him down the lineup when players come back.”