The Blue Jackets have taken a patient approach as they wait for Gabriel Carlsson, their former first round pick, to develop into a steady NHL defenseman.
The 6-foot-5, 192 lb. left-handed defenseman played just 9:21 in one game for the Blue Jackets – the season-opening 3-2 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 4. He was then demoted to AHL Cleveland, and hasn't played a game in the NHL since that date.
The Blue Jackets have been fortunate to have a relative healthy blue line this season, which has hurt Carlsson's chances of returning to the NHL. The big club likes to have seven defensemen on its 23-man roster, and Carlsson has been the odd man out in favor of Dean Kukan. Kukan, who has played 10 NHL games this season, leads all Blue Jackets defensemen in CF%, which calculates what percentage of all shots come from his team's stick, as opposed to the opposition (Seth Jones ranks second, for what it's worth).
The 29th overall draft choice in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Carlsson has been just okay in Cleveland this year. In 40 AHL games, Carlsson has posted 1-8-9 with 12 penalty minutes and a -5 rating. Never confused for being an offensive defenseman, he's set a career high in game played, assists, and points, but it still leaves one wanting more.
Scott Harrington, who has been so-so in Columbus this year, also hurts Carlsson's chances of making the leap. He requires waivers to be demoted to the AHL, and it's likely some NHL team would take a flier on the 25-year-old defenseman. Worth noting: Harrington will be a restricted free agent after this summer, meaning the Blue Jackets will likely be able to retain him, should they wish.
Even Adam Clendening, who leads all Cleveland defensemen with 24 points in 26 games, was called up for four games after Carlsson's one-game experiment concluded.
Moving forward, the path to the NHL will only get harder. As Markus Nutivaara, Ryan Murray, and David Savard are established NHL defensemen who are part of the Blue Jackets future, to say nothing of Zach Werenski, there simply aren't many open spots.
Then factor in the impending arrival of Russian import Vladislav Gavrikov, who's said to be NHL ready right now. That's another defensemen that would seemingly be in Carlsson's way in the 2019-20 season.
It's easy to forget that Carlsson just recently turned 22 years old, still young by NHL defenseman standards. He still has time to become an NHL regular and is still considered a decent prospect; he was even ranked 11th in the organization by Corey Pronman this August.
But the truth of the matter is that if Carlsson's play was too good to ignore, he'd be wearing a Blue Jackets sweater. He simply hasn't done enough to push his way into the conversation. Kukan's steady play and Harrington's waiver-requirement status, coupled with a healthy defense corps, has kept Carlsson from getting more than a sniff in Columbus.
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