There’s a big opportunity in front of Joe Carroll.
Thanks to a new coach and huge roster turnover from last year, the Carp, ON. native is hoping to be the big man to take a big leap in his development and propel himself up NHL draft boards.
“Recognizing that obviously a lot of guys have moved on, so I think for not only me, but a lot of the younger guys, we need to step up,” Carroll said. “A lot of our roles are changing, so we’ve got to step up and come into ourselves a little bit.”
The opportunity for Carroll, 17, is there.
New Greyhounds coach John Dean believes that Carroll will grab it.
“I think the expectation for Joe is that if he’s really competitive, like he usually is, and he uses his feet, for the size that he is — the body, the skill type — that he should have a pretty successful year,” Dean explained.
“There’s definitely more opportunity for him, more so in the special teams area — depending what happens with Barrett Hayton. We’re deep down the middle and we like to keep them in their spots — maybe at the odd time we’ll tinker with him on the wing — that way he’ll get some favourable matchups, as well.
“We’re going to lean on him in big opportunities, six-on-five, power play, so hopefully he relishes that opportunity.”
There’s been a tremendous amount of turnover on the Greyhounds’ roster. Four of the team’s top-five scorers from last season have moved on; Boris Katchouk, Tim Gettinger, Jack Kopacka, and Hayden Verbeek are no longer with the team.
As well, late-season pickup, and the team’s second-leading playoff scoring threat Taylor Raddysh, and high-scoring blueliner Rasmus Sandin have graduated to the pro ranks.
In the end, it leaves an opportunity for Carroll to help out returnees Morgan Frost and, should he eventually be returned from the Arizona Coyotes, Hayton.
That’s a lot of talent to lose, but Carroll said he gained so much playing with that level of talent — and he credits Frost and Hayton as already helping him prepare for this season.
“I think just with the guys we had on our team [last year], I think just playing with them you take a lot way from just watching them, their habits, and the way they work. That just helps young guys a lot,” Carroll said.
“Barrett and Morgan — they obviously have just gone through it. They’ve both been helping me a lot with just how to handle the pressure and stuff like that. They’ve been great.”
Their advice has been pretty simple, Carroll added.
“Mostly just don’t let it get to your head,” he said. “Just play your game, but don’t let it get to you too too much. I think that’s going to be good for me.”
But is that easy to do?
“Ah… no,” Carroll said. “I think sometimes it gets a little in your head. But at the end of the day, it’s hockey and I love it, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to just play.”
Dean said he believes the way to earn respect is to treat all the players the same on the ice — there’s no sense of showcasing a player, and everyone has to earn their time. But, off the ice, that requires a little more of a personal approach.
“When it comes to off the ice, the personal, and walking guys through the stresses of a big year like that, of course there’s different attention for different kids,” he said. “Young kids in their first year, it’s more about making sure they feel comfortable; a kid in their draft year it’s making sure that you take that stress off of them, constantly talking to them, and getting them to open up.
“On the ice, I feel they [all] need to be treated the same; off the ice, I think everyone’s in a different situation — especially the way the OHL works. You have those four different years, so it’s unique that way.”
Last year, as a rookie, Carroll played in 53 regular-season games, scoring nine goals and adding nine assists for a powerhouse Greyhounds’ roster. He saw action in 24 playoff games, scoring once and assisting three times en route to the Soo bowing out of the Ontario Hockey League final in six.
This year, he’s already seeing a difference in how the game feels.
“In the second year, you have more confidence with the puck. The game kind of slows down a bit and you make smarter players,” he said. “I think last year, as a young guy, you just kind of rush it and you’re not taking your time.”
Carroll said he spent the summer trying to get bigger and filling out his frame. “I want to be stronger down low, faster, and obviously quicker,” he said, adding that he wants to play a big man’s game.
“[I see myself as] a power forward with some skill and offensive upside. I like to rush the puck and create some stuff in the zone,” he said. “Maybe like [Las Vegas Golden Knights forward] Alex Tuch. He’s big, he skates pretty well, and he’s obviously good offensively.”
Dean said he feels that if Carroll can bring his combination and size and skill to the rink every night, he’s going to turn some heads.
“There’s no doubt how good he is,” Dean said. “If he consistently plays the way he can play, the sky’s the limit.
“I think that’s probably the number one thing: it’s ‘Hey, have another big one, have another big one, have another big one,’ and those are the marks of good players when they consistently, game-in-game-out, do the right stuff.”