The great Sir Winston Churchill once wrote about Jeff Carter saying, he is "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Ok...so he was actually writing about Russia during his radio address in 1939; BUT, he could have been writing about Jeff Carter...couldn't he?
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This young man, of only 22 years old, was born on January 1, 1985 in London, Ontario. He was drafted #11 overall in 2003 by the Flyers after a career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, where he scored 70 points or more two of his four years there. He played for Canada in two World Junior Championships in 2004 and 2005 - where he won a Silver and Gold respectively. In the 2005 Championships he had 10 points ( 7 g and 3 a) in 6 games. He then played across the street from the Bank Building in 2004-05 with the Phantoms and helped win the Calder Cup of the AHL by scoring 23 points in 21 playoff games (12 g and 11 a).
He is 6'3" tall, 200 lbs, has a fluid skating stride, a good head for the game and a booming right handed wrist shot. He has succeeded at every level of hockey and has first line Center written all over him. So why has he not attained much of the great promise that has followed him throughout his first two years in Orange and Black?
His first year he was a + 10, put up 42 points, with 23 g and 19 a, along with 40 PIM in 81 games. Not too bad for a transition year to the NHL. Then the bottom fell out in year two...or did it? Ok not all the way out, but he did post a -17 in 62 (20 games lost to an ankle injury), scored 14 g and 23 for 37 points. (JS aptly described him as looking like he was trying to do algebra on the ice at times) Sophomore slump or something else?
Well...Peter Forsberg's ankles went all wonky and he missed huge stretches of time, forcing Carter into a line with Gagne and Upshall. So now, instead, he was facing the other team's top checking line. Also, Niittymaki and Esche fell apart, the D got hurt and played like pylons and the entire team - save Gagne - had the amazing and extremely annoying habit of making EVERY opposing goalie look like the second coming of Jacques Plante or Terry Sawchuck. So, perhaps his year was not all that terrible after all?
In comes the mulligan for last year - Paul Holmgren. Out goes Esche in comes Biron as the starter and Niitty as the backup - which I think he will do very well as. In comes a #1 Center in the person of Danny Briere to replace the oft injured Foppa. Out goes Joni "I am a minus waiting to happen" Pitkanen and in comes true #1 and 1a D in Timonen and Smith. Add to that newcomers Coburn, Parent, Lupul and Hartnell to recent addition Upshall and you have a radical change reminiscent of some of those Reality TV makeover shows.
Carter should be pared up with Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul. Hartnell will provide the sandpaper and Lupul will - hopefully - revive the scoring touch that made him a star-in-the-making in Anaheim when he scored 28g and 23a for 53 points. Jeff Carter should do very well on this line and amass his highest point total since his OHL days. I fully expect him to do well on this line and for the whole line to prosper. If this happens, then the pressure is off of the 1st line of Gagne, Briere and Knuble so teams would have to play them more honestly. At that point, Upshall - Richards - Kapanen becomes more of a force offensively with their up tempo style. Offensively, the success or failure of the Flyers in '07-08 lands squarely on the shoulders of that 2nd line. The 1st line will score with the best of the lines in all of hockey - but we all know that one line teams can be beaten.
Jeff Carter, IMO, will take that next step in his transition from highly talented youthful player with potential to one of the premier young centers in the NHL. He is a year older and hockey smarter, he has a #1 Center so he can worry about just playing his game and has two dangerous linemates with which to mesh. I think this will be a breakout year for Jeff Carter.
At least I hope so, he will be an RFA the following year. If he plays the way he is able, then he will be a very important Flyer for many more years to come.
The light is shining brightly on Jeff Carter this year...time to shine.
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