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Photo: Scott PaulusPhoto: Scott Paulus

#AHLOTB: Carrier carries a bright future ahead

by Jason Karnosky | AHL On The Beat

When Alexandre Carrier was selected with the 115th pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, few in the hockey world thought much of the future impact the young defenseman might have.

After joining the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals late last spring and not dressing for a game, Carrier could be excused for feeling like his dream of playing at hockey’s highest level was a world away.

Therefore, it was quite a shock when the rookie blueliner took the AHL by storm in his first professional season, playing well enough to earn a 2017 All-Star selection and his first NHL call up.

“I really didn’t think I was going to make the NHL so quick,” Carrier said. “If you would have said I would play a game in the NHL this year, I would have said it was impossible. It was pretty amazing to do that.”

When Nashville selected Carrier in the fourth round, there was feeling within the Predators organization that they might have found gem—an undersized mobile defenseman with excellent skating skills who was effective at both ends of the ice. As an added bonus Carrier hailed from Quebec City, and would be a natural fit for a franchise that developed several talented French-Canadian prospects over the past few years.

“(Alexandre’s) been a good player for us with his on-ice ability,” Milwaukee coach Dean Evason said. “But he’s also been a good teammate and he works every single day. Getting called up was a case of rewarding a player for what he’s been doing so well here.”

Carrier came to the Admirals after four years of development in the QMJHL playing for the Gatineau Olympiques. As an AHL rookie for the 2016-17 season Carrier made an impact right away in Milwaukee as high-energy skater, and the offensive production soon followed. In his fourth game the French-Canadian recorded his first assist. The 20-year-old’s first goal came in his 10th game — as Carrier contributed his team’s third and fifth tallies as Milwaukee downed Iowa 5-3.

In his team’s next contest Carrier, who already had two assists, scored the overtime winner in a wild 5-4 come-from-behind win over Chicago.

“You look at the way (Alexandre) plays, he’s got a lot of skills and he’s always looking to make plays,” Admirals defenseman Adam Pardy said. “He has been playing well, and he’s always trying to better himself and get better every day.”

Photo: Scott Paulus
Photo: Scott Paulus

It was around this time that the rookie defenseman developed a relationship with Pardy, an eight-year NHL veteran acquired by the Admirals in late October. The two were a huge reason why Milwaukee, currently 33-18-3-3, raced out in front of the pack in the Western Conference in the early going.

Though 12 years his elder Pardy’s abilities as a tough-minded, stay-at-home defenseman proved a natural fit playing alongside Carrier.

“(Alexandre and I) worked really well together and the chemistry just seemed to click right away,” Pardy said. “He’s young, playing in his first professional year and a lot of things are new to him, but having that kind of energy playing next to me really fueled me too.”

Carrier learned much from Pardy, and relished the extra freedom to play at the offensive end of the ice knowing the Newfoundland native had his back.

“(Adam is) a very experienced guy whose played a lot of games in the NHL,” Carrier said. “He’s calm, is a leader and takes care of a lot of details that not everyone sees on the ice. It was really a positive to get to play with him.”

With both guys playing well the potential for an NHL call up seemed likely. Pardy got the nod to return to the NHL ahead of Carrier in early December. The rookie then got his first crack at the big stage on January 12, 2017, joining the Predators en route to Colorado for a long western road trip.

“The goal of our league and our team is to reward guys for how well they play,” Evason said. “Alex deserved his call up, regardless if he’s 20 years old. Adam Pardy is over 30 and he earned his call up. Both played well and both deserved their shots to play in the NHL.”

Thanks to a little call screening, Carrier, who’s energetic personality matches his freewheeling style on the ice, almost missed his initial arrangements for Nashville.

“We were in Chicago and I got this call from Washington D.C.,” Carrier said of his first NHL recall. “Because I didn’t have Coach Evason’s number in my contact list I thought it was a wrong number, so I didn’t answer. A little while later I got a text that said, ‘Hey Car it’s Dean, you’re called up to the show, call me as soon as possible.’”

Thankfully Carrier got in touch with his coach and afterwards reach out to his family.

“When coach told me the news I couldn’t believe it,” Carrier said. “It was a lot of fun to tell my family the news.”

Carrier’s his first NHL game came five nights later against Vancouver. Two days later he dressed again against Calgary as Nashville topped the host Flames 4-3.

“It was amazing and a dream come true for me to play in my first NHL game,” Carrier said. “The most exciting part, and when I was the most nervous, was when I was sitting on the bench during the national anthems (In Vancouver). I was feeling like the ‘This is it.’”

For Nashville Carrier played alongside Anthony Bitetto, another former Admiral who caught on as full-time NHL defender last season.

“I was their seventh defenseman when I got called up, so I was really there for the experience,” Carrier said. “But I got the chance to play with Tony Bitetto and he made me more comfortable. He knew what it was like to play in a first NHL game, he knew I was going to be nervous.”

Carrier returned to Milwaukee after that night in Calgary, and shortly after was on his way to Lehigh Valley for the AHL All-Star Classic.

“Earning a berth in the All-Star Game was recognition on how well I’ve played from the beginning of the year,” said Carrier, who helped the Western Conference to a 15-11 win in the Skills Competition and the Central Division to a title in the AHL All-Star Challenge.

The in-season nod was something the young blue liner cherished at such an early moment in his career.

“I’m thankful for this honor,” Carrier said. “It was a great experience to play with the best players in the league and the 3-on-3 format was really fun.”

Photo: Scott Paulus
Photo: Scott Paulus

Carrier picked up right where he left off in the second half of the season by scoring his second overtime winner in a 4-3 win over Rockford on February 2, and then racking up a goal and two assists in his team’s 5-4 come-from-behind overtime win over Charlotte on Feb. 19.

Though Carrier will likely spend the rest of 2016-17 playing Milwaukee, his time in the AHL should prove to be a valuable developmental stage of his career, just like it was for many of Nashville’s best blue liners.

Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Roman Josi all spent time developing in Milwaukee before becoming stars in the NHL. The same goes for Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Bitetto—all key pieces of the Predators’ current defensive core who played for coach Evason.

A brief stay in the NHL should serve as an incentive for Carrier to continue to do everything thing he can to make it to the big leagues on a more permanent basis.

“Getting the chance to play in the NHL, it’s so motivating because you work your whole life for that,” Carrier said. “It made me realize this is in fact what I want to do with my life. I had a bite in the NHL, but now I want the whole cake.”