Rookie Sharks defenceman Matt Carle off to a hot start in San Jose

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We present Matt Carle of the San Jose Sharks as one the best candidates to make it interesting. The 22-year-old defenceman is off to a super start, his eight points (2-6) in seven games led all NHL blue-liners heading into the weekend and was second only to Los Angeles centre Anze Kopitar (nine points) for the rookie scoring race.

"Malkin was given the award before the first exhibition game was even played - at least in the East," Sharks coach Ron Wilson mused Friday from his San Jose office.

Carle's hot start, which also includes a plus-5 rating, is getting noticed by some.

"He's going at it better than a point a game and that always catches everybody's attention," said Wilson. "And being a young defenceman, if he can keep his plus-minus on the plus side of things then he'll be right up there. I think some of the recognition will come with how well our team does and he'll be a big part of it."

Carle understands why all the rookie hype is with Malkin.

"Everyone saw him play in the Olympics last year, he's obviously very talented," Carle said from San Jose.

The Anchorage, Alaska, native can deal with the extra spotlight if the Calder Trophy race heats up this season. Winning the Hobey Baker Award as the U.S. college player of the year last season taught him some valuable lessons.

"Performing every weekend last year with all the Hobey Baker hype, I think that helped me be ready for this year," said Carle, who starred at Denver University. "I think I matured as a person."

Carle, San Jose's second-round pick, 47th overall in 2002, signed with the Sharks after his college season was over and appeared in 12 regular-season games followed by 11 more in the playoffs, registering three goals and six assists in the process.

"That was a huge help playing a bit late last season," said Carle. "I came into camp this year knowing what to expect. I knew the guys, I knew what the organization was about."

Wilson isn't shy to use him. Carle is averaging 18 minutes 24 seconds per game and quarterbacks the power play.

"When you see how he sees the ice and how he passes the puck, I'd be brain dead if I didn't do that on the power play," said Wilson.

"I've had some defencemen that see the ice really well, like a Sergei Gonchar, but this kid's got a little more attention to detail then some of the guys I've had in the past," added Wilson. "He's not just a good offensive player, he understands the game defensively, too."

Asked to describe himself as a player, the well-spoken Carle delivered a solid scouting report.

"I would say I'm a good two-way defenceman that moves the puck well and jumps in offensively," he said. "I'll come in on the second wave and try to create chances that way. I'm also effective on the power play but need a little work in the defensive zone. That's probably one of the weaknesses in my game."

When Malkin was compared to Mario Lemieux earlier this week by Penguins winger Mark Recchi, eyebrows were raised around the league. So it's only fitting Carle gets his own comparison as well.

"He does things, to me, that Scott Niedermayer does," said Wilson.

"In the sense of how he follows the play and it looks like he's not trying. He's gliding up the ice and you're wondering: 'How did he get through all these people?' The goals he's scored is because he ends up where he shouldn't be. I'll be like, 'Was that Mark Bell? Was that Jonathan Cheechoo? No, it was Matt Carle! What the heck was he doing up there?'

"He went back door on a tic-tac-toe play and you're wondering why exactly he's even there. But those guys just have a knack for that. Niedermayer is a better skater though."

Carle just about dropped the phone when told of the comparison.

"I've got a long ways to go," he said. "He's been in the league a long time and has a couple of Stanley Cups and a Norris Trophy. That's nice to hear I guess. It gives you some incentive to work that much harder so you can try and fulfil it."

As far as the Calder talk goes, check back with him in a few months.

"It's early in the year," said Carle. "If it were March and we'd be having the same conversation, that would be a different story I think. Obviously you hope for the best. "You work your whole life to get to this level and if you can start having success it's a great feeling. I'm just fortunate to be part of a good team here in San Jose. It's been a lot of fun in the early going."



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