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William Carrier’s abilities excelling in 3rd season with Golden Knights

Updated February 3, 2020 - 4:36 pm

TAMPA, Fla. — William Carrier insists he’s doing nothing differently. Longtime linemate Ryan Reaves believes him.

Yet the numbers tell a completely different story.

In his third season with the Knights, Carrier’s offense is up, his hitting is down — albeit slightly — and, most importantly, his availability is through the roof. Carrier has yet to miss a game after dealing with injuries the past two years.

When the left wing skates Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’ll be his 55th game, surpassing his career-high for games played in a season. He seems like a totally new player. Just not to himself.

“(I’m doing) nothing different,” Carrier said. “I’m playing the same game.”

Carrier’s words can be taken at face value. But the perception of his play has changed, whether he will admit it or not.

He’s a bottom-six grinder who was a former second-round pick and point-per-game forward in junior hockey. He’s a bruiser who has the speed of a top-line player. And despite his rugged exterior, he’s still young, having turned 25 in late December.

He reached the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres playing a certain way, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to him as a player.

He has a lot of talent. This year it’s showing.

“The first couple of years, you just try to stay in the league,” Carrier said. “Try to get a role. That’s the role (grinder) they (the Sabres) wanted me to play. Obviously now, the offense is coming back in.”

Carrier has a career-high 14 points this season, including nine assists. He only had six assists his first four seasons. That production is leading to more opportunities. He’s playing on the third line instead of the fourth to try to give a struggling unit a jolt.

Yet he insists he hasn’t changed. His offense isn’t up because he discovered new tricks. The ability was always there. His linemates just happen to be finishing the chances he gives them a little more.

“I just think the players he was passing to last year didn’t always bury and the guys he’s passing to this year are putting them in the back of the net,” said Reaves, who admitted he’s one of the players he’s talking about. “I think sometimes his skill surprised me last year, and I wasn’t always ready for it. So now this year, I know he’s coming for me.”

It’s hard to blame teammates for Carrier’s skill sneaking up on them. He did plenty to mask it when he became so good at hitting people.

Carrier’s hits per 60 minutes the past three seasons (24.03) rank third in the NHL among players who have skated in at least 10 games. He’s even ahead of Reaves, the well-known heel, 23-14.

He’s toned it down this year to 18.97, which ranks 15th. He still isn’t afraid to play physical or land a big check. But the slight reduction in wear-and-tear might be what’s keeping him on the ice.

It also might be helping his talent shine more. Count new Knights coach Peter DeBoer among those who came to know Carrier by his hitting. Now that DeBoer has taken a closer look, that’s not all he sees.

“I’ve always admired Will’s game from the other bench,” DeBoer said. “The type of momentum he can create for his team with his physical play and his speed. He’s also a much better player than people give him credit for. He can make plays and get up and down the ice. We’ve promoted him, we’ve bumped him up, and I think he’s a big part of this group.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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