As the NHL and AHL season hiatus continues, Nashville announced another signing yesterday: defender Alexandre Carrier will be back on a three-year contract. The 2015 fourth-round draft pick, a key piece of Milwaukee’s offensive prowess this season, was a pending restricted free agent upon the expiration of his entry-level contract.
This is by no means a surprising move. The organization has been clear with how much they like Carrier’s game and with the spots of Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber and Korbinian Holzer potentially opening up in Nashville, Carrier will have every opportunity to earn a full-time NHL spot next season.
By The Numbers
Carrier has been a centerpiece of the organization’s pipeline for years now. After being selected by Nashville in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Carrier went on to cap off his impressive QMJHL career with 47 points in his last 57 games for the Gatineau Olympiques. The Quebec native brought his 137 career points in 242 QMJHL games to Milwaukee next season scoring 39 points as an AHL rookie (good for sixth on the team and best among defenders) and earning a two-game NHL recall.
It was at that moment that Carrier pronounced himself as the future star of Nashville’s blue line; he was, per many expectations, to be the next mid-round gem that David Poile uncovered to keep the defense stellar despite the likes of Suter and Weber moving out. But his sophomore season in Milwaukee was a step back, offensively and defensively. Carrier has somewhat returned to form the last two seasons, including 37 points in 2018-19 and another 37 in just 55 games this season, plus another three-game NHL recall.
Regardless, it seems like Carrier has drifted out of the echelon fans may have once held him in. It’s no secret I’m not the biggest fan of his game, but I would be lying if I said he didn’t have a solid year this season.
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His offensive numbers stand out—and they should, considering that he led all Milwaukee defenders in scoring. His 34.15% individual primary point rate is good—best among the blue line, in fact—but just 14 of his 37 points were primary ones scored at even strength. Carrier plays top-pair minutes at even strength and quarterbacks the top power-play unit, so his production relies heavily on the advantage.
Defense, though, is where my concerns lie. Carrier’s 50.38% Corsi rating is fine but was the worst among the team’s regular defenders; his controlled zone exit rate is good (he is a solid transition player); but his controlled entries against rate, 49.21%, was second-worst behind Jarred Tinordi’s. So while the 4.02 high-danger shots Carrier allowed at even strength wasn’t awful, relatively, it’s unsurprising that the team’s 41.11 shot attempts per 60 minutes while he was on the ice was the lowest rate on the blue line by a significant margin.
On tape, Carrier is a good transition player with good offensive instincts, but his defensive acumen just isn’t up to par and being paired with Jarred Tinordi and Ben Harpur for much of the season didn’t help.
Side note: Of his draft year + 5 class, Carrier was fourth in primary points per game (in all situations) in the AHL this season with 0.400. Jérémy Davies and Carrier also led that class in even-strength primary points this season.
The Scouting Tape
Alexandre Carrier comes off as a frustrating player for me when I watch him in-game. On offense, he can be dynamite on the power play and good in transition, but he can also recklessly throw the puck wherever and isn’t as good an even-strength producer as others.
Take this play above as an example. Carrier (#55 in blue) makes a good defensive play on the puck carrier limiting his passing or skating lanes in either direction. Instead of automatically guiding the puck up the wall after he creates a turnover, Carrier is smart to take a moment and catalog his options. But after he lets two opponents close in on him, he’s forced to use the middle of the ice as an outlet; it’s overall a good but not great play. The frustrating moment comes on the next zone exit: after recovering a loose puck, Carrier has—at a minimum—options to either reverse the puck behind the net or pass up the boards to his teammate. Instead, he carelessly launches it down the ice for nothing.
I do appreciate Carrier’s offensive tendencies and, for the most part, like his decision making in that end of the ice. In this clip, Carrier reads Jérémy Davies’s dump-in well and notices he’ll be first to the puck along the boards. He creates a good seal to keep the puck in and ultimately delivers a hard, accurate wrist shot on net.
In this clip, you will notice a simple set breakout play that Milwaukee uses often. The near side defender starts the breakout behind the net and connects to the winger who either exits the zone with possession or crosses to the other defender—Carrier—who breaks out behind the same-side winger crossing in front. This play usually slingshots Carrier into the offensive zone as the third forward.
If there is an immediate scoring opportunity, Carrier, or whichever acting forward, helps facilitate the puck across the ice and toward the net, sometimes resulting in primary assists as seen above.
When he isn’t joining the rush, Carrier can have an effective stretch pass as shown in this clip, but his success rate dwindles under pressure, more so than does that of Davies or Frédéric Allard.
My two biggest concerns about Carrier’s game are his pivot ability and skating. In this clip, Carrier successfully breaks up a zone entry, but only because Davies makes a smart read to pinch the two Griffins players together. Then, as the Griffins re-enter the zone, Carrier has the advantage with a good angle, good gap and a teammate pressuring the puck carrier, but instead mistimes his pivot and is beat cleanly by an average skater.
In this clip, Carrier attempts to breach center ice as Milwaukee struggles with a zone entry. When the puck is turned over and quickly advanced, Carrier doesn’t pivot toward the skater or really at all; instead, he takes a slow, crossover-heavy turn before attempting to get back.
In this final shift, Carrier’s responsibility on the power play is highlighted well: he commands which side the Admirals stack up on to draw defenders away from a one time shot and distributes those passes from the point. When the play goes awry, notice how much effort Carrier concentrates in his stride; he uses a short kick down before kicking out but is generating little strength going in that motion. Ultimately, a bit of puck mismanagement slows down the opponent, but it was a dangerous chance nonetheless.
I think Carrier’s skating is what will keep him from useful NHL minutes. His offensive production relies on being aggressive off the rush, and he won’t have that same creative leeway in the NHL. Is he a better option than Holzer or Hamhuis? That’s a low bar to clear. Can he clean up his defensive game with less floating and extraneous strides? Probably. Regardless, it will take a lot for me to come back around on him as a top prospect.
Carrier’s entry-level contract signed in 2015 slid for two seasons and didn’t kick in until 2017-18. This is his second pro contract, which comes with a $733K cap hit each year for three seasons.
In 2020-21, Carrier’s base salary will be $700K with a minors salary of $125K; in 2021-22, that increases to $750K and $175K, respectively; in 2022-23, his minors salary increases to $200K.
Carrier is waivers-eligible and, upon expiry, he will be a restricted free agent.