The central story surrounding the Idaho Steelheads in the past month has been the player movement since the NHL lockout ended Jan. 6.
But now, the focus is shifting. Fans aren't wondering who's leaving. They're wondering who's arriving.
No Idaho player is more suited to that theme than rookie forward Sam Carrick. He's certainly arrived as a proven scorer for the Steelheads. Funny thing is, he's been here all along.
"We had a really loaded lineup and a lot of players that should have been in the AHL, but they were down here because of the lockout," Carrick said. "I came in here and I was the youngest guy, and I wasn't going to get anything handed to me."
Quite the opposite. Coach Brad Ralph said Carrick worked his tail off, and waited his turn.
"The one thing that struck me about Sam, in my mind, was his attitude, his willingness to learn and do the little extra things he needed to do to get better," Ralph said. "And every game, well there's ups and downs, but for the most part it's been a steady climb in terms of his growth and his progress."
Carrick's scoring numbers back that up. He produced nine points in the Steelheads' first 27 games. In the 19 games prior to Friday's 5-4 overtime win over the Utah Grizzlies, he produced 21 points.
"Sam's a great player," linemate Ian Watters said. "I played with him for three years in juniors and he knows where to go on the ice, and when he shoots the puck it usually goes in."
Carrick turned 21 on Monday, so he has a lot of hockey ahead of him. But he came to the Steelheads with a reputation as a gritty, hard-nosed player who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fifth round of the 2010 draft.
He played the past four seasons with Brampton of the OHL, a top juniors league. Last season, he served as Brampton's captain and led the team in goals (37), assists (30) and points (67).
While with Brampton, the website hockeysfuture.com described Carrick as "surprisingly strong on his skates and noticeably physical," adding that Carrick was "very willing to drop the gloves." The site's projection for his future? "A character forward with pest ability."
Carrick has certainly shown that side as a member of the Steelheads, racking up 52 penalty minutes (third most on the team) and engaging in a few fights along the way.
"He's tough," Ralph said of his 6-foot, 205-pound forward. "To be tough and to know when to fight, that's a big asset."
Said Carrick: "I like sticking up for my teammates."
But that's not necessarily what Carrick's role is these days. Carrick did what he had to do earlier this season to earn his time on the ice.
Now, Carrick is best served producing points rather than punches.
"Right now, I'm just trying to work on my skills," he said. "I've got to focus on putting the puck in the net and helping the team."
Idaho captain Ben Ondrus broke in as a pro with the Steelheads during the 2002-03 season. He went on to play extensively in the AHL, NHL and overseas. He said one of the joys in returning to Idaho has been watching players like Carrick develop.
"If you look back at the beginning of the year, he has made huge strides," Ondrus said. "I can remember 10 years ago when that was me and I was trying to do everything I could to get ice time. He's been given an opportunity to play big minutes in a great situation and he's done really well. The only way to get to the next level is to succeed at this level. He realizes that and he's putting in the work."
Ralph doesn't know where all that work will eventually take Carrick but he does know this: "Sam's a leader, and you see it in his mannerisms and how he holds himself. He will be a leader wherever he ends up."