The stat sheet doesn’t tell the whole story of Trevor Carrick’s 2016-17 campaign.

A glance at his numbers would show a dip in production, falling from a career-high 42 points a year ago to 16 this season. But Carrick was able to take strides in other areas of his game, including a huge leap from minus-19 and minus-21 in his first two years to a plus-four rating this year.

“It wasn’t my greatest year offensively,” he said. “But I thought I played more solid defensively and was harder to play against. My plus-minus was in the plus, unlike the last couple of years, so there were a couple of positives to take away.”

While his scoring totals took a dive in his third pro season, the 22-year-old was a key piece atop the Checkers’ defensive corps. Manning the number one pairing alongside Jake Chelios, who had a glowing review for his partner, Carrick’s play helped carry his team to the playoffs for the first time in his pro career.

“For me it was a hell of an experience,” said Carrick of the team’s red-hot run to the postseason. “It was the most fun I ever had playing hockey.”

But even with his elevated play in other places, Carrick’s lack of offense weighed on him as the season went on.

“The bottom line is I struggled to get points this year,” he said. “I don’t know if it was one thing in particular but our power play wasn’t running very high, and when you don’t have a good power play it’s hard to get those points. Then there were a lot of other skilled defensemen who were stepping up too. So it was a matter of a couple different things.”

The importance of possessing an offensive edge in order to make the jump to the next level isn’t lost on Carrick, nor is the growing number of talented prospects in Carolina’s system.

“They’ve got a good core and a lot of depth at the position right now with a lot of good, young, skilled players who are good at moving the puck and good offensively,” he said. “That’s today’s game, you’ve got to be good at moving the puck and join the rush. There’s no such thing as a stay-at-home defenseman anymore. You’ve got to have a little bit of offensive game in you.”

Carrick now heads into his first season outside of his entry-level contract. Looking to regain his scoring touch and build off a playoff series that saw him become a top physical force for the team, Carrick is also looking to solve a question that has long eluded him: how can he make the leap to the NHL level?

“You know, I’ve been trying to figure that out for the last couple of years now,” he said. “For me personally, I just need to be hard to play against and bring that physical presence to be a fifth or sixth defenseman. Just get the puck to the forwards and be reliable and don’t make mistakes.”