Following the United States "Miracle on Ice" victory over the heavily favored Russians at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, hockey in the US was about to experience a boom in hockey interest. All the NHL needed was an American superstar to come along quickly to capitalize on the new found popularity.
Enter Bob Carpenter, Sports Illustrated's "Can't Miss Kid."
Prior the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, Sports Illustrated plastered the 18 year old high school kid on the cover of their weekly magazine. Its pretty rare for a hockey player to grace the cover of SI, let alone a high school player. SI exclaimed that Carpenter was going to be America's first truly great hockey player, and called him the "Can't Miss Kid."
Carpenter didn't miss, at least at first. He stumbled during the middle part of his career and towards the end reinvented his game to survive for 18 NHL seasons. While he wasn't even the best American in the league for most of his career, he was a pioneering player who accomplished a number of firsts by an American.
Bob was the first player ever to go from playing hockey at an American high school straight to the NHL. When the Washington Capitals chose him third overall in the 1981 Entry Draft, he became the first American ever to be taken in the first round. He was the first American to reach the magical 50 goal plateau in a season in 1984-85, when he recorded a career-high 53. He retired as one of five American's to play in over 1,000 games.
Carpenter experienced a lot of early success in his career. In fact his first NHL point, an assist, came only 12 seconds into his first game. By the end of the season, Bob had set Capitals rookie records for goals (32) and points (67) while finishing fourth in team scoring. The next two seasons were similar, as he scored 69 points in 1982-83 and 68 points in 1983-84.
1984-85 was the pinnacle of Bob's career when he reached 53 goals. It appeared that Bob had finally taken his game to the next level, a level where an American could start putting up statistics that could compare among the league's elite. Carpenter's 53 goals tied him with Dale Hawerchuk behind John Ogrodnick (55), Mike Bossy (58), Jari Kurri (71) and Wayne Gretzky (73).
However 1985-86 would see Bob's performance fall greatly. He stumbled to just 27 goals and 56 points. He recovered somewhat in the playoffs with 5 goals and 9 points in 9 games, the first really solid playoff performance by Carpenter. However the 1986-87 season saw Carpenter get off to another horrible start, with 5 goals in the Caps first 22 games.
Finally Washington had had enough and traded Carpenter along with a 2nd round pick to the New York Rangers. Broadway, always looking for a big name talent to showoff at Madison Square Gardens, had hoped that Carpenter could return to previous form and gave up Bob Crawford, Kelly Miller and Mide Ridley to get him. It turned out to be a fairly lopsided trade in hindsight. Miller and Ridley went on to become significant pieces of the Capitals for years to come while Carpenter struggled in just 28 games with the Rangers.
2 goals and 10 points later, the Rangers traded Carpenter to Los Angeles in the big Marcel Dionne deal. The Rangers also sent Tom Laidlaw in exchange for Jeff Crossman, a third round pick, and the aging superstar Dionne.
Carpenter's first full season in Tinseltown was also Wayne Gretzky's first season. Carpenter saw a lot of time on Wayne's LW, but failed to put up great numbers. He scored 19 goals and 33 assists for 52 points. However there was always rumors that Gretzky didn't like having Carpenter on his line and that Gretzky wanted Carpenter moved for someone else. Again, these were only rumors and were never substantiated.
Carpenter lasted half way through the 1988-89 seasons before being traded to Boston in exchanged for super-shadow Steve Kasper.. It was a dream come true for the native of Beverly Massachusetts to play in the famous Boston Gardens. Bobby actually rejuvenated his career somewhat while wearing the spoked B crest on his jersey. He scored 25 goals and played a good role in the 1989-90 run to the Stanley Cup finals. The following year almost saw the end of Carpenter's career as he badly shattered his knee cap and sat out most of the season. However Carpenter went through excruciating rehab assignments and returned to the game he loved the next season. He not only returned to the league, he also returned to the 25 goal plateau in just 60 games.
Carpenter became a free agent without compensation after the 1992 season and elected to take his career full circle by returning to Washington, the scenes of some past glories. Bob played in 68 games, scoring 11 goals and 28 points. Following the season, the Capitals cut Carpenter loose for a second time.
Carpenter signed on with the New Jersey Devils where Carpenter met coach Jacques Lemaire. Lemaire turned Carpenter into a defensive, checking oriented center/winger. Carpenter's scoring totals dropped dramatically over the next 6 seasons but he excelled in his new role of shadow and penalty killer. He became known as one of the league's best defensive centers, a role Carpenter cherished.
Carpenter finished with 320 goals and 418 assists in 1,178 games. He also retired with a Stanley Cup ring, as he was a big part of the Devil's 1995 triumph.