John Carlson has an excellent chance to make Team USA for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Stare at that sentence. Soak it in. Did a faint wave of horror wash over you? If so, you’re no regular hockey follower. You’re a diehard, a Canadian and you remember the 2010 World Junior Championship.
It was an epic tilt between Canada and the United States. Jordan Eberle, Mr. Clutch, had scored twice in the final three minutes of regulation to save Canada’s, er, bacon and force overtime. The momentum seemed to belong to the Canadians, especially playing at home in Saskatoon.
Then John Carlson did this:
The goal cemented Carlson’s status as one of the world juniors’ greatest heroes and that’s why, when they hear his name and “Team USA” whispered in the same sentence, Americans should be excited.
More importantly, he is earning his way onto the team with his play as a Washington Capital this season. The Caps drafted Carlson 27th overall in 2008. He broke into the NHL as a full-timer by 2010-11, when he tallied 37 points and was a plus-21. Over the next couple seasons, he didn’t appear to evolve. He had that potential to be a top-two workhorse and possessed great size at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds but, like his team as a whole, he suffered through bouts of inconsistency.
Something has clicked in 2013-14 for Carlson. He’s averaging a career high 23:53 of ice time. He leads Washington in shorthanded minutes per game (and ranks third in the NHL) at 4:10 while also averaging two-plus minutes on the power play. Carlson, 23, has become the team’s all-around workhorse defenseman.
“John’s been outstanding the whole time – It’s whether he gets the opportunity or not,” says Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby. “He’s been playing a lot more minutes for us and he’s the guy we want out there all the time – at least I do. You don’t find many D-men like him who don’t have a weakness.”
So is it an open-and-shut case to put Carlson on Team USA? Not so fast. It’s not clear he’s over the inconsistency yet. He’s been outstanding of late, but check out his monthly splits.
October: 12 games played, 0 goals, 2 assists, minus-5, 23 shots
November: 12 games played, 5 goals, 4 assists, plus-6, 41 shots
That’s a remarkable difference. On paper, it reads like extreme hot and extreme cold, though Carlson doesn’t view his game that way.
“Even this season at the beginning, I felt like I was playing good and things just weren’t going my way,” Carlson says. “And the past 10 or so games I’ve made some good plays we’ve capitalized on and I’ve capitalized on some good plays people made to me. And that’s the difference. It seems to fall together once you break through.”
And break through he has. After Washington’s shootout loss to Toronto last Saturday, you’d think it would be easy to corner Carlson one-on-one in a dressing room with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in it. Nope. Carlson attracted just as big of a crowd. The secret is out on him – and he may come up big for the Stars and Stripes in Sochi.
“I’m trying to stay focused,” Carlson says. “I mean, I’d love to be there. It’s a dream. I can’t make those decisions. But my job right now is to win hockey games for the Caps. I’ll come to work every day to try and do that. And hopefully the rest will take care of itself.”
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News’s and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin