John Carlson is far from the best-known defenseman who will be in attendance at the U.S. Olympic orientation camp this week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington. He’s not the most experienced or decorated NHL player and has yet to compete at the highest level of international play.
Carlson is part of a group of up-and-coming young players USA Hockey wanted to include in the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. But he believes he can demonstrate why he’s ready to be a part of the Olympic equation now.
“I have confidence in myself. I always have,” said Carlson, the only member of the Washington Capitals who will take part in the U.S. camp Monday and Tuesday. “I’ve got to answer those questions about where I fit for myself, and I do think I’m good enough to make the team, but it’s not up to me. I have a lot of work to do first. I need to have a good season, and also I’ve got to have a good season for the Caps.”
Over the past three NHL seasons, Carlson, 23, established himself as an integral part of the Capitals’ defense. Whether playing under Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter or Adam Oates, he has taken on responsibilities in all situations, with significant minutes and high expectations on a nightly basis.
His career hasn’t been without growing pains. Most recently, Carlson had a rough start to the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season — he was on the ice for half of the first 82 goals Washington allowed — but his play improved as the year progressed.
The New Jersey native also played hero the last time he suited up for the United States. He scored in overtime of the gold-medal game to give the Americans a 6-5 win over Canada in the 2010 world junior championships.
Carlson knows he is in control of how strong of a candidate he will be. If he excels in the first three months of the upcoming NHL season, he could make a strong case for himself as an Olympian.
“I just need to stay consistent. That’s something that I’ve battled with, and after I got out of that start last season, I thought I played great game in and game out,” Carlson said. “I’ve just got to work my butt off to make sure they can’t cross me off.”
A strong skater with the ability to move the puck well, Carlson has a skill set that U.S. General Manager David Poile finds suitable for Sochi, where games will be played on the larger international ice surface.
“There’s a lot of things to like about his game, and that’s why he’s included” in camp, Poile said in a phone interview. “John has a lot of attributes that give him an excellent chance at being a guy we want to look really closely at this year.”
Poile, the general manager of the Nashville Predators and former GM of the Capitals, estimates having two or three spots to fill on the U.S. roster, depending on whether the team opts to carry seven or eight defensemen and which players from the silver-medal-winning team at the 2010 Vancouver Games he expects to return.
Among the invitees to camp, Ryan Suter, Brooks Orpik, Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson were part of the 2010 squad. Only one member of that group, Erik Johnson, is a right-handed shot like Carlson. Other right-handed defensemen who will be in attendance include Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Zach Bogosian, Nashville rookie Seth Jones and St. Louis’s Kevin Shattenkirk.
Oates, while admitting his bias toward his players, has made his opinion known that Carlson belongs on the U.S. Olympic roster.
“No question in my mind. I already told Dan Bylsma that,” he said of his former teammate, the coach of the 2014 Olympic team. Oates said he ranks Carlson second behind only Byfuglien among the available right-handed defensemen.
“He’s won a [Stanley] Cup and is a force,” Oates said of Byfuglien. “Carly’s not as well known as him, but he will be.”