Reading through Scott Burnside’s brilliant piece on the four-month evolution process of the Team USA roster for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, it’s clear that John Carlson’s performance in the first half of the 2013-14 season played a key role in his ability to earn one of the eight blueline spots on that roster.
The committee in charge of building Team USA’s 25-man roster had regular meetings and conference calls over the last four months to discuss the performance of roughly four dozen players who were on the radar for roster spots. The first of those meetings took place right here in Arlington at the end of August when Team USA hopefuls assembled for a training camp (one that didn’t involve any on-ice practice sessions) and orientation session of several days.
At that stage of the proceedings, Carlson was a bubble guy who seemed to be a longshot to land one of the eight blueline berths.
Carlson’s improvement on the ice over the season’s first 40 games, his ability to kill penalties and his seamless transition in taking over as the Capitals’ No. 1 defenseman in the wake of another injury to Mike Green combined to elevate him in the collective eyes of the committee.
Through games of last night, Carlson’s average of 24:41 in ice time per game is fifth among all American blueliners. More importantly, Carlson’s average of 4:00 in shorthanded ice time per game is tops among all NHL defensemen – regardless of nationality – this season. Among the remaining members of the Team USA squad, Ryan McDonagh is next in shorthanded ice time (2:57 per night).
During his rookie season of 2009-10, Carlson averaged just 18 seconds per night in shorthanded ice time over his first 22-game taste of the NHL. That figure climbed to 2:19 the following season and then 2:27 before reaching 2:53 in 2012-13. His 4:00 per game in shorthanded ice time this season is the most by any Caps defenseman since Tom Poti averaged 4:22 in 2008-09, but did so while playing in just 52 games.
The last time a Caps defenseman played in 60 or more games while averaging more than four minutes per night in shorthanded ice time was Shaone Morrisonn’s 4:15 in 78 games in 2006-07. It should be noted that there were a lot more minor penalties being called around the league in those days, too.
Carlson’s 24:41 overall workload per night is up from his previous career high of 23:01 (set last season) and is tops among Washington defensemen and 20th among all NHL defensemen. Among the eight Team USA defensemen, only Ryan Suter (a league-leading 29:42) and Paul Martin (12th in the league at 25:16) play more minutes per night than Carlson.
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Carlson’s 13 goals are tops among the eight defensemen on the Team USA roster and third among all American defensemen in the league.
It’s not yet known where Carlson will be on the Team USA defensive depth chart or who he’ll be paired with, but his résumé of recent achievements suggests that he’s capable of playing a top four role on that team, even at the tender age of 24. Carlson will turn 24 a week from tomorrow.
Even at that age, Carlson is the most experienced of the three right-handed defensemen on the Team USA roster. Carlson’s 274 games in the NHL are more than fellow righties Kevin Shattenkirk’s 239 and Justin Faulk’s 144. The left-handed Martin will play on his off (right) side, so Team USA will have two playing spots open for right-handed defensemen in its top six.
If Carlson continues to play the way he has for the next five weeks, it’s difficult to imagine him outside of Team USA’s top six when the Olympics get underway next month.