Last summer, when John Carlson received an invitation to attend Team USA’s orientation camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, his mother, Angela, celebrated as if he had already made the team.
Carlson tried to tone down her enthusiasm, telling CSNWashington.com it was “far-fetched” that he’d make the team and that he had “a lot of work to do” before thinking about going to Sochi.
Seven months later, the Capitals’ 24-year-old defenseman is three wins away from winning an Olympic gold medal.
Carlson recovered from a slow start to the season and caught the eye of Team USA assistant general manager Ray Shero, who was assigned to scout the emerging defenseman from Colonia, N.J.
“I think he kind of went to another level this year,” Shero said before heading to Sochi. “He’s a much more consistent player. Unfortunately for Washington but fortunately for John I think the injuries to [Mile] Green really helped solidify him as a power-play guy and he’s a go-to guy on the penalty kill as well.”
Carlson has played in all 59 games for the Caps this season and leads the team in average ice time at 24:47. He also leads all Caps defensemen in power-play ice time [185:01] and penalty kill ice time [235:13].
“He’s a young player who is an important player for Washington,” Shero said. “Not every player is going to play every game [in the Olympics] and John worked himself into consideration and his stock just kept rising. He’s been in big-game competition and has done well and he’s a two-way player trending in the right direction.”
Carlson had quite an Olympic debut, scoring Team USA’s first goal of the tournament in a 7-1 win over Slovakia on Feb. 13. He also added an assist and was a plus-3 in 13:17 of ice time [17 shifts].
In Game 2 against Russia on Saturday, Carlson, who plays on the right side of the ice for the Capitals, was on the left side of the ice when Pavel Datsyuk beat him with a move to the inside for a goal. Carlson had no points and was a minus-1 in just 3:56 of action in the Americans’ thrilling 3-2 shootout victory.
The following day, Team USA coach Dan Bylsma went back to Carlson and he responded with no points and a plus-1 rating in 15:55 of ice time in the Americans’ 5-1 win over Slovenia.
Shero said he spoke often with Capitals coach Adam Oates about what Carlson brings to the table.
“We wanted a book on all these guys,” Shero said. “Where do they excel? Where do they have problems? Does he kill penalties for his team but he’s not really a penalty killer? What’s his versatility? Can he play both sides?”
Shero said Carlson fit all the criteria Team USA was looking for.
“He’s a big guy, a right shot, he can move the puck well and can defend pretty well, a good penalty killer, a good skater,” Shero said. “Those were all factors.”
The Americans are off until Wednesday when they take on the winner of Tuesday’s game between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. If USA wins that game, it could face Canada in a heavyweight bout to see who goes to the gold medal game.