5 Washington Capitals Who Will Have a Major Impact on 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
Now that the National Hockey League is officially slated to allow its players to participate at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the debates regarding which players will be selected have commenced.
Earlier today, Canada, Russia, the United States and Finland all announced their respective preliminary orientation camp rosters, and one has to imagine that the rest of the tournament's heavyweights will soon follow suit.
For Capitals fans, these roster announcements were exciting due to the unexpected number of Caps who received invitations to their respective camps. There's a reasonably strong possibility that at least a handful of Washington's best will be selected to make the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
In preparation for next month's orientation camps, here's an early look at some of the Capitals that should be impact players in Sochi this winter.
Honorable Mention: Braden Holtby
Maybe the most surprising selection on the part of Team Canada was that of Caps' goaltender Braden Holtby, who beat out 2010 Olympic medalist Marc Andre Fleury to earn one of the five goalie spots at the reigning Olympic champions' camp.
For now, Holtby has to be considered a dark horse to get selected for the final roster, but at the very least, his inclusion on the preliminary roster shows that Steve Yzerman and company have taken note of Holtby's incredible improvements over the last 18 months.
After leading the Caps to a stunning upset of the Bruins in Round 1 a year ago, Holtby was solid for the Capitals in 2013, and was a big reason why the team was able to climb out of the massive hole they dug themselves early.
If Holtby continues to play the way he has for the majority of the last two seasons, he'll have a shot at beating out either Mike Smith or Corey Crawford, but as of now Roberto Luongo and Carey Price seem to be pretty solid locks for the first two spots.
Though Sweden has 18 forwards on its preliminary camp roster (via NBC Sports), there is absolutely no question that Nicklas Backstrom will be among the team's most important players in Sochi.
As one of the game's premier playmakers, Backstrom will be counted on to provide offense for a Swedish team that figures to have a number of older forwards. Given how well he performed in 2013, he'll be well-suited for that role.
At the Vancouver Olympics, Backstrom was arguably the team's most effective catalyst up front, as the creative pivot notched a goal and five assists in six games.
Though he won't have a sniper of Alex Ovechkin's caliber riding shotgun on his line, Sweden has enough in terms of scoring ability to provide him with adequate targets.
Though both Mike Green and Karl Alzner were invited to Canada's camp, it's difficult to say which rearguard has a better shot at being selected for the world's most exclusive team.
If Canada's looking for a steady defensive presence, Alzner is obviously the smarter choice, but at least after Green's bounce-back performance in 2013, he's the more likely candidate.
In preparation for the 2010 Games, it was no secret that Green was widely considered to be the final cut (via The Washington Post) from Canada's blue line, so one has to think the sublimely talented All-Star will show up motivated and ready to play this season.
He still isn't a lock to make the team, but if he does, the larger ice surface and puck-possession style of play will work in Green's favor, which is why he's probably got a better chance of making this squad than he had in 2010.
Though not as heralded as some of the other returning forwards from Czech Republic's last two Olympic squads, Martin Erat has consistently been one of his country's most effective two-way forwards.
Until last season, Erat had posted between 49 and 58 points for seven consecutive seasons, so he's long been a productive scorer at the NHL level.
Playing in Nashville under Barry Trotz for so long also helped Erat develop a very solid defensive game, and given that the Czechs won't be able to match up favorably with some of the other contenders in terms of skill, Erat's responsible style of play will be important.
Having helped his country capture the bronze in 2006, Erat's proven he's more than capable of matching the intensity level that goes along with playing on a grand stage, so he's close to being a lock for Sochi as well.
Though John Carlson isn't a lock to get a spot on Team USA, his invitation to the team's orientation camp is a sign that he is very much in contention.
He's got a quality international resume, as the 23-year-old notched the tournament-winning overtime goal against Canada at the 2010 World Junior Championship, earning himself Tournament All-Star honors along the way.
It's true that the offensive rearguard isn't as polished in his own end as some of the other candidates, but ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun believes he's deserving of consideration.
I know John Carlson has struggled this season in Washington, but I think he'll figure it out. He has way too much talent to be left off this team. I may not have enough sandpaper in the eight D-men I picked, but I was focusing on big ice, transition game, etc. Probably will end up putting Erik Johnson on when we make our final picks next year, but for now, I put him on the radar list instead.
Basically, if Carlson has a strong camp and start to 2013-14, he'll make the team, because puck-moving defenders with his size and mobility are certainly useful on the bigger ice surface.
Well, you had to know this was coming.
As the NHL's reigning MVP, Alex Ovechkin will have more pressure than just about anyone to deliver the goods in his home country. In order for Russia to have a chance at knocking off Canada, Sweden and the U.S., the Capitals captain will have to be at his best.
Fortunately for Team Russia, Ovechkin played some of the best hockey of his career in 2013. With the stakes as high as they'll ever be for the 27-year-old superstar, a lot will be riding on his performance.
In 2010, Ovechkin came up empty against Canada in the quarterfinals, but after a dominant second-half to last season, maybe he's got enough magic in his hands to lock up the gold medal for the host nation.