Predicting Which Washington Capitals Will Play in 2014 Winter Olympics

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2013

Predicting Which Washington Capitals Will Play in 2014 Winter Olympics

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    The deadline for announcing Olympic hockey rosters for Sochi 2014 has been officially extended to Jan. 7 due to pressure from Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, according to ESPN.com

    Undeterred, Team USA still plans to announce their roster Jan. 1, according to USAToday.com

    Whatever the exact date, Washington Capitals fans want to know: Which Capitals will make their country's respective rosters for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia? 

    Here is a list predicting which Washington Capitals will play in the 2014 Winter Olympics. The players are listed in order from forwards to defense to goalie, with three players listed at the beginning who will just miss out on the Olympics and a surprise selection listed at the end. 

     

    Note: All statistics updated through Nov. 30 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Martin Erat, RW, CZECH REPUBLIC

    Martin Erat has been a fixture for the Czech national team since 2006, playing in three World Championships and two Olympic Games in that span. But an era will come to an end in Sochi. 

    This season, Erat has played himself out of contention for the Czech Republic roster. Of course, Erat will claim that Capitals head coach Adam Oates has coached him out of contention for the Czech Republic roster, making Erat a healthy scratch three times so far this season. Those were the first three healthy scratches of Erat's 12-year career. 

    But the Czech national team will only see Erat's numbers, and the numbers don't lie. Erat has zero goals and seven assists in 24 games with only 17 shots on goals. His average time on ice of 13:01 is the lowest of his career since 2002-03, according to Hockey-Reference.com

    Any chance of Erat salvaging a nightmarish season by playing for his country in the Olympics seems to have slipped away. 

     

    Karl Alzner, D, CANADA

    Karl Alzner is having another solid season for the Washington Capitals. 

    The 25-year-old BC native has five assists for five points in 27 games with a plus-five rating and 10 penalty minutes. He leads all Capitals players in plus/minus rating and is second on the team in blocked shots

    When Alzner received his invite to Canada's Olympic camp this summer, he told Cam Tucker of MetroNews.ca that “there’s no better feeling. And I’m not even on the (Olympic) team. I’m just on their radar.”

    Alzner won't make the Olympic roster this time around. But he will most definitely stay on "their radar" for the next four years, especially if he continues to stay in the lineup. Alzner has yet to miss a game this season and has played every game in each of the last three seasons as well.  

     

    Braden Holtby, G, CANADA

    Braden Holtby was invited to Canada's Olympic camp this summer. But even Holtby told Brian McNally of CSNWashington.com that "it’s a little weird, me being the young guy," adding that "I probably have the least amount of Hockey Canada experience out of anyone." To his point, Holtby's only appearance in the red maple leaf came in the 2007 U-18 World Junior Championships. He made one appearance. 

    Additionally, the 24-year-old Saskatchewan native happens to be trying out for quite possibly the deepest of any position on any team in the entire tournament. 

    Case in point: Dan Rosen of NHL.com projects that in addition to Holtby, Team Canada will leave goalies Mike Smith, Josh Harding, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Bernier and Martin Brodeur off of their roster. It should be a narrow decision, however. Of the nine potential goalies Dan Rosen mentions for the Canadian Team, Holtby's .925 save percentage ranks ahead of all of them except for Carey Price, Harding and Bernier. Price is the only one of those three that Rosen named to the team. 

    Four years from now, expect Rosen and other hockey experts to be naming Holtby to the Canadian Olympic roster. 

1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, RUSSIA

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Alex Ovechkin is a lock for Team Russia. 

    He better be. It would be rather embarrassing if one of the Sochi 2014 ambassadors and Russia's first Olympic torchbearer was not even included on the roster for the premier team sport of the Winter Olympics. 

    As far as the hockey goes, Ovechkin has put to rest any doubt about his status on the Russian Olympic roster with his play thus far. Ovechkin currently leads the NHL with 21 goals and eight power-play goals while scoring on 15.2 percent of his league-leading 138 shots

    As a result, Ovechkin is projected by Vassili Ossipov of NHL.com to play left wing on the Russia's first line along with Pavel Datsyuk and former teammate Alexander Semin. 

    All eyes will be on Ovechkin and his Russian teammates as they attempt to duplicate Canada's feat from 2010 by winning Olympic gold as the host nation while living up to tremendous national pressure. 

2. Nicklas Backstrom, C, SWEDEN

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Nicklas Backstrom will once again don the Tre Kronor of Sweden for the Olympics. The 26-year-old pivot also played for his home country in Vancouver

    The 2010 Olympics went downhill in a hurry for Sweden, however. After winning all three of their group games by a combined score of 9-2, the Swedes were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Slovakia, according to IIHF.com

    Backstrom and the rest of Team Sweden are expected to erase those memories in Sochi. On Nov. 22, Andrew Berkshire of SBNation.com ranked Sweden as the top team in his most recent weekly Winter Olympic hockey power rankings. 

    One of the reasons Sweden is a favorite is its strength up the middle. In Washington, Backstrom centers the Capitals' top line but on Team Sweden, Backstrom is projected by Brian Compton of NHL.com to center the third line of forwards. 

    That's not an insult. Compton's first two lines are centered by Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg, respectively. Both Sedin (fifth) and Zetterberg (seventh) currently rank ahead of Backstrom (ninth) among the NHL's top 30 in assists

3. Marcus Johansson, LW/C, SWEDEN

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    Jana Chytilova/Getty Images

    If Capitals fans think that Nicklas Backstrom is overlooked and underappreciated, then they probably feel the same way about Backstrom's linemate and fellow Swede Marcus Johansson

    Unbeknownst to the rest of the NHL, Johansson is having a breakout season in Washington. The 23-year-old is 23rd in the NHL in assists and 24th in power-play assists. He is producing 0.70 points per game and is on pace to total 57 points on the year, a career-high according to Hockey-Reference.com

    The Swedish national team will notice Johansson's performance and name him to the team. Bleacher Report's own Nicholas Goss predicted this back on Aug. 23. 

    Johansson may not play much in Sochi, as he is likely to be one of the reserve forwards on a deep Swedish team. However, the speedy Johansson also has experience as a center and gives the Swedes an athletic, versatile option off their bench. 

4. John Carlson, D, UNITED STATES

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    John Carlson is finally blossoming into the player described by The Hockey News as a "talented all-around defenseman with upside," something the Capitals envisioned when they drafted him in the first round of the 2008 NHL draft. 

    Carlson is eighth among NHL defensemen with six goals and ninth in power-play goals. But he also ranks 17th in blocked shots, fourth in takeaways and first in short-handed time on ice per game among all NHL defensemen. 

    Carlson's maturation would be complete if he were named to the United States Olympic team. Both Corey Masisak of NHL.com and Chris Peters of CBSSports.com predict that Carlson will not only make the roster but will comprise half of the second defensive pairing.  

    Team USA would be wise to bring along a player who knows a thing or two about defeating the host country in the gold medal game of a major international tournament. John Carlson did just that in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championships when he scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Canada in Saskatoon. Carlson's goal brought junior gold to the U.S. for the first time since 2004 and only the second time up to that point in tournament history, according to IIHF.com

    If Carlson can reprise his role as hero in Sochi, he would once again end a long medal drought. Team USA has not won Olympic gold in hockey since 1980, the same year Team USA defeated the USSR in the famed "Miracle on Ice". Then Carlson would never have to buy a drink again as long as he was stateside, just like the hero of that 1980 team, captain Mike Eruzione. 

5. Michal Neuvirth, G, CZECH REPUBLIC

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Michal Neuvirth has been the backup goalie for the Capitals the last two seasons. Now the goalie who decorates his mask in tribute to his native country should also be the backup goalie for the Czech Republic in Sochi. 

    Neuvirth has been solid in limited action this season. The 25-year-old has a 2-3-1 record in seven games with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. 

    Neuvirth has never played for the Czech national team. Accordingly, Steven Ives of TheHockeyWriters.com predicted that Michal Neuvirth would fill the third spot on the Czech Republic's goaltending depth chart, behind Ondrej Pavelec and Tomas Vokoun. Ives notes that "the three aforementioned netminders are the only trio of Czechs currently in the NHL." 

    But Vokoun announced to iDNES.cz (translation via Google) on April 26 that he was retiring from the Czech national team. Plus, Vokoun is injured and has not played this season. So expect Neuvirth to be Pavelec's backup in Sochi. 

Bonus: Evgeny Kuznetsov, RW, RUSSIA

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    I know, I know. Evgeny Kuznetsov is not a member of the Washington Capitals.

    But that might change this season, as he told Tomas Kmec of allhockey.ru (translation via Google) in January of this year. And all those Caps fans who have followed Kuznetsov in other major international tournaments in the past can now watch Kuzya on international hockey's biggest stage. 

    Vassili Ossipov of NHL.com predicts that Kuznetsov will play right wing on Russia's fourth line, ahead of current NHLer Nail Yakupov. Of the 14 forwards Ossipov names to his projected roster, Kuznetsov is one of six currently playing in the KHL. 

    Kuznetsov plays for Traktor Chelyabinsk, his hometown team. The 21-year-old has seven goals and seven assists in 17 games with a minus-five rating and eight penalty minutes. Kuznetsov has four power-play goals and one short-handed goal and has converted on 12.1 percent of his 58 shots while averaging 19:24 in time on ice per game, according to KHL.ru

    If Kuznetsov is named to the Russian roster, Capitals fans would be able to watch Russian wingers from the franchise's past (Alexander Semin), present (Alex Ovechkin) and future (Evgeny Kunzetsov) all playing for the same team, which also happens to rock the red.