With the buzz of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey still in the air, let’s take a look at which Capitals might represent their countries in the eight-team tournament that will take place in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre next fall from Sept. 17-Oct. 1.
John Carlson, defense
At 25 years old, Carlson is coming off his most productive NHL season – fifth among NHL blue liners with 43 assists -- and is entering the prime of his career. Ironically, Carlson was paired with former Penguins veteran Brooks Orpik in the 2014 Winter Games and was reunited with him when Orpik arrived in Washington before last season.
Brooks Orpik, defense
Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter and Carlson are locks to make the U.S. team, but Orpik, who will turn 34 later this month, will need to have a strong 2015-16 season to prove he can handle the role of a shot-blocking, crease-clearing veteran presence on a back end that could include youngsters Justin Faulk and Kevin Shattenkirk.
T.J. Oshie, right wing
With seasoned studs like Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny, Oshie will need to have a big season in his first year with the Capitals to play his way onto the World Cup stage. Casual fans may see him as a shootout specialist and that will help his cause, but Oshie’s edgy style should also be attractive to the Team USA management staff.
Braden Holtby, goaltender
Two years ago, Holtby attended Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp with the hopes of playing in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Holtby struggled for most of that 2013-14 season but had a breakout season last year and is looking to build off his success this season. Barring any setbacks Holtby should challenge Carey Price for the chance to be the starter for the Canadians next year.
Alex Ovechkin, left wing
With eight goals in 17 Olympic games for Team Russia, Ovechkin will be looking to silence his critics from 2014 following Russia’s no-medal showing as Olympic host. He’s also likely to benefit from the NHL-sized rinks, allowing him to be a more dominant physical presence than on the wider surfaces in Europe.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, center
There is no question Kuznetsov, 23, represents the next wave of Russian stars and his anticipated success this season likely will put him on the same ice as legendary forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Nicklas Backstrom, center
After his ordeal in Sochi, where he was suspended from playing in the gold medal game due to testing positive for allergy medication, Backstrom will be eager to lead Sweden into international battle. He led the NHL in assists last season with 60 and in nine Olympic games with Sweden Backstrom has one goal and nine assists, prompting Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to say Backstrom would rather pick up an assist than score a goal.
Marcus Johansson, center/left/right wing
Johansson was a late addition to Team Sweden in 2014 and picked up one assist in five games. Entering a contract season for the second year in a row, Johansson will have plenty incentive to put up big numbers this season after netting a career-high 20 goals and 47 points last season.
Outside shot: Andre Burakovsky
Philipp Grubauer, goaltender
Comprised of players from countries such as Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Norway, Belarus, Switzerland, Latvia and Denmark, Team Europe could show interest in Grubauer, a 23-year-old netminder from Rosenheim, Germany. Grubauer has represented his country in two World Championship games and seven World Junior Championship matches and is expected to back up Holtby this season.
Andre Burakovsky, center/left wing
Born in Austria and raised in Sweden, Burakovsky would have a better shot at making Team Europe than he would Team Sweden, although his preference likely would be to play for Three Crowns. At 20 he still has plenty of room to grow and plenty of time to play for his home country.
Team North America
Tom Wilson, right wing
Made up of American and Canadian players who will be 23 or younger, this could be one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament with talented players like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nathan McKinnon and Aaron Ekblad. Those players will need someone to protect them and Wilson would be more than willing to stand up to anyone interested in pushing them around. Wilson is anticipating a big season this year and he’s already got the attention of Team North America managers Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman.
Team Czech Republic
Jakub Vrana, right wing
At 19, Vrana still has a lot to prove between now and next September, but his shot and his hands are undeniably lethal and he could draw some attention from the Czech management team. Vrana would need to light up the AHL and perhaps see time with the Capitals before warranting serious consideration to play on an aging team anchored by Jake Voracek, Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr.
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