Olympic Watch: Who is playing on to and off of a Sochi roster spot?

Ken Campbell
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The men who choose the teams for the 2014 Olympics are beginning to show up in NHL press boxes with more regularity these days, which should not be a surprise since players showcasing themselves for the national teams have used up almost a quarter of the time allotted to them.

Olympic team rosters must be named by Dec. 31, which is almost the halfway point of the season. Canada has said it would like to have its roster in place by mid-December, which puts a sense of urgency on some of the bubble players in the early going.

“They know there’s a countdown clock going on,” said Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. “So anyone who’s off to a slow start, he’s saying, ‘Geez, I’ve got to (pick it up). And the guy who’s off to a great start, it’s the opposite.”

With that in mind, here’s a list of players who have been playing themselves on and off their country’s Olympic teams through the first two weeks of the season. And before you start with the nasty comments, this subjective list is based only upon how the player has played to this point. We fully realize that selections will be made on a bigger body of work than just the first 35-40 games of the season.

The guys in the ‘on’ category are players who probably entered the season on the bubble, but have seen their stocks rise. Players in the ‘off’category won’t necessarily be left off their teams’ rosters, but they’re certainly not doing themselves any favors.

CANADA
ON
P.K. Subban: Is there a more physically gifted defenseman in the NHL today? When he carries the puck through the neutral zone, it’s a thing to behold.

Logan Couture: If you look closely enough, you can see the torch in San Jose being passed to him.

Carey Price: Canada was looking for one of its elite goalies to step up and play to his capabilities and Price has done that.

Matt Duchene: The Avalanche’s new go-go-go attitude has benefited Duchene and showcased his talents.

OFF
Claude Giroux: Canada is loaded at center and won’t be able to afford to take someone who is producing as little as Giroux has been.

USA
ON
Joe Pavelski: Wins faceoffs, makes plays and can dish the puck with some of the best.

Justin Faulk: The Hurricanes third-year defenseman is logging 25 minutes a game and is showing signs of being an elite two-way player.

Seth Jones: It could be a longshot, but Jones is showing early that he belongs with the best players in the world.

OFF
Jonathan Quick: It’s likely he’ll be on the USA roster regardless of how he has played, but you’d have to think he’s letting the starting job slip through his fingers at the moment.

RUSSIA
ON
Semyon Varlamov: Taking time during the summer to train in Quebec with Patrick Roy, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Francois Allaire is paying off big-time for Varlamov and the Avalanche.

Vladimir Tarasenko: He faded badly down the stretch for the Blues in his rookie season, but has started out with five points in six games.

OFF
Nail Yakupov: Being a healthy scratch when you’re trying to make an impression is never a good thing.

SWEDEN
ON
Alex Steen: How does a center ice corps of Henrik Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom and Steen sound?

Jakob Silfverberg: The young prospect brought back in the Bobby Ryan trade was outscoring Ryan through the first six games of the season.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: In his fourth NHL season, a 50-point campaign and Norris consideration are not out of the realm of possibility.

Jonas Brodin: There was outrage in Minnesota that Brodin didn’t receive more love in Calder Trophy voting last season. He will not be overlooked for Sochi.

OFF
Loui Eriksson: Again, it would probably be a shock if he were not on the team, but Eriksson is hardly off to the start the Boston Bruins envisioned when they dealt Tyler Seguin for him.

Gabriel Landeskog: He has played a strong game without the puck, but he could do with putting up some more impressive numbers.

FINLAND
ON
Aleksander Barkov: He’s getting more minutes with every passing game in Florida and putting together an impressive debut season.

Olli Maatta: This guy was expected to be returned to the London Knights by now. Instead, he’s making a case for full-time employment on a deep Penguins blueline corps.

OFF
Niklas Backstrom: Goal is the one position where there is real NHL competition among Finns and Backstrom’s numbers are the worst of those on the short list.

CZECH REPUBLIC
ON
Tomas Hertl: Well, duh. The kid is leading the NHL in goals as a rookie.

Jiri Hudler: The second-leading scorer among Czechs is piling up points for the most surprising team in the league.

OFF
Jiri Tlusty: Everything he shot went in last season, but Tlusty is still looking for his first NHL goal of 2013-14.

Martin Erat: It’s hard to put up numbers when you’re playing fourth-line minutes and there simply isn’t a fit on the roster.

SLOVAKIA
ON
Tomas Jurco: There are only 12 Slovaks playing in the NHL this season, so they’ll probably all make it. So will American Leaguer Jurco, who has a Calder Cup to his credit and is being brought along slowly by the Detroit Red Wings.

OFF
Tomas Kopecky: He’ll almost certainly be there, but Kopecky has no points, despite playing more than 15 minutes a game.