Dec 23, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo (21) receives congratulations from teammates after scoring in the first period against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Okposo Has Made His Claim for USA Roster Spot

Kyle Okposo is a difference maker. Kyle Okposo is a work horse. Kyle Okposo is undeniably talented, strong on his skates, and possesses a heavy shot.  But Kyle Okposo is currently on a struggling, and for all intents and purposes, ‘bad’ team.

And for that reason alone, most media outlets have unjustly snubbed him for a spot on the USA Sochi squad.

Taking two sites as prime examples of the expansive sample size read these past few weeks on the subject, CBS News and the vast majority of the Puck Daddy staff (sans Ryan Lambert, Columnist), most have either snubbed Kyle Okposo outright, or have him low on the list as an “Extra Forward.”

When one compares the small pool of candidates for the final one or two spots, there’s a sense that Okposo’s chances will be stymied because of his team’s current woes.

Compact that with a franchise that is under the thumb of a saturated New York/Tri-State area sports media market, and seemingly and equally unjustly dwarfed by their cross-town rivals, who although have made the playoffs more consistently, haven’t the championship pedigree to garner that much attention.

If Kyle Okposo doesn’t make the final cut, then point the finger at lack of exposure and not his lack of effort as the reason why; and if that sounds biased, then say it’s to do with coaches and administrators in charge of creating the USA squad, whose myopic look around the league may cost this hard-working player his shot at representing his country.

Perhaps the aforementioned is harsh in your eyes, but intriguing it would be to ask Dan Blysma who put the most fear in him during the playoffs last season; to name the one player whom he felt was the difference maker, be it a check, a goal, a pass, and/or a scrap. Short answer: Kyle Okposo.

Some will point to his sluggish start to last season’s truncated year as Okposo’s one defining factor for being passed over, and to a degree there’s some logic there, though not much, but enough for those who don’t pay attention to the Islanders to turn their gaze elsewhere.

But those who’ve followed his career since its inception can say that without Kyle Okposo these past six years, the franchise would be in dire straits beyond anything currently on the ice at present.

With the addition of John Tavares in ’09-’10, the Islanders seemed poised for a rebuild to pay dividends in the near future. And as recently as April 2013, it appeared that the Isles were either one or two players away, and two to three seasons closer to becoming the franchise most remember from the heyday of the 1980s.

But imbalanced goaltending, injuries, and a young and inexperienced defensive core have all but put those hopes to bed for now.

But Kyle Okposo, alongside John Tavares, have put the Islanders on their respective shoulders, and done what is expected from star players: score, hustle, bleed.

Considering with what Kyle Okposo has for a team at present, his accomplishments must be multiplied by two.

 

The USA Squad at Present

According to CBS’s Chris Peters, the potential USA the forwards should be:

LINE LEFT WING CENTER RIGHT WING
Line 1 Zach Parise Ryan Kesler Patrick Kane
Line 2 James van Riemsdyk Joe Pavelski Phil Kessel
Line 3 Max Pacioretty David Backes Bobby Ryan
Line 4 Dustin Brown Paul Stastny Ryan Callahan
Extra Forwards T.J. Oshie Derek Stepan

 

Notice that, as it stands, Stepan makes the team over Okposo, which is far-fetched and quite honestly a bit ridiculous, pointing back to the aforementioned comment about team exposure and bias.

Stepan is an incredibly talented and an offensive threat anywhere he plays–that’s a truism; he’s also incredibly fast, but he’s wrong for this squad filled with blue collar, hard-nosed players.

The USA squad is in need of those forwards to do the gritty, grinding work that will contain teams like Russia and slow down teams like Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry‘s Canada.

For all his speed, Derek Stepan doesn’t offer you that, and if we’re addressing “Extra Forwards,” why not Kyle Okposo, who’s size, speed, strength, and NHL experience match or closely match those of Bobby Ryan?

Derek Stepan is a bit undersized and young for this current squad. That’s also a truism.

……………….

Mr. Greg Wyshynski, Editor of Puck Daddy has the USA forwards as:

Zach Parise-Joe Pavelski-Patrick Kane
James van Riemsdyk-Ryan Kesler-Phil Kessel
Dustin Brown-David Backes-Bobby Ryan
Max Pacioretty-Paul Stastny-T.J. Oshie
Brandon Saad, Ryan Callahan

At first glance, this team seems to be the proper choice stats-wise, but notice his selection of Brandon Saad over Kyle Okposo for the “Extra Forward.”

Brandon Saad is also an immense talent who happens to be on the very best team in hockey. When comparing his experience in the NHL, which must also include adversity such as playing for a poor team, Saad falls short. Not to say his membership on the Blackhawks belies his talent, but there’s something to be said for playing on a phenomenal squad.

Saad’s young, fast, and gifted of course, but his short stint in the NHL doesn’t make him better than Kyle Okposo. Saad benefits highly from being on a team with as much scrutiny and success as an NHL owner would ever hope to gain. That’s what’s at issue here.

  • Saad’s career stats are 89 GP, 23 G, 33 A, 56 pts in two years of NHL play, and that’s with the truncated season in tow.
  • Kyle Okposo’s stats through the last three years (truncated season in tow) are: 165 GP, 40 G, 62 A, 102 pts.

Going by stats alone, Okposo stands to gain the spot and not Saad. The fact that the young Chicago forward plays for the Stanley Cup champs is the reason for his name even remotely considered for Sochi. If it’s a standoff between the two, Okposo wins hands down.

………………

Then there’s T. J. Oshie versus Kyle Okposo.

Oshie’s numbers are almost identical through three years to the Islander right-winger: 146 GP, 30 G, 74 A, 104 pts. Again, Oshie benefits from playing on a solid team, with one of the best defensive cores in all of hockey. But his lack of size, 5′ 11″ 189 lbs versus Okposo’s 6′ 212 lbs, doesn’t help bolster the USA’s ability to stifle the neutral zone and free up pucks along the boards, something that Okposo’s size and determination affords.

Greg Wyshynski has T. J. Oshie starting, while Chris Peters has him as an alternate. Somewhat conflicting notions here, but either scenario doesn’t suit the needs of America’s team, one of fortitude and physicality over speed and finesse, which Team Canada will have in boat loads.

Ideally, you bring up Okposo, pass over T. J. Oshie, and invite: Jason Pominville.

The newly re-minted Minnesota Wild forward has played 9 years in the NHL and has amassed 206 G, 287 A, 493 pts.

If anyone’s to trump Okposo’s spot on this squad, it’s Jason Pominville. But if you forego Derek Stepan, T. J. Oshie, Brandon Saad, and Alex Galchenyuk (19 year old Rookie) and Justin Abdelkader (6 years, 31 G, 42 A, 73 pts) then both Pominville and Okposo make it and you have yourself a tough group of Americans ready to do some damage internationally.

 

In Summa

Kyle Okposo brings

  • tough, gritty, grinding hockey, filled with courage in those greasy areas that will be march larger than those of the NHL. His speed is needed to keep opposing players from squirming free to wreak havoc in front of Jonathan Quick.
  • intelligence and fortitude on the Power Play, who can play alongside the great Patrick Kane without so much as missing a beat–the benefits of playing with John Tavares will come in handy here.
  • the ability to single-handedly turn a game around with just one play
  • strong skater and heavy shot from the point
  • he’s 6′ and plays like he’s 6′ 4″
  • plays with tremendous heart during big games–USA coach Dan Blysma can attest to the aforementioned personally

 

Kyle Okposo must be an Olympian if there’s any justice in the hockey world.

 

[Food for thought: Why is Max Pacioretty a 'lock' for this team?]

 

–RD (@RDNHL)

 

 

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