Olympic Hopeful

"One hundred percent he should be on that Olympic team." - Doug Weight

Friday, 12.27.2013 / 4:59 PM ET / News
By Cory Wright
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Olympic Hopeful
\"One hundred percent he should be on that Olympic team.\" - Doug Weight
Kyle Okposo sports a Team USA jersey at orientation camp during the summer. (Getty Images)

As well as Kyle Okposo has played over the last year, he seems to save his best hockey for the Pittsburgh Penguins. You couldn’t pick a better team to perform against, playing in front of two sets of influential eyes in the Team USA roster selection for the 2014 Sochi Olympics - Penguins general manager (and Team USA associate general manager) Ray Shero and (Penguins and Team USA) head coach Dan Bylsma. Okposo scored crucial goals and made game-changing plays in last year’s playoff series against the Pens, and he's added five points (two goals, three assists) in three games against Pittsburgh this season.

Okposo is making a very strong case to be included on the US Olympic men’s hockey roster, set to be announced January 1 after the Winter Classic. At the Christmas break, the St. Paul, MN, native is off to his best start, with 33 points (12g/21a) in 38 games, an identical total with names such as Phil Kessel and Joe Pavelski, who both are rumored as locks to make the team.

“One hundred percent he should be on that Olympic team,” Islanders assistant coach and former US Olympian Doug Weight said. “Kyle has bloomed in the last 14 months of his career. He is a horse out there and is one of the best forwards we have on a consistent basis. After seeing all the Olympic team previews, I think they would be remised if they didn’t give him a chance.”

Okposo’s points don’t tell the whole story, although as of Dec. 27, he was tied for third amongst American-born players in scoring (behind Patrick Kane and Bobby Ryan). His coaches cited his character, leadership, hustle and physicality as prime reasons why he deserves strong consideration to wear the red, white and blue in Sochi.

“Those are things that can bring a lot to a team and I’m sure that is what they look for,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. “Last season in the playoffs and this year he’s been using that big body and he’s skating fast and physical. I really like his discipline, his shooting and he’s been making really good decisions when moving the puck.”

The 25-year-old has found a home on the Islanders top line and is taking full advantage of his situation. He’s a top-20 scorer in the league, wears the A (associate captain) on his jersey and has stepped up against the NHL’s top teams, like Pittsburgh.

“I always knew he was good, but now playing with him I realized how many different things he does,” linemate Thomas Vanek said. “He can shoot the puck with the best and his vision and skating are very good at a high speed.”

Keen observers have taken note of Okposo’s growth this season, as the hard-nosed forward is effectively using his 6’0”, 215 lbs. frame. He stands up for his teammates in scrums and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, coupling his high-end skill with sandpaper.

“Kyle skates extremely well for a guy with his dominating size. He’s not afraid to go in the corners or in front of the net, and he can also play that finesse game on the outside," Vanek said. "There’s many different ways Kyle can create plays.”

Okposo has international experience, playing on the United States' U-17, U-20 and World Championship clubs, but his play has elevated since his last trip overseas.

The Team USA management does not have an easy decision with the players they have to choose from, but without a doubt, Okposo has proven that his name deserves to be in with the many hopefuls who dream of representing their country.

The Coliseum faithful already knows what Okposo brings to the Islanders on a nightly basis; now it’s time for the rest of the country to find out too.

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - MTL 77 47 22 8 203 174 102
2 x - NYR 75 47 21 7 228 177 101
3 x - TBL 77 47 23 7 249 201 101
4 PIT 76 42 23 11 210 190 95
5 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
6 DET 75 40 23 12 220 206 92
7 WSH 76 41 25 10 223 188 92
8 BOS 76 38 25 13 201 196 89
9 OTT 75 37 26 12 218 203 86
10 FLA 76 35 26 15 190 207 85
11 PHI 76 30 29 17 198 219 77
12 CBJ 75 36 35 4 207 232 76
13 NJD 76 31 33 12 168 194 74
14 CAR 75 28 36 11 174 204 67
15 TOR 76 28 42 6 198 244 62
16 BUF 76 21 47 8 148 255 50

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 77 34 43 -2 77
R. Strome 76 16 32 20 48
K. Okposo 55 16 31 -11 47
F. Nielsen 76 14 28 8 42
B. Nelson 77 19 22 7 41
A. Lee 71 23 16 10 39
J. Bailey 65 15 23 3 38
J. Boychuk 67 8 25 9 33
N. Leddy 73 10 21 14 31
T. Hamonic 67 5 26 16 31
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 36 16 2 .913 2.42
C. Johnson 8 8 1 .889 3.08

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