<<Kyle Okposo Team USA candidate
USA Hockey and Team USA general manager Brian Burke today announced Toronto coach Ron Wilson will coach the U.S. team in the upcoming IIHF World Championships in Switzerland and in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. While Wilson spoke of turning to a "new generation" of American players, Burke confirmed that Islanders rookie forward Kyle Okposo is a strong candidate for both teams.
When you listen to Wilson's description of the style he plans to play and the type of player he wants, it sounds as if the Isles' high-energy, 18-goal scorer fits the bill perfectly. "When you look around the NHL now, there's a new generation of American players," Wilson said. "There comes a time when you've got to turn the page, and a young team playing with enthusiasm coming in, I think, is the best way for us to be successful in a place like Vancouver. A lot of these younger people have been involved in all kinds of world championships via the junior level or even the last couple of years in the world championships, and I think it's their time to shine."
Burke and Wilson took care to express their appreciation for many of the older warriors who always have answered the bell whenever USA Hockey called upon them. Among the names they mentioned were current Islander Doug Weight and former Isles captain Bill Guerin. Burke noted how well Guerin is playing and said players like him and Chris Chelios also would be considered.
But when asked directly if a player like Okposo, who played in the world juniors a little more than a year ago before signing with the Islanders, would be in the age group he is strongly considering, Burke didn't hesitate.
"I like some size on my teams, and I like a team that can play any style and survive and do well," Burke said. "And Kyle Okposo is very much alive as a candidate for this team to go to Switzerland and also beyond that. One thing our committee has said from the get-go is we're not going to exclude anybody because they're too old or too young. What's important is that each player be able to do a job. You can take the 20 best guys and hope they adapt to jobs, or you can take guys who are good at certain things, and I'm more the latter. I like to find people who are good at certain things and give them specific tasks."
Any way you slice it, Okposo fits the profile. He has done everything for Islanders coach Scott Gordon from manning the point on the power play to killing penalties. He can play defense and create turnovers with his great stickwork or he can be an offensive force with his size, strength on the puck and playmaking ability around the net. He has international experience, and he's already showing leadership qualities with the Islanders.
Once Okposo gets past the groin strain that has sidelined him the past two games, he should have plenty of time to prepare if chosen for the Worlds, which run April 24-May 10 in Switzerland.
Asked recently what it would mean to him to be selected, Okposo said: "It would be a fun opportunity and a good chance to showcase myself. Putting on a USA sweater is always a fun feeling…It would be fun to play with some of the cream of the crop in the league and get a feel for different players in the league."
By no means is Okposo counting his chickens before the hatch. He doesn't view his experience playing for Team USA in juniors as necessarily giving him a leg up on the competition. "Some people go young, and some people mature later," Okposo said. "I've played for them a little bit. It means a lot to me to know I've played on those teams, but for the World Championships, they're going to select the best players."
Okposo certainly is proving that he's one of the best young players in the U.S. pool of talent. He turns 21 on April 16, and it won't be surprising if he has been named to Team USA for the Worlds by then if all goes well for him physically.
Forever1940 is the nom de plume of Eric Hornick, statistician on Islander home telecasts since 1982.