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Kyle Okposo has eyes on Sochi Olympics

Kyle Okposo (no. 21) of the Islanders celebrates

Kyle Okposo (no. 21) of the Islanders celebrates his first-period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers with his teammates. (Oct. 26, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Kyle Okposo is still auditioning for a dream job, that of U.S. Olympian.

He's picked the right stage to be at his best the last few months. Before USA Hockey selected Penguins coach Dan Bylsma as the head man for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Okposo had his breakout performance against Pittsburgh last May in the six-game Penguins playoff series win.

"I guess that worked out pretty well," Okposo said of his big series last spring, one that surely got him on the list for the U.S. orientation camp in July.

Bylsma said on Friday that Okposo is part of a group of about "six or seven" forwards that the coaching and executive staff, led by Predators general manager David Poile, are keeping a close eye on over the next few weeks. The deadline to select the final 25-man roster is Dec. 31.

"There are about six or seven [forwards] who are locks to make the team," Bylsma said. "The focus of the scouting and the watching of games falls on that next group of five, six, seven, and we're watching them almost nightly.

"Kyle's had a very good start to this season and that's something he's not necessarily known for. So he's put himself in that group we're paying attention to."

Okposo tossed in two more assists in front of Bylsma on Friday, giving the Isles forward 22 points in 23 games -- only the Hawks' Patrick Kane has more points among U.S.-born players -- and that's right around the same number as three more locks for Sochi, Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel and David Backes.

John Tavares admitted the other day on Canadian television he thinks about Sochi pretty much every day, and he has no worries about making that roster. Okposo is more subtle about his wonderings, knowing he needs to focus through these final weeks of consideration and that will determine if he's there.

"Don't get me wrong, it would mean a lot. A lot," he said. "Aside from winning a Stanley Cup, winning a gold medal for your country is about as great an accomplishment as you can have in this game. But I know what will get me there is how I play with the Islanders, so this is my focus."

Vanek won't go to Sochi if hurt

It's a major stress point for the 12 national hockey federations of the Olympic squads: Monitoring the inevitable injuries of eligible players in the NHL leading up to that New Year's Eve roster deadline.

Thomas Vanek could, quite frankly, be wheelchair-bound and Austria would still put him on its roster. The first-time Olympic qualifier absolutely wants its greatest hockey product in Sochi -- but Vanek, who returned on Friday after missing two weeks with a strained oblique, has to focus on the NHL, should there be a tough decision when the Olympic tournament rolls around in February. "I'm obviously looking forward to it, but if I'm banged up or something, I'll have to make the choice to stay here and be ready for the rest of the season," Vanek said. "The Olympics is special, once-in-a-lifetime for me, probably. But my focus is here with the Islanders and it will be for the rest of the year."

Visnovsky slowly getting back

Lubomir Visnovsky rode a stationary bike in Pittsburgh on Friday, his first concrete step toward a return from a concussion. He's been out since Oct. 20; the Isles were 5-10-1 without Visnovsky (including the game he was injured) entering last night's game with the Flyers, and had allowed 58 goals in those 16 games.

Provided he continues to be symptom-free, he could possibly begin light skating next week and progress from there.

Visnovsky will have an Olympic decision to make as well. But Visnovsky is a four-time Olympian for Slovakia, so missing out this time may not be so problematic.

New York Sports