NHL.com is playing Olympic GM this week, offering their selections for each country’s roster as they prepare for the 2009 Winter Games.
This week, Shawn Roarke highlighted Team USA’s options, sifting through a list of American players’ pros and cons.
As far as the Buffalo Sabres earning hype, much of the attention has rightfully gone to netminder Ryan Miller
– who currently leads the NHL in all major categories; including 12 wins, a 1.77 GAA and .939 SV%. The Michigan native is making a strong case to knock off Boston’s Tim Thomas as the frontrunner to start in goal.
However, Roarke says there could be another member of the Sabres making the trip to Vancouver this February if all goes well – center Tim Connolly.
“Not on the orientation list, Connolly is making a solid push to be on the U.S. team come Jan. 1 -- if he can stay healthy. The big center hasn't played a full season since 2002-03, but he was a point-a-game player in a 48-game run last season and has been on a similar pace so far this season. If he makes it to late December without getting dinged, he would be an excellent option to give the Americans some size in the middle.”
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Connolly leads the Sabres with 15 points (4+11) through 17 games this season, including three goals on the power play.
He has some stiff competition. Also vying for a spot down the middle of Team USA’s lineup are the likes of Chris Drury [NYR], Phil Kessel [TOR], Ryan Kesler [VAN], Paul Stastny [COL], Scott Gomez [MTL] and Joe Pavelski [SJ] among others.
Kesler (5+14) and Stastny (4+14) are the only centermen that have more points than Connolly at this point in the season, although Gomez isn’t far behind with 11 points (2+9).
Kessel and Pavelski have each missed some time due to injuries this season but have rebounded nicely, averaging more than a point per game. Kessel has seven points (4+3) through six games after missing the first month due to offseason shoulder surgery while Pavelski has eight points (2+6) in eight games after being out for most of October with a body injury.
Drury hasn’t had the same level of offense as the aforementioned players, scoring only six points (2+4) in 18 games, but possesses the intangibles. He is currently tied for first among NHL forwards with 25 blocked shots. Drury, however, suffered a concussion last week and there is no timetable for his return.
It's also interesting that Roarke mentions Connolly's size as he is not often noticed for his stature. However, among the centers mentioned, only Kesler [6-foot-2] edges Connolly's 6-foot-1 frame.
Connolly has represented the United States twice before in his career, but never at the Olympic level. The Syracuse native registered one goal in the World Junior Championships in 1999 and seven points (3+4) at the World Championships in 2001.
Do you agree with Roarke’s evaluation? What do you think Connolly’s odds are of making Team USA’s roster? Feel free to send me your thoughts