Monday, September 1, 2014

Kunitz on bubble for squad

Chris Kunitz has never generated this much buzz in his hockey-playing career.
Kunitz didn’t play major junior, instead going to little-known Ferris State College, and he wasn’t drafted by an NHL club.

He also has never played in an all-star game.
Yet as Team Canada deliberates its roster for the Sochi Olympics, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ left-winger is the most intriguing case for general manager Steve Yzerman and his staff.
The Regina native isn’t widely considered an elite, Olympic-calibre player but his chemistry with Sidney Crosby makes him a legitimate possibility.
“I think you look at that and you see that in the past, teams have really looked at that and seen it as something that’s pretty beneficial in a short-term event like the Olympics,” Crosby said in an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this season.
“He’s been playing great hockey,” Crosby added. “I think he definitely deserves a real hard look, and I’m sure that’s something they’ll decide.”
Through 42 games, Kunitz is tied for the fifth-most points of any Canadian-born player this season with 43.
Skating alongside Crosby, who’s way ahead of the pack with his 59 points, certainly helps.
But where’s the balance between Kunitz producing because he’s Crosby’s linemate and the notion that Crosby has done so well in part because of his comfort level with Kunitz?
That’s what Yzerman and the management team ultimately must decide before Tuesday’s roster deadline.
Kunitz said earlier this season that he hopes making Crosby “comfortable” on the ice is considered important.
“It’s easier when it’s only a seven-game tournament if you can go and have that chemistry right off the bat,” Kunitz reasoned.
“Obviously everybody’s unbelievably skilled, and they can go out and make that chemistry and make those plays,” he noted.
“But I think that once you can maybe read and react to where a guy is on the ice, or have familiarity with where he’s going to be, it can just make maybe that split-second that can change something in a game.”
Yzerman, coach Mike Babcock, and Team Canada tried cashing in on chemistry in 2010 by bringing the league’s top line at the time: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley of the San Jose Sharks.
That did not work out particularly well although, as Detroit Red Wings’ GM Ken Holland pointed out, “We won gold.”
But it also didn’t completely discount the value of natural chemistry during this process for Sochi. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks should be safe bets to make it and at least start the tournament on a line together.
The value of teammates is hard to quantify.
“We discuss teammates, but I think at the end of the day we’ve got to find players that we think are going to have the best chance to put the best team together,” said Holland, who’s on Canada’s management team.
“Certainly we discuss it, but obviously we’re trying to find the 25 best players.”

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