Couture, Thornton, Vlasic, Boyle, Pavelski, Niemi invited to Olympic Camps

NHL players are headed to the 2014 Sochi Olympics and six Sharks made their nations' preliminary orientation camp rosters today.

Eight Sharks traveled to Vancouver to compete in the Men's Hockey Tournament at the 2010 Winter Games. That number will be decidedly lower at next year's Sochi Olympics but six San Jose players earned spots on their countries' summer orientation camp rosters announced today. Team Canada invited Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic along with 2010 gold medalists Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle, Team USA picked 2010 silver medalist Joe Pavelski and Team Finland included Antti Niemi among their enviable slew of goaltending talent.

The most notable snub among Sharks players is clearly Patrick Marleau, who I would have previously pegged as having one of the better chances among San Jose skaters to make Team Canada both because he's still an excellent two-way player and he was a significant factor in Canada's gold medal in Vancouver. Marleau is surely better than the likes of camp invitees Chris Kunitz, Matt Duchene, Mike Richards, Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic, although the same can probably be said of fellow snubs Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza. There's nothing strictly preventing Canada or any other nation from bringing to the Games a player uninvited to summer camp but it's a rare occurrence.

As for the players heading to camp, Pavelski is a veritable lock to make the final Team USA roster and likely has the inside track to centering that entry's first line. Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne are almost certainly higher than Niemi on Finland's depth chart but, coming off a season in which he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy, Niemi has a good shot at beating out Kari Lehtonen to be the team's third-stringer in Sochi. Boyle's chances of going to Sochi are hurt by Team Canada's glut of right-side defensemen; Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang and Brent Seabrook all shoot right and are all ahead of Boyle. Conversely, Vlasic's chances are boosted by Canada's dearth of left-side options but it's hard to see Steve Yzerman and company taking a one-dimensional shutdown defenseman, even one as excellent as Vlasic, when they have two-way blueliners at their disposal who pack more of an offensive punch. It's hard to see Thornton making it onto the team as a center and his game doesn't translate terribly well to the wing. Couture's does and, for that reason among many, he probably has the best shot of the four at making the final cut, especially if he gets off to a hot start this season.

Team USA seems to have done a good job identifying their thirteen best forwards, seven best defensemen and three best goalies, which is obviously reassuring and ultimately all that matters provided those are the guys going to Russia. However, some of their other selections are, in a word, questionable. It makes sense to bring future Olympians like Seth Jones and John Gibson to an event like this for the experience but why players like Trevor Lewis, Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser were given invites while Brandon Dubinsky, Drew Stafford and Matt Carle sit at home is beyond me. Jason Pominville also strikes me as an eyebrow-raising omission although it's possible his dual citizenship status somehow played a part in that. You'd like to think these guys are capable of being objective but I don't think it's outrageous to blame USA braintrust members David Poile, Dean Lombardi and Ray Shero's team-tinted glasses for the inclusions of Craig Smith, Lewis and Beau Bennett, respectively.

Two more Sharks in Martin Havlat and Tomas Hertl could potentially receive invites to the Team Czech Republic camp whose roster has yet to be announced.