TORONTO – Dan Boyle cupped his right hand into the shape of a zero. That’s how much he’s thinking about Sochi.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic knows the Team Canada buzz around him is there, but while in the United States he doesn’t hear about it.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the talk from building up around the San Jose Sharks defencemen who are strong candidates to be on the Olympic team.
“Picks (Vlasic) and Boyler are great defencemen, they should be on the team,” Sharks centre and likely Canadian Olympian Logan Couture said. “But they can’t take everyone. We’ll see what happens when they pick the team, but both those guys deserve to be on it.”
Boyle and Vlasic play the same position, but they’re not competing against each other for a spot. Vlasic is a defensive-minded, left-handed shot, while Boyle is a power-play, offence-first, right-handed shot.
And their approaches to the situation are totally different, too. Boyle missed seven games earlier this season after a hit from St. Louis Blues forward Maxim Lapierre gave him a concussion, so his focus is entirely on his game in relation to his health.
“I don’t put any importance at all (on making the Olympic team),” Boyle said Tuesday. “I’m still trying to find my way back. It’s been a challenging year for me since the injury. I’m not thinking about it.”
At 37, Boyle has been there, done that with Team Canada. He was on the taxi squad in Turin in 2006 and had six points in seven games during the gold-medal run in Vancouver in 2010.
Meanwhile, Vlasic is 26 and his international experience has been limited to world championship appearances in 2009 and 2012. After wearing the Maple Leaf on his chest in those tournaments and going to Olympic orientation camp in Calgary in August, he can’t help but think about the Olympics.
“I try to help the Sharks win every night but, yeah, I want to make that team. Of course,” Vlasic said. “That would be the biggest honour of my career to play at the Olympics for my country. The season’s here, I got to concentrate on the Sharks, but obviously I’m going to play my game and hopefully make that team.”
Vlasic is well on his way to doing that. Known more for his consistent play in his own zone, the Montreal native has been a rock on the blue-line for the Sharks.
“His off nights aren’t that bad,” Boyle said. “He’s pretty even-keel, and you know what you’re going to get.”
Sometimes, Vlasic has a little bit more. He has consciously worked on his offensive game, and the results have been there with three goals and nine assists.
“His skating enables him to jump up in the rush and make more plays,” Couture said. “He’s had more confidence this year to be up there and shoot the puck more.”
Vlasic’s numbers and offensive play don’t jump out compared to Canada’s top two lefty defencemen, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues. But they don’t have to because Vlasic would be counted on as more of a mistake-free player than a point-producer.
“I think Picks, he’s the type of D-man where you don’t notice him, and that’s a good thing because he’s so steady,” Couture said. “He’s one of the best skaters, I think, in the league. His skating can make up for a lot of other guys’ mistakes. He’s been a solid D-man since I’ve been in the league, and it’s nice to see him get some recognition.”
According to Sharks coach Todd McLellan, Vlasic is getting noticed more around the NHL because he went to the Olympic camp and is being discussed as a potential member of Team Canada.
“He hasn’t changed his game, he’s played the same way, he does the same things for us,” McLellan said. “The offence has come around a little bit more this year, but we know Marc-Edouard this year like we have any other year. I think the Olympic talk amongst the media has now put a focus on him and people are paying more attention to him.”
Vlasic has earned that attention and separated himself from a handful of other lefties who were at camp: Marc Staal of the New York Rangers, Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marc Methot of the Ottawa Senators, Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks and Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals.
“The door’s open for me to perform and to (be) one step closer to making that team,” Vlasic said. “It’s nice that they see where my play’s been going. I just got to keep it up.”
With the Jan. 7 roster deadline rapidly approaching, it seems as if Vlasic just needs to keep up his steady play to earn a spot on the left side. Boyle is dealing with a more volatile situation on the right, where Canada is already stacked with Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, Alex Pietrangelo of the Blues and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
It could come down to one spot between Boyle and Norris Trophy-winner P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, or general manager Steve Yzerman could elect to take both and go with three lefties and five righties. It’s of no matter to Boyle, who insisted he doesn’t look around the league and wonder about his competition for a spot.
“I don’t think about that one bit, to be honest with you,” Boyle said. “I just try to be the best player that I can every night, and hopefully that’s good enough. That’s about it.”
Boyle and Vlasic have played well enough to help the Sharks to a 19-3-5, good for 43 points, which has them first in the Pacific Division and just behind the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference.
Clearly the Olympic chatter around Boyle and Vlasic hasn’t detracted from their overall play. McLellan was never worried about that.
“They go about their own business,” he said. “They’re more concerned about what’s happening on a daily basis in their own world here with the Sharks. When the time comes and the team is announced, we hope that both of them are there, but those spots are precious.”
Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at @SWhyno.