Published by hockeybuzz.com, 9-9-2017
29 yrs. old
6'0" 208 lbs.
2006, 7th-overall (NYI)
Signed as a free agent July 1, 2016
Career stats: 594 games | 158 goals | 256 assists | 414 points | -67
At the time it seemed as if it wasn't much of a big deal. Right wing Kyle Okposo was a late scratch for Buffalo as the Sabres travelled to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets. Okposo, who had played in two games since dealing with a rib injury that kept him out 10 games prior, was listed as "ill" for the March 28 game and it was lost in controversy.
Prior to the game, winger Sam Reinhart had been suspended by the team, but with Okposo ruled out the team had to dress Reinhart to reach the NHL-mandated 20-player minimum. Without the possibility of bringing in a call-up on such late notice, the 21 yr. old sat on the bench the entire game.
We found out much later that the "illness" Okposo was suffering from was a concussion, which would cause him to miss the final six games of the season. Things would take a turn for the worse in early April as Okposo had an averse reaction tot the medication he was taking and wound up in the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit at Buffalo General Hospital.
"Intensive care is a scary place to be," he wrote in a letter to fans in July, "but I needed a place where I could be stabilized. My doctors felt that the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General was the best place for that to happen.
In that letter he laid out what had happened, that it was a "routine hit in practice" and that he "brushed it off" until his mood began to change and the people around him began to notice. "The medications they gave me to sleep caused a negative reaction in my body," he wrote. "I still couldn't sleep, and the weight loss continued at an alarming rate. At one point, I weighed less than 200 pounds."
During his stay in ICU he was alone with his thoughts. "Your mind starts to question a lot of different things," he told the gathered media after a workout this past week, which included what would happen with his hockey career and whether or not he'd feel normal again.
Okposo began to feel normal in May, in early June he visited the Sabres practice facility and had been in contact with new general manager Jason Botterill who said at coach Phil Housley's introductory press conference that "everything is looking great" for Okposo. "He physically looks great, mentally looks great... From our standpoint, everything will be ready for him at the start of training camp, just like all our other players."
In July, to everyone's delight, Okposo skated in Da Beauty League, an annual charity tournament in his home state of Minnesota. He didn't give any interview afterward but he did reflect upon his reasoning for playing in the tourney saying it wasn't so much to prove he could play again, but it was moreso to "get in more game action, just to try and get some timing back."
This was Okposo's first season in Buffalo after singing a 7yr./$42 million contract on Day-1 of free agency in 2016. Before he went down with his rib injury on March 4, Okposo was leading the team in scoring with 43 points (19+24) in 63 games. He added two assists in two games before his concussion and finished with 45 points in his first season in Buffalo tied for fourth on the team in scoring.
Okposo created great chemistry with center Ryan O'Reilly throughout the season despite the fact that they didn't play a full compliment of games because of injuries to both players. O'Reilly was hampered by back spasms early in the season and had an emergency appendectomy on Christmas day which kept him out for two weeks.
That O'Reilly/Okposo duo was the most consistent forward pairing for Buffalo last season and there's no reason to think that new head coach Phil Housley will deviate from that this season. Especially when Okposo will need some time to acclimate himself back into the speed of the NHL game.
Buffalo fans, who showed immense support for Okposo during his ordeal are sure to give him a rousing round of applause on opening night when the announcer belts out, "At right wing, Number 21, Kyle Okposo!"
Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
G, Robin Lehner