Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--RW, Kyle Okposo

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-16-2018

Right Wing--Kyle Okposo
DOB:  April 16, 1988 (Age, 30)
Draft:  2006, 1st round (7th-overall,) NYI
How acquired:  2016 FA
Last contract signed:  July 1, 2016--7yr./$42M
Final year of contract:  2022-23

2017-18- Stats:  76 games played | 15 goals | 29 assists | 44 points | -34 | 17:01 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  141 games | 34 goals | 55 assists | 89 points | -41 | 17:55 ATOI

What we wrote preseason:  "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." So began the preseason piece that focused mainly on Okposo's wild and scary medical journey that began in March 2017. It began a concussion on a hit at practice but ended up with a trip to ICU after an averse reaction to sleep medication. The 29 yr. old veteran of 10 NHL seasons spent last summer trying to work his way out of that dark time and into game shape.

During the 2016-17, "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 together because of injuries to both players. That O'Reilly/Okposo duo was the most consistent forward pairing for Buffalo [that] season and there's no reason to think that new head coach Phil Housley will deviate from that. Especially when Okposo will need some time to acclimate himself back into the NHL game."

What we wrote mid-season:  "Although it sounds like an excuse, it might not be too far-fetched to believe that the late-season/off-season health issues he recovered from actually took a lot longer than anyone thought. And it showed in his early season struggles as Okposo didn't score his first goal until the 11th game, and has had a couple long stretches where he didn't hit the score sheet. But as of late it looks like he's found his legs and his shot. Housley has been moving him up and down the lineup but he and O'Reilly seem to always end up on the same line."

Impressions on his play this year:  It wasn't a good start for Okposo. At the time of the mid-season piece he had only 13 points (4+9) in 30 games. At locker cleanout Okposo told the gathered media that "the training wasn't there" over the summer, and that he felt "disjointed" because he "didn't have the base, didn't have the mechanics." He did get his feet under him finishing with 11 goals and 20 assists in his final 46 games. That stretch equates to a .674 points-percentage which is one point below his career .684 average. Adding to those production troubles was his minus-34 rating which was worst on the team and second worst in the NHL last season.

But for Okposo, just getting back on the ice for a full season seemed to be "I just need to get back to having a good summer of training. Last year I didn't...and there's a lot of reasons why. Looking back to where I was a year ago, all things considered, I'm pretty happy that I played a full season. I didn't know if I was going to be able to at this time last year and I wasn't even thinking about hockey."

It's easy to root for Okposo who, from everything that's said and written about him, seems like one of the good guys. He's got plenty to work on this summer which includes getting back to his regular off-season training regimen while also, admittedly, focusing on his skating, which is good to begin with. Okposo has seen difficult on-ice years with the NY Islanders, but he's never been through a health issue like he did last year. Next season will be telling for him and the team.

Questions moving forward:  Will Okposo start next season fully healthy? Can he play without fear? Will Housley find a sweet spot in the lineup for a 55 point player making $6 million/season? Will it be with O'Reilly, if he's still around? Can Okposo at least hit those career averages of 21 goals and 34 assists per 82 games? With a dearth of talent at left wing, would a move to his off-wing be possible? Will the next hit to his head be his last as an NHL player?

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

 Reinhart's locker cleanout interview via sabres.com:

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