Islanders’right winger Kyle Okposo has had a difficult time finding his niche on Long Island. Over seven seasons he has been bounced from one end of the Islander lineup to the other, with mixed results. Too good to be a checker yet not producing as a scorer, it was tricky finding the right fit.
Born in St. Paul, MN, Okposo was drafted out of Des Moines in the USHL, chosen ahead of such notable NHL regulars as Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier (11th), teammate Michael Grabner (14th), Winnipeg’s Michael Frolik (10th) and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux (22nd). He spent a season and a half in the WCHA and a portion of one with Bridgeport, along with two World Junior Championship appearances, before getting his first taste of NHL action in 2007-08. He responded well in a nine-game stint and stuck with the team the following year, playing in 65 games and recording a respectable 18 goals and 39 points. He followed that up with seasons of 19 and 24 goals, sandwiched around a protracted 2010-11 campaign during which he was held to just five goals and 30 points in 38 games.
The potential has always been there, hovering just below the surface. At six feet and 212 lbs he’s not huge by today’s standards but plays larger than his size, which creates space and allows him some freedom on the ice. All he had to do was realize how good he could be, and start to capitalize.
Last season he was placed on a line with Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen in a combination scoring/checking role. The line really clicked, providing the perfect complement to each other and remaining a constant fixture. His strong finish to the campaign and a solid training camp this season got him a look on the top line with John Tavares and one of Michael Grabner or, more recently, Matt Moulson. So far the experiment is working well. Logging close to twenty minutes of ice time per game, his point totals have reflected the promotion. With twelve points in eleven games on the year, including eight in his last five, Okposo has already netted half of last season’s 48-game total of 24 points, and equalled his four-goal output, in a quarter of the games played. Along with playing a responsible defensive game, Okposo’s showing an offensive acumen long missing from his game.
Entering his seventh season started he’s started to regain some of the form that made him a seventh overall draft pick. Based on the first ten games it seems likely he will remain alongside Tavares and whichever left winger lays claim to the other spot on the line. With continued confidence and expanded ice time Okposo could finally have his breakout season, hopefully silencing his detractors and proving his worth to the future of the emerging Islanders.