It has struck me, as it has for many Islander fans, just how impressive a young man Kyle Okposo has become. It is surely a hit and miss proposition when it comes to first round draft picks and their potential impact for a team, but the first round pick in 2007, who went 9th overall, is truly emerging as a well-rounded and true leader for the New York Islanders.
To me, there was always something about the guy as far back as when he left college in Minnesota to play in the NHL. I recall the great debate that took place over whether the Islanders should have allowed him to play in Bridgeport or bring him up for some NHL experience at the end of the 2007-2008 season. I must confess that I was one of the people who felt that the Isles might have been making a mistake by not giving Kyle some time to develop in the minors before exposing him to the NHL level. I had seen the Islanders make this mistake before, and I, perhaps, feared that the same mistakes would be made by trying to rush Kyle’s development too early. I think Okposo ended up with 2 goals and 5 or 6 assists during that first exposure to the NHL, which, I think, included a goal on Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
As the last half of the 2008-2009 season unfolded, even while the Islanders did not have the best season, Kyle’s development and maturity was already being seen and noticed. I can clearly recall finding myself being more and more impressed by him with each game and becoming aware of just how big of a prospect he could turn out to be for this franchise. The leadership and dynamic play of Okposo increased with each game, and I personally had no doubts that we’d only see more this season from the 21 year old.
Without a doubt, John Tavares, the first round and first overall pick in the most recent draft, is the “real deal” and will be a major building block in what the New York Islanders will become. In fact, Josh Bailey, our 2008 first round pick, is starting to come into his own as well. Still, one cannot help be excited and thrilled for the future when one looks at Kyle Okposo’s continued success. Yes, he might have 11 goals at this point, but he still leads the team in points with 35, and he has consistently been picking up the points over the last several weeks after a bit of a “slump” early on. Now playing right wing on a line with Tavares and Bailey, we are seeing the “future” of the New York Islanders right in front of us and also being treated to just how “bright” that future is.
The thing that has struck me beyond that, though, is the poise and leadership of Kyle Okposo. This “kid” just seems to know the right things to say off the ice and the right things to do on the ice. Scott Gordon utilizes Kyle in all facets of the game from the power play to the penalty kill to the important defensive situations. Kyle has delivered in all of these areas, and has only gotten better and better. If there is someone I can think who will wear the C on his sweater after Doug Weight hangs up his skates, to me, it would be Kyle Okposo. He already encompasses the qualities of a “leader” and we continue to see these qualities shine as the season has unfolded.
I guess, as a “microcosm” of what Kyle Okposo brings to the Islanders, I would say that Saturday night’s game against the Devils showed what this guy is made of. Although the Islanders lost, Kyle was quite blunt about his feelings between the first and second periods by saying that he felt that the Isles hadn’t come to play. Maybe, he “challenged” the boys in the locker room, but in the second period, Kyle surely showed leadership on the ice by his intensity and persistence. He scored the first power play goal on Martin Brodeur and picked up an assist on the second goal Jack Hillen was credited with. Furthermore, the Islanders out played the Devils throughout that period and out shot them 14 to 1 in the end. It is one thing for a guy to point out his team’s lack of effort, but it is an impressive and positive thing to have that guy set an example by his play on the ice. Kyle works his behind off every shift, and he is using his size and strength more and more game in and game out.
Yeah, I guess it’s obvious that I am a Kyle Okposo fan. As someone who was a John Tonelli fan “back in the day”, I can’t help finding myself comparing this “kid” to the original “JT” of old. I simply have found myself admiring and respecting Kyle Okposo with each passing game, and I firmly believe that he will continue to emerge to be one of the best, overall players the New York Islanders will see over the next bunch of seasons.