April 23, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; New York Islanders right wingKyle Okposo
(21) carries the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC center. The Hurricanes defeated the Islanders 4-3 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Okposo is at a career crossroads moreso than any other current NewYork Islander.
Coming off a lackluster 2012-13 regular season that was, fortunately, overshadowed by aggressive and opportunistic post-season play, the young right-winger must feel that if plagued by another slow start and a mediocre performance throughout, his days in an Islander uniform may be drawing to a close.
Much is expected of Kyle Okposo, and the excuses normally given to a burgeoning talent have run their course, especially after his team’s strong post-season performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins, some of which derived from his courageous efforts. Now that the Islanders have pulled themselves out of obscurity, Okposo should be conscious of what is expected of him. If not, then the Islanders are in some serious trouble.
Make no mistake, if he were the player all had hoped for at the onset, then a Cal Clutterbuck wouldn’t necessarily be needed. If you match Okposo’s stats with that of Clutterbuck, they are somewhat mirror images of one another, from age to games played, to goals, etc. Okposo leads the former Minnesota Wild winger in assists and points, but Clutterbuck is always a presence on the ice. Okposo doesn’t exude that charisma on a regular basis, but when it does come through, one asks ‘Where has this been all along?’
Perhaps with Cal Clutterbuck‘s physical play, Okposo can feel that there’s another power forward from which to pivot off and learn how to go about amplifying his skill set. Thus, the frustration inspired by Okposo derives from the notion that he can very well be one of the best forwards in the league if only he’d apply himself as he did this past May.
But after a sub-par 48 games, all Okposo could muster was 4 G, a stat he surpassed royally in Round 1 of the playoffs. There were fans asking for Okposo to be sent down and Ryan Strome brought up (which obviously wasn’t possible) and at one point it seemed that if things didn’t improve a trade could be feasible.
May 3, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; . Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
But the point today is that expectations have reached critical mass for Kyle Okposo. Now that all bore witness to the results of a motivated player willing to break from his shell and stretch talent and desire to new heights, no one, not even Okposo, should expect anything less this season.
His fight against Matt Niskanen during the post-season bespeaks the aforementioned to a vast degree, and the subsequent results afterwards–a gritty, tenacious road win, courtesy of his game-winner–prove that Okposo’s influence can be monumental.
In the end, Okposo and the Islanders cannot be too satisfied (or comfortable) with how the ’12-’13 season ended, viewed from a purely holistic vantage point. Was it ‘lightning in a bottle’ or a ‘flash in the pan’ this past May? Question to be answered soon.
There are three motivating factors that should help Kyle Okposo maintain his momentary elite status:
- the team’s new-found notoriety as a legitimate force with which to be reckoned,
- his ability to play almost Patrice Bergeron-like hockey in the post-season (truth be told, the Bruin forward only scored 6 more regular-season goals than Okposo, with 2 more assists than his Islander rival), and
The 25-year old Islander forward must feel the positive energy surrounding him and undoubtedly realize he’s one of the reasons for it. For in no other moment of his career has Okposo ever made his presence known as he did all of 2011-12 and the six games played in the postseason, especially after his uncharacteristic scrap. And not since ’08-’09 has Okposo ever intrigued as many fans and drawn as much attention from rivals as his six games in the playoffs would suggest.
For those reasons mentioned, and for the minor league talent almost certainly to make its presence known within the next 24 months, Kyle Okposo cannot drag his feet this October.
May 9, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Thus, to say that Okposo needs to ‘hit the ground running’ is a gross understatement, and he cannot ignore that John Tavares is a bonafide wunderkind, just waiting for his teammates to catch up. Okposo can lead the charge for those young players who’ve been in the Islander system (and in the NHL) as long as he has, but don’t or can’t or won’t play his (potential) brand of power-forward hockey.
If you’re Kyle Okposo you also know that the Ryan Stromes of the world can very well change your future standing with the team. So the key is to show the Islanders that there’s something inherently unique about your talent and will, something only you can offer at a moment of desperation, as it was the case on May 3rd. No longer can anyone on this team hide amid the shadows of mediocrity, for now is the time for champions to be made.
Putting it plainly, if Okposo is outshined by the likes of Cal Clutterbuck, or anyone else in a similar position and tagged with similar expectations, Garth Snow may very well pull the trigger and trade this promising yet stunted talent.
Okposo’s most immediate motivation is his potential to play great hockey in the most crucial of scenarios. That which was on display very late in the ’12-’13 season and all throughout the playoffs, is exactly the presence needed to establish permanent residence with any NHL team. There isn’t any gray matter regarding what Okposo can bring to the ice when consistently tapping into his reservoir of talent, and if the energy is there throughout the season, all will look to Okposo as one of the most valuable players wearing an Islander uniform–a true X-factor.
But if Kyle Okposo cannot ride the wave of recent success currently informing this team, success he himself helped harness, then he never will.
Thus, aside from an injury, Okposo cannot be excused for poor play, and he must continue creating his own space on this team and on the ice every night with the same tenacious and gritty play needed to take himself and the Isles to the next level.
And once established, Okposo can return to the postseason limelight and amass the recognition and respect his talents warrant.
Now is the time to ‘strike the iron’, and strike it well.
Which leads to:
If ever there was a stage, setting, scenario, and/or moment in Kyle Okposo’s life to make a name for himself in the sport of hockey, Sochi is it.
Olympic competition is a unique and palpable opportunity to be an ambassador for both sport and country, and Kyle Okposo should view this occasion as his destiny in becoming one of the great American-born players every to be blessed to suit up for the United States. If not, then why bother, no?
Like former New York Islander defenseman Ken Morrow before him, Okposo can be one of few US hockey players to take home a gold medal and solidify himself in hockey lore. But more importantly, catapult his game to a level seldom can, something only the Olympics can do.
Again, the onus is on him to secure a place among the talent to be found on this squad, and from the looks of it, some of the more prominent outlets have even snubbed him as a candidate. The question as to “why” needn’t be too much of a mystery considering who he’s up against.
That said, Kyle Okposo must use this one last factor as the primary proving grounds and motivation to show his mettle and worth as an athlete. He tried in 2009, and here’s a second chance at making a grand impression.
(Besides, Okposo wouldn’t want two New York Rangers and a fellow Minnesotan to out-do him. So, perhaps, four factors are in play?)
Kyle Okposo cannot allow for one bad shift, for one scoring opportunity to go unchallenged or ill-executed, or be remiss for any critiques hurled his way for impoverished play, because with great promise comes greater expectations and responsibilities.
It’s now or never, sir.