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Well-traveled Okposo ready to stick with Islanders

Thursday, 09.25.2008 / 9:30 AM / Season Preview

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor


If a player keeps a sweater from each team he plays on, then Kyle Okposo nearly filled a dresser just from last season.

A whirlwind campaign swept Okposo from the University of Minnesota to the Czech Republic for the World Junior Championship, then blew him to the American Hockey League's Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and eventually set him down in his own version of the Emerald City -- the Nassau Coliseum for his first taste of the NHL with the New York Islanders.

"It was an interesting ride, definitely," Okposo told NHL.com. "It was a little tough to keep track (of teams), but it was a fun season."

He plans on doing far less moving this season, as Long Island should become a more permanent home. The seventh pick in the 2006 Entry Draft almost assuredly will resume his role as a top-six forward on an Islanders club that has committed to rebuilding around young players.

In 9 games late last season with the Isles, Okposo had 2 goals and 3 assists, and the 6-foot-1, 200-pound right wing never looked out of place.

Okposo has been a star no matter where he's played. After posting 40 points in 40 games as a freshman at Minnesota in 2006-07, he had 7 goals and 11 points in 18 games as a sophomore when he decided he had reached his development ceiling and signed a contract with the Islanders last December.

From there he joined the U.S. team in the Czech Republic for the World Junior Championship. He had six points in six games, but the Americans lost the bronze-medal game to Russia to finish fourth. Okposo had an assist in the final game.

He returned to North America to start his professional career with Bridgeport, the Islanders' top affiliate. Playing mostly on a line with Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen, Okposo had 9 goals (4 on the power play) and 28 points. In just 35 games, he finished eighth on the team in scoring.

He finished his season in the NHL, and plans on using what he learned last season to keep him in one place in 2008-09.

"I feel like I'm ready for (the NHL)," Okposo said. "I can't wait to get to camp and show the staff what I can do and how I progressed throughout last year and this summer. I feel like I'm ready to have a good season."

Part of what will go into him having a good season was the foundation laid last season.

"From college to the (AHL) was a little tough, but it wasn't so bad; I adjusted pretty quickly," Okposo said. "It was more controlled. The guys weren't running around as much trying to kill people all the time, it was much more play your position and the puck will come to you type of attitude, as opposed to college, where it was a little bit more running around, and you're only playing twice a week so you've got fresher legs. The transition, the guys are bigger and stronger, too, because they're older, but it wasn't so bad."

The stint in the AHL also helped with his adjustment when he was promoted.

"It helped a lot (playing in the AHL first)," he said. "If I had come straight from college to the NHL it would have been a bit of a tougher adjustment. The guys are so much bigger and stronger up in the NHL, and the game is even more controlled, which is unbelievable. That's the most unbelievable thing I found, defensemen are just so much smarter up there, smarter with their sticks. They don't do as much but they feel like they're covering more ground, so playing in the AHL helped me a lot."

"I think it was a great experience to get his feet wet (as a pro)," Islanders General Manager Garth Snow said. "He's going to be that much ahead of the ballgame as training camp comes in September. He'll be, I think, a lot better prepared for the pro game now that he's been through the AHL and NHL for nine games.

"Experience, little things you pick up, especially at a young age, how strong players are you're playing against. The pace of the game is much more structured. … Things develop the way you anticipate they will at the NHL level. As you go from college hockey or junior hockey to the AHL and the NHL, it gets more and more structured. Plays develop the way you anticipate they will, people are in the spots on the ice where they should be."

 
 
Okposo arrived on Long Island with the tag of being the future of the franchise, and did nothing in his short NHL stint to change any opinions. Snow is quick to remind people Okposo still is just 20 years old.

"I talked to Kyle about that numerous times," Snow said. "Kyle just has to be himself. He can't worry about comparisons to other players or other people's expectations. Kyle has a good head on his shoulders. He's obviously got a great skill set and hockey sense, top conditioning, so everything else will take care of itself."

Okposo, though, doesn't mind the hype.

"My expectations are probably higher than theirs," he said. "I probably put a little more challenge on myself than other people do to me. I'm just working as hard as I can and I don't listen to what they say. My markers are higher than theirs."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.



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