The New York Islanders were forced to play the first 44 games of the 2010-11 season without alternate captain Kyle Okposo. They won't have to play No. 45 without him, though.
Okposo, who suffered a freakish shoulder injury during training camp in September, will make his season debut tomorrow night when the Isles host the Washington Capitals at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"There's been a big smile from ear to ear all week," said Okposo, who learned on Sunday that he'd be cleared to play against the Caps. "I'm just excited to get going."
A lot has changed since Okposo went down in training camp -- the biggest being that Scott Gordon is no longer Okposo's coach. Gordon was fired in November and replaced by Jack Capuano after the team suffered 10 consecutive losses. A helpless Okposo could do nothing more than watch as his teammates would go on to lose 20 of 21 contests, all but eliminating the club from playoff contention before Christmas.
"I missed being in here with the guys," Okposo said. "Just hanging out, talking after the game, before the game and just going to war out there and being on the ice and being able to help the guys. I was probably off the ice for two months. That was tough -- not being able to be on the ice. It was a lot of riding the bike, a lot of working out. I had never had anything like this in my whole life.
"I was bored a lot. I watched a lot of hockey. Anything I could to pass the time, really. It's just a lot of strengthening work. You've got to get your range of motion back first, and that takes about a month. Everything from there on out is strengthening. There's a lot of shoulder exercises that I didn't know existed that I've been doing for the last four months."
Frans Nielsen -- who also hopes to play for the first time in eight games after suffering a groin injury -- and Michael Grabner. While Okposo's unsure of just how much ice time he'll receive in what will be his first NHL game in nine months, he's eager to get back to work.
"Everything feels real good," said Okposo, who finished second on the club in scoring last season with 52 points. "If I play 20 minutes, if I play eight minutes, it doesn't matter. I'm just going to go and play my game. I feel really good. It's strong. It's as strong as it was in (training) camp. I just have to go out there and play my game."
One area will Okposo will see some playing time is on the power play. Capuano told Newsday this morning that No. 21 -- who had four power-play goals last season -- can expect to receive some minutes when the Isles have a man advantage.
"Obviously, it's what's best for Kyle," Capuano told the paper. "But we would not play him unless he's ready to go. He's been working very hard. We will see how the game goes, but I'm sure he'll see some power-play time, for sure."
After four brutal months of rehabilitation, Okposo will take whatever he can get.
"I've waited a long time for this," Okposo added. "I'm ready to go."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL