SYOSSET, N.Y. -- Kyle Okposo
hasn't been on Long Island forever. It only seems that way.
Okposo, the Isles' first pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, is beginning his third full NHL season at age 22. But on a team that's got a large contingent of kids, Okposo is among the older Islanders in point of service with the team.
"It feels a little different," he told NHL.com after a workout Thursday at Iceworks, where Okposo and many of his teammates are skating prior to the opening of training camp next week. "I know what to expect. I know the League pretty much, and the players. That's a big thing for us, especially because we're such a young group."
Okposo isn't exactly a grizzled veteran. But he says he's learned a lot in his two-plus seasons since joining the Islanders after leaving the University of Minnesota.
"You know how certain players play," Okposo said when asked what he's learned from the time he entered the League until now. "It's also another year of chemistry for our team, and I think that helps quite a bit – just knowing how each other play. I've pretty much played with everyone now, and the chemistry definitely helps."
Okposo went from 18 goals and 39 points as a rookie in 2008-09 to 19 and 52 last season, though he also finished at minus-22. But he suffered through a couple of lengthy goal droughts – including an 18-gamer in November and December, and has spent a lot of the off-season working on his shot. He's got a powerful wrister, but has yet to turn into the sniper that drew comparisons to Jarome Iginla when he was drafted.
But while Okposo admits to having personal goals for the new season, he's not willing to put a number on what he feels his final scoring numbers should be.
"I have some expectations in the back of my mind," he conceded, but quickly added "no" when asked if he had any definite offensive numbers in mind.
One thing he did cite as a personal goal for 2010-11 was consistency, and said improving his off-season workouts should help.
"I think I've prepared a lot better than I did last summer," Okposo said. "I feel great, and I'm going to keep working so I feel great every game and have plenty of jump."
Despite his tender age, Okposo already wears an "A" and is regarded by many as captain material when 39-year-old Doug Weight calls it a career. For now, though, he's downplaying that part of his game.
"I think we need everybody to step up this year and be leaders, not just certain guys, he said. "Dougie is going to handle a lot of that; he's great about that, especially with us young guys. I'm going to do what I can and lead by how I play."
The Islanders were among the NHL's most improved teams last season. But their 18-point jump from 61 to 79 points still left them on the outside looking in when the playoffs started – the third year in a row that the Isles went home after the regular season. GM Garth Snow eschewed any high-profile signings, but did bring in a pair of useful defensemen, Mark Eaton
and Milan Jurcina
, as well as forwards PA Parenteau
and Zenon Konopka. He also landed top-four defenseman James Wisniewski in a deal with Anaheim.
Snow's moves didn't make the kind of splash that some other teams' signings did, but Okposo said the additions should lead to further improvement this season.
"I think we picked up some good free agents that will definitely help our team," he said. Also, everyone has another year under their belt. I think it should be a good year."
One player Okposo definitely thinks will have a good year is center John Tavares
. The 2009 No. 1 draft pick led the Isles in points as a rookie with 54 and was second with 24 goals. Okposo feels Tavares, a sometimes linemate, is ready for even bigger things in his second NHL season.
"He's a special player," Okposo said. "I'm sure he's had a good summer of training and he'll come in ready to go and know more what to expect. That's going to help him a lot."