There's nothing like a long-term contract extension to make a player feel confident in his abilities. So when Islanders winger
"I'm excited to be part of the Islanders for another five years," Okposo said. "I really couldn't be happier. I'm feeling a sense of relief and excitement. Now I'm just trying to think how I can be better for the team for the next five years."
Okposo knows the team's future on Long Island looks bright.
He said, "I think the future bodes well as long as we can continue to improve as players and grow as a team. We're going to have a pretty good hockey club next year and in the years to come. The core, the nucleus of guys that we have, is tremendous. We're just going to try and continue to get better and have fun growing with each other."
After the St. Paul, MN native finished his first two seasons second on the team in points (39 and 52 points respectively), Okposo looked to have another standout year in 2010-11, but instead faced one of the largest obstacles in his young career.
He suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder during training camp last September and underwent successful surgery a few days later, but working to get back on the ice was a long road traveled.
"It was definitely hard sitting on the sidelines and not being able to help the guys out on the ice," Okposo said.
Sidelined for more than half the season, the 23-year-old itched to get back on the ice with his teammates until he finally made his season debut Jan. 20. He put up 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in the team's final 38 games.
His season - as well as the Islanders season - may have started out rocky, but just a month before Okposo's return to the lineup, they began a fantastic end to their 2010-11 campaign, posting nine wins, five losses and two overtime losses in 16 games.
The Islanders continued their hot streak well into Okposo's season debut, posting a .500 record (16-16-6) in their final 38 games.
Admittedly, Okposo was disappointed; especially because he didn't have the season he knows he's capable of playing. As a result, he has attributed his self-described "underperformance" to his shoulder, which he says didn't have time to regain its full range of motion or strength.
That's completely understandable, as it normally takes a player 12 months to fully recover from the type of surgery he had and Okposo was back to playing in the NHL in less than four months. And in the 6.5 weeks since the Isles season came to a close, the winger has already made great strides in his rehabilitation.
"I've been doing different rehab and strengthening exercises a few times a week and my shoulder is really starting to feel a lot better," Okposo said. "I'm excited about the prospect of it being 100 percent (for training camp) and just being able to rest my body and get it to where it needs to be. It's feeling better."
He may have been unhappy with his season, but in the eyes of many, Okposo's still a shining star who has captain potential. Named alternate captain at the beginning of his sophomore season (2009-10), the seventh overall pick from 2006 has undoubtedly been an integral part of General Manager Garth Snow's rebuilding process.
I really appreciate Garth’s willingness to sign me to a long-term deal even though I didn’t play my best hockey this year. The faith that he’s shown in me really bodes well for my confidence. It’s an affirmation that I am a good hockey player and that they know what I can do. I’m excited about that. - Kyle Okposo
"I really appreciate Garth's willingness to sign me to a long-term deal even though I didn't play my best hockey this year," Okposo said. "The faith that he's shown in me really bodes well for my confidence. It's an affirmation that I am a good hockey player and that they know what I can do. I'm excited about that."
In the time he did play this season, his chemistry with linemates Frans Nielsen
and Michael Grabner
developed into something special. The trio became some of the smoothest players on the ice as Okposo used his physicality to create space, while his vision set up Nielsen and Grabner on countless breakaways.
"It's definitely pretty easy playing with those two guys," Okposo said. "They were going all year. They helped carry me along at times, but I want to be better for the team and those two guys. They're terrific smart players. Who knows if we're going to play together next season, but I'm just excited about the prospect."
Since then, Snow showed the hockey world his cards, signing Grabner to a five-year deal earlier this month, Matt Moulson
to a three-year extension in January, PA Parenteau
to a one-year extension in February and Al Montoya
to a one-year extension in March.
These five-year extensions couldn't have come at a better time. Okposo's signing comes just two weeks after Islanders owner Charles Wang and Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano announced a plan to build a new arena on the existing Nassau Coliseum property, committing the team to Long Island through 2045.
Now, some of the team's most talented youngsters are among the first to say they'll be playing in a brand new arena. Maybe they'll be among the first to bring some hardware into that new rink too.
"I'm completely confident we have what it takes," Okposo said. "First, we need to take the next step and that starts in training camp next year. I'm sure that we're going to talk about it as a team, as a group, and we have good leaders on our team. After we take that next step, then we'll start talking about playoffs and making a run for the Stanley Cup."