Skating on the New York Islanders top line, 25-year-old Kyle Okposo is enjoying the hottest start of his career. The Isles top right winger leads the team in scoring with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) and is keeping pace with the NHL’s scoring leaders.
Okposo is also the hottest Islander at the moment, scoring seven points (one goal, six assists) in his last three games. He scored multiple points in each of those games, including a three-assist effort in a 3-1 win against Boston last Saturday. At the 15-game mark, Okposo has had three, three-game point streaks.
“Our line has been pretty good with Thomas (Vanek) on it so far,” Okposo said. “And playing with Johnny (John Tavares), you know you’re going to get opportunities. I’m just taking advantage of my opportunities.”
Okposo is making the most of playing on the top line and top power play unit, but he’s also contributing to the success of his teammates. Tavares and Isles goal-scoring leader, Frans Nielsen, have benefited from Okposo’s playmaking.
“I love how hard he works and how strong he is on the puck,” Tavares said of the Islanders assists leader. “Being with a guy that you have confidence in going to the corners and coming out with pucks, skating through the neutral zone, carrying the play and not getting knocked off the puck, it makes the game much easier.”
At 6’1, 216 lbs., Okposo has the build and power to drive to the front of the net and grind defensemen down low. What his teammates and coaches are seeing now is the confidence to impose his will in the offensive end, a confidence that stemmed from last years’ stretch drive and series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s no secret he had a good finish to the year last year and he really built off it,” Tavares said. “It’s really good to see him doing what he’s doing. It makes our team so much better and more dangerous.
"I did some different training and talked to different people about my game and skill work I had been doing. It’s paying off." - Kyle Okposo
Head coach Jack Capuano said Okposo’s offensive success is being driven by his play without the puck and hard work.
“He’s always been a really good player,” Capuano said. “When a player realizes how he has to play within the team concept and how he has to play as an individual, it’s going to lead to success."
He added, “Kyle’s puck protection and the way he’s playing in the offensive zone is a function of him being in constant motion and moving his feet.”
Last year’s playoffs were also an eye-opener for Okposo, who got a taste of the intensity of playoff hockey that has motivated him ever since. He’s been an everyday player since 2008-09, but Okposo changed his offseason routine this summer.
“I worked a lot this summer with different people,” Okposo said.”I did some different training and talked to different people about my game and skill work I had been doing. It’s paying off.”
He travelled to Toronto and spent a few days with Tavares, who noticed a new focus in Okposo’s approach to his off-ice training regimen.
“He’s become more of a guy that likes to learn and gets to know how things off the ice impact your game, instead of just going to the gym and doing what you’re doing,” Tavares said. “He’s really gotten to understand that a lot more from what I’ve seen. He takes a lot of pride in that and he’s not satisfied in what he’s accomplished. He expects more of himself.”
Sitting as the team’s leading scorer and playing at over a point-per-game pace, Okposo has definitely delivered for himself and the Islanders so far this season.