There was a palpable buzz at Islanders Iceworks on Wednesday, as captain John Tavares and leading scorer Kyle Okposo joined teammates for an informal skate.
The team’s top-two scorers in 2013-14 had their seasons cut short by injury; Tavares missed the final 22 games of the season, while Okposo was sidelined for the last 10.
Tavares was cleared to skate in the first week of May, so the injury didn’t slow down his summer training. He said he skated more than usual over the summer and he wasn’t held back by any lingering effects.
“I feel great,” Tavares said. “Obviously I put in a lot of work getting ready for the year and to come back from the injury. It was nice to put it behind me early in the summer and just focus on what I had to do to get better. I obviously learned a lot from it and I’m looking forward to seeing the hard work pay off and coming back and trying to get even better.”
Tavares and Okposo stayed late and were practicing their one-timers against offseason signing Dave Leggio, as the Islanders one-two punch looks to find their groove ahead of training camp.
“You miss playing and being out there with your teammates, so it’s great to be back in town, getting ready for training camp,” Tavares said. “The time is upon us and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a new year and obviously we have a lot to prove.”
Okposo also addressed the Long Island media for the first time Wednesday. The new father spent his summer at home in Minnesota with his wife and baby girl, while also training with Tavares and several other high-profile NHLers in Colorado. Okposo said it was nice to get to spend more time with his family, but said he was itching to get back onto the ice and start the season.
"I want to take that next step," Okposo said. "I don’t want to look at last year and say I had a good year, I want to do that again. I want to be better than I was last year. That’s something as an athlete you always want to strive for - to get better. There wasn’t a day that went by this summer that I wasn’t thinking about that - wanting to be better."
"Everybody has [expectations] and they are what they are. They don’t mean anything. All that matters is what’s inside you and what’s inside this room here. We have expectations of ourselves and everybody personally has their own goals that they want to meet and as a team we do. You can’t look at what anybody else is saying, you just have to focus on yourselves."
Kulemin arrives on Long Island:
Nikolai Kulemin skated at Islanders Iceworks for the second straight day as he gets acclimated to his new surroundings. He said he likes the atmosphere around the dressing room and being around a “good group of young players.” Still, he’s not discovering Long Island alone, as he’s been reunited with close friend Mikhail Grabovski.
Kulemin: We were pretty close in Toronto; we played together for five years pretty much on the same line. Our wives are pretty good friends and the kids now. We talked on the phone all the time when he was in Washington, so it’s good to be together again.