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Impressive debut for Kyle Okposo

Veteran forward comes through with Sabres missing key players because of injury

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- Finally, some good news for the Buffalo Sabres.

Having lost center Jack Eichel to a high ankle sprain in practice on Wednesday, the day before their regular season opened, the Sabres received more bad news in their first game, a sluggish 4-1 loss against the Montreal Canadiens, when left wing Evander Kane broke three ribs when he crashed into the boards.

Enter Kyle Okposo, who got to work early in his debut for the Sabres on Sunday, scoring a goal and an assist in the first 7:14 in Buffalo's 6-2 victory against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place.

Okposo missed the Sabres opener, still nursing a bad bruise on his knee after being hit with a slap shot in practice Oct. 3.

Having signed a seven-year, $42 million contract on July 1 (average annual value $6 million) as an unrestricted free agent, the 28-year-old from St. Paul, Minnesota, was eager to help his new team.

"I just think we had to get into a rhythm," Okposo said. "It may have been a little bit of a shock that Jack goes down the day before the season (starts) and we maybe played on our heels because of it on Thursday night. But we believe in our group and believe in this team and I'm excited to get the year off with a win for me.

Video: BUF@EDM: Okposo scores first goal as a Sabre

"We need to continue this road trip and put some points in the bank."

Buffalo will play the second game of the four-game road trip Tuesday in Calgary.

Okposo spent his first nine NHL seasons in the New York Islanders organization, playing 529 regular-season games. He scored 139 goals and 369 points.

He said Game No. 1 with a new team was a little strange.

"I think it helped almost not playing at home (Thursday)," Okposo said. "That's going to be a different challenge, whenever I'm going to the rink as the home team in Buffalo. That'll be a little bit different.

"Nobody's ever played in this building (Rogers Place) so that was nice we all had a fresh start. After the first shift, I just settled down and played a hockey game."

Okposo needed only 2:37 to score his first goal for Buffalo, going to the net as he received a perfect feed from linemate Sam Reinhart, who got the puck after Ryan O'Reilly intercepted a pass by Edmonton defenseman Oscar Klefbom.

"Obviously it's nice to get one early like that," Okposo said. "A great play all-round by my two linemates and all I had to do was put it in the empty cage. It's good for the confidence. It's different coming into a (new) team so I'm happy to get that one off my back."

Okposo said he didn't want to over-analyze just how much the Sabres needed the boost.

Video: BUF@EDM: O'Reilly lights lamp on Okposo's dish

"It's two games into the year, let's not go crazy in here," he said. "I think we have a really good group, some good pieces, and our depth is something that is undervalued. We have a lot of guys who can play the game and play it smartly. Obviously Jack being out hurts us a lot, hurts us just because he's such a game-breaker.

"Other guys are going to have to step up and play well and play better as a team. And with Evander going down, too, it gives other guys an opportunity to step up and play better."

But while Okposo was downplaying how much the Sabres needed a lift, others in the locker room were focused on it.

"We'd love to have those guys (Eichel and Kane) in the lineup but Kyle adds a top-six forward and he plays well both sides of the puck, and that's big for everyone," veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian said. "It's big for the guys who have been around, to be around a guy like that, and also for the young guys. We're a very young team and it's very important to have guys like him in that role, with the type of player and person he is.

"He was a big signing for us in the summer and for him to come in and, if you take hockey out of it, he's a good person and a good leader and he's good to have around the room. Then he's an exceptional hockey player, so there's icing on the cake. He's a great professional."

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Okposo's influence on Sunday's game was clear.

"It's just a calming presence on the ice, really," Bylsma said. "He plays the right way, plays above the puck. We saw it in the third period, winning puck battles and keeping pucks in front of us. It's something he had in the game tonight, for sure.

"Looking back at the Montreal game, no question we were out of sorts a bit right from the start of that game. I don't think we had it at any time in that game."

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