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Kyle Okposo excited to be with Sabres, Jack Eichel

New Buffalo forward said he sees former teammate John Tavares in second-year center

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Kyle Okposo said one of the draws of playing for the Buffalo Sabres was the chance to play alongside Jack Eichel.

Okposo, who signed a seven-year contract with the Sabres on July 1, said he sees a lot of former Islanders teammate John Tavares in Eichel, the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft who was second among rookies with 24 goals and 56 points in 81 games last season.

"I think I see a lot of similarities in where Jack was … obviously I don't know Jack's game as well as I knew Johnny's, but I see a lot of similarities in the hype and the skill set, some of the things he does out there from when Johnny was 18," Okposo said Thursday when he was introduced in Buffalo. "I know where Johnny's career path went and I know how he worked and I know how hard it was for him to get there. I'm just looking forward to saying a couple things to Jack or sharing some of those experiences with him and just trying to help him grow."

Okposo, who will continue to wear No. 21 with the Sabres, spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career with the New York Islanders. The right wing had 139 goals and 369 points in 529 games, and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times. 

"It feels good. It feels different," the 28-year-old said. "I kind of walked out on the home bench. It's definitely different to be on the home side. But I'm excited to meet everybody and put some faces to names and I'm excited to be here."

Video: Okposo: We're going to be good

In 11 games in Buffalo, Okposo had nine points, all assists.

"It's definitely going to be a transition," he said. "But at the end of the day, hockey's hockey; you've still got 12 guys on the ice and one puck and you're just playing. Wherever you're playing that's going to be the case, But I've always liked playing in this building [First Niagara Center]. There are some buildings where you always feel comfortable and others where you may not feel as good. But I've always felt good in this building. I'm excited to play in it and call it home and I look forward to the next number of years."

Okposo is going to be one of the go-to guys with the Sabres and will have the big contract (reportedly $42 million) to match it. In the past with the Islanders, he had teammates like Tavares and Sabres teammate Matt Moulson to play off of. He'll also be part of the veteran leadership on a team that could have as many 12 players age 25 or younger, among them center Eichel (19), forward Sam Reinhart (20) and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (21).

"I don't think you can change the way you play based on a contract," Okposo said. "That's kind of when you get into trouble, when those expectations beat you down and weigh you down. I'm going to go out there and play, play the way I know how and prepare the same and make sure that my game is there. I feel like I'm at a point in my career where I know what I need to do to be successful and I'm going to continue to do that and try to get better and that hasn't changed throughout my career and it's not going to change in my approach here just because I signed a long-term deal."

Expectations for Okposo are high and raise the hopes for a Sabres spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Although they improved to 81 points last season from 54 points in 2014-15, making the playoffs and eventually winning a Stanley Cup are the goals he has in mind.

"I think we're going to be a better team this year than they were last year, and so whatever that means I don't know. We'll see when the season starts," Okposo said. "We still don't have a full team and probably don't have the roster for what it's going to be on opening night. I just feel like this team has a lot of pieces and maybe they don't know how good they can be and so hopefully it comes sooner rather than later. I don't know if you can put an exact time frame on it."

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