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Kyle Okposo likes chances at Stanley Cup with Sabres

Leaves Islanders after nine seasons, excited to play with Buffalo centers Ryan O'Reilly, Jack Eichel

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres weren't the busiest team on opening day of NHL free agency Friday, but they made one of the biggest impacts when they signed right wing Kyle Okposo to a seven-year contract that's worth $42 million, an average of $6 million per season.

Okposo joins the Sabres after spending his first nine seasons in the League with the New York Islanders.

"What sold me was ... it's the chance to win a Stanley Cup, and I think that we have a lot of pieces in play that can help us achieve that goal; that was the first factor," Okposo said. "I looked at their forwards and their top two centers with [Ryan] O'Reilly and [Jack] Eichel, those guys are only going to continue to get better. Especially Jack, he's got superstar status, and you definitely need that to win a Stanley Cup, I think, if you look at the Cup players since the lockout.

"So that was kind of first and foremost, and then as an organization, I didn't hear one bad thing about the Buffalo Sabres. The organization really reflects upon the owner and I've heard that the Pegulas do a fantastic job and are great people to play for and work for."

Video: Kyle Okposo signs seven-year contract with Sabres

Okposo scored 139 goals and had 369 points in 529 regular-season games for the Islanders, who drafted him with the seventh pick of the 2006 NHL Draft. He has scored 0.70 points per game in his NHL career, but in the past three seasons, he's averaged 0.88 points per game.

Going from playing alongside John Tavares with the Islanders to Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel afforded Okposo a great opportunity and carries great significance for the Sabres.

"It means a lot," Sabres general manager Tim Murray said. "It means that what I have felt since I got here, that we could be a destination for good players, I think this shows that we are, and he's a [heck] of a player. He's a goal-scorer; he's got a power forward's body and he's a goal-scorer. He's put up very good numbers, his goals, and points per 60 to the analytics crowd, have been very good. It's exciting to get a player of his caliber that had a choice of, I won't say 30 teams, but certainly a lot of teams, decide to come here."

Video: Welcome To Buffalo, Kyle Okposo

Okposo, 28, becomes one of the veteran leaders on the Sabres, who are teeming with younger players, including Eichel, 19, forward Sam Reinhart, 20, and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, 21. Okposo wants to lend his talent and experience to help the Sabres get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2010-2011.

"I think that it definitely has a younger feel to this team," Okposo said. "I hope that I can provide just a veteran presence. I've gone through this before where [the Sabres] went through the rebuild a couple years ago and I think they've accelerated great. I think last year they were a really tough team to play against. They've definitely come a long way since the year before. So having gone through kind of a rebuild and knowing the next step that needs to come, I think we can get there quicker than I did with the Islanders, and I just want to try and help the team out in that aspect and, like I said before, help the team win a Cup."

Now that the Sabres have brought in a new top-six forward to help boost the offense, their attention turns to signing 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey. Buffalo acquired the rights to the Harvard forward from the Nashville Predators on June 20 and have an exclusive negotiating window with him until Aug. 15, when he can become an unrestricted free agent.

"We have another guy that we acquired this summer that we feel strongly about can make an impact here, so the next step is to next week go and meet with him and extol the virtues of the organization and the city of Buffalo and tell him how much we like him and how much we need him and go from there," Murray said of Vesey.

Murray said the Sabres also are working on signing Ristolainen to a long-term contract. The 21-year-old Finn is a restricted free agent.

"We have had a couple different conversations now with Rasmus' group, and I think they're going in the right direction," Murray said. "We don't have a contract done by any means, but both sides know where we're probably traveling to as far as a number and that type of thing. They tell us that he really wants to be here, and certainly we want him to be here. It's not going to be an easy thing to hammer out and it's not going to be cheap, but young good players, you tie them up and you keep going."

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