Standing in the media workroom at First Niagara Center on Thursday, Kyle Okposo threw a blue Sabres jersey – with his name and the No. 21 stitched onto it – over his head, shook general manager Tim Murray's hand and smiled for the cameras. The 28-year-old right wing signed a seven-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres as an unrestricted free agent last Friday and was finally in town to check out his new home.
Before he spoke with reporters, Okposo allowed himself to sneak out onto the bench and look around at the arena bowl and up into the rafters.
"It feels good. I walked out onto the home bench and it's definitely different to be on the home side," he said. "I'm excited to meet everybody and put some faces to names. I'm excited to be here."
Based on his production alone, the Sabres front office and coaching staff are equally excited to have Okposo in the fold. He's put up 139 goals and 230 assists for 369 points in 529 games over nine NHL seasons, all with the New York Islanders.
Last season, he recorded 64 points (22+42) – five shy of his career high – in 79 games in 2015-16 while averaging 18:12 of ice time, second only to John Tavares among New York's forwards.
That said, he knows what helped him get to this moment in his career and he isn't going to try to deviate from that.
"I feel like I'm at a point in my career that I know what I need to do to be successful and I'm going to continue to do that and continue to try to get better," he said. "That hasn't changed throughout my career and it's not going to change in my approach here just because I've signed a long-term deal."
While he found success with Tavares in past years, he's looking forward to the opportunity to play with Buffalo's centers Ryan O'Reilly – whom Okposo called one of the smartest centers in the game today – and Jack Eichel, who finished his rookie campaign last year with 24 goals and 56 points.
Okposo saw Tavares develop first-hand into an elite NHL center from the time Tavares entered the League as a teenager. Only three years separate the two so they were able to find their games together. Okposo is nine years Jack's elder so he now sees an opportunity to take what he's learned and pass it on to Buffalo's budding young star.
"Obviously I don't know Jack's game as well as Johnny's from playing with him, but I see a lot of similarities in the hype and the skill set and some of the things he does from when Johnny was 18," Okposo said.
"I know where Johnny's career path went and I know how he worked and how hard it was for him to get there. I'm looking forward to maybe saying a couple things to Jack or sharing some of those experiences with him – just trying to help him grow."
After he signed, he received some congratulatory text messages from his new teammates and he then consulted with some family friends from Buffalo about what he can expect when it comes to living in Western New York. He's ready to experience it firsthand with his family.
On the ice, his next goal in Buffalo will be his first. In 11 career games at First Niagara Center, he's tallied nine assists, but has yet to find the back of the net. He'll have plenty of opportunities starting Oct. 13 when the Sabres open the season at home against Montreal.
"Just walking out onto the ice for that first game, it's just going to be different on the home side when people are cheering for you in this building," he said. "Obviously I've only known one organization throughout my career and I couldn't be happier about making this my new home.
"…I've always liked playing in this building. There are some buildings where you feel comfortable and others where maybe you don't feel as good. I've always felt good in this building. I'm excited to play in it and call it home and make it home for the next number of years."