DING DING DING
No, that’s not the ending bell for the Islanders season – although admittedly it is rather close with 9 games remaining and the Islanders needing nothing short of an absolute miracle to claim the 8th playoff spot. I am talking about the KO punch named none other than Kyle Okposo making his New York Islanders debut. Clever play on words there, eh? Boxing, KO – never mind.
That’s right, maybe you haven’t been paying too much attention – but news of Okposo’s callup to the big club has been abuzz all over the internet the past several days. However, looking back at the trade deadline – I let everyone in on what I was told by Garth Snow in our interview, so this wasn’t a complete surprise or anything.
Ken over at Okposo Net has been doing a great job keeping everyone abreast on the latest KO developments down the stretch – he has even made a banner featuring the “retired” sweater of KO (one could only hope) and he even heard from Kyle himself on his reaction to the image.
With so many bodies bruised and banged up, it’s not really surprising that the Islanders would bring Kyle up to see what he can do in the NHL. The team has been struggling mightily as of late and a little bit of excitement for the team and the fans couldn’t hurt anything. Says Garth Snow on Kyle’s Islanders debut:
“It’s the right time to give Kyle the chance to show what he can do at the NHL level,” said Islanders general manager Garth Snow. “From the beginning we said that when it came to Kyle we would do what was best long-term for both him and our franchise. He has played well in Bridgeport and deserves a look. Our organization is very excited to see Kyle in an Islanders unifom, and I’m sure so are our fans.
And Kyle’s Reaction:
“My focus had been on playing well in the AHL and helping the Sound Tigers, so I didn’t know when the call would come,” said Okposo. “But now that it has, the excitement is off the charts. I just want to have a good practice on Monday and then I’ll start thinking about playing a big game against the Maple Leafs in front of our fans on Tuesday. It’s up to me to make the most of the opportunity.”
For those wondering WHY it took this long to bring Kyle up to the big club – if he were to play any more than nine games with the Islanders this season, the first year of his contract would count towards the season – bringing him that much closer to restricted free agency. This; obviously being something the Islanders want to avoid – so it’s a no-brainer on waiting it out.
Today, Kyle practiced with the team at Iceworks and there is extensive coverage on the Islanders Website and iTV so check that out. We are told that he practiced on a line with Richard Park and Blake Comeau and fit in very well, impressing the coaching staff as the morning progressed. Here are some quotes from the day:
Kyle on what it felt like to take part in an NHL practice:
“It feels pretty good being out there in my first NHL practice,” said Okposo, following today’s practice. “Knowing a few guys (from Bridgeport) I felt a little more comfortable today. The guys have been awesome and have taken me under their wing. The guys have been great.
Ted Nolan on Kyle’s play and why he will start with the linemates he practiced with:
“He’s an exceptional player that we’re looking forward to see play at the NHL level,” said head coach Ted Nolan. “There are certain players who have that instinct. He doesn’t just skate and shoot the puck well, he also has that great hockey sense. Kyle has all of the ingredients good players have. We wanted to start him on a line with one of our most reliable guys in Richard Park. And considering Blake Comeau has good hockey sense, the three of them should form a pretty good line out there.”
Kyle on the hype surrounding his debut:
“Anytime you play your first game at any level, especially the NHL it’s an exciting time,” said Okposo. I just want to go out there, play my game and help my team win. I look at this as a challenge and try to ignore all the hype. I’m just going to do the best I can to help the team win. I don’t have any tricks up my sleeve.”
Has anyone else been really impressed in the manner that Okposo handles himself with the media? To me he doesn’t sound like a 19 (soon to be 20) year old making his NHL debut, but more of a seasoned veteran! There is a lot of opinion going on out there on the potential negative effects of coming up to the team at this stage of the season, but I don’t feel it will “ruin” Okposo as a player. I don’t really feel this is entirely a gimmick either, or a ploy by the Islanders to salvage whatever ticket revenue they can out of what’s left of the season. I am really excited to see KO make his debut and see what he can bring to the team, at a time they need a spark more than anything. I also don’t expect Kyle to come in and be the savior of the Islanders, light up the lamp at a torrid pace or be the second coming of Crosby – I just want to see him get his feet wet in the NHL and use the experience as a stepping stone and building block towards a long prosperous career on Long Island.
I am going to do my best to sneak out of work a bit early tomorrow so I can get down to the glass and take some pictures of Kyle out there with the rest of the team. I know I haven’t posted pictures from the past several (15ish?) games – but I promise everything will be updated in the very, very near future!