Kyle Okposo is, admittedly, happy the first time he’ll face his old teammates will be in his new home arena in Buffalo on Friday. The return to Brooklyn comes in a week, with a video tribute and what will surely be a warm welcome from the many Islander fans who did not want to see Okposo leave this past summer.
“There’s going to be a lot of different emotions running through me, I’m sure,” Okposo told Newsday on Wednesday, an off-day for his Sabres. “It’ll be a little easier seeing them first up here, but the trip back down to Brooklyn is going to be different, to say the least.”
Okposo’s entire 2015-16 season was different, to say the least. He went from hoping for a big, long-term deal to stay with the only team he’d ever played for to being quietly shopped around before the 2015 NHL Draft, a clear sign the Islanders were not interested in keeping Okposo beyond last season.
He still produced, posting 64 points in 79 games, most of them not playing alongside close friend John Tavares. Even with a solid postseason, there were no contract talks with the Isles. Okposo had plenty of suitors and chose a seven-year, $42-million deal from the Sabres, heading out the door along with Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin.
But there are no ill feelings from Okposo, who left the Islanders after 529 games, 369 points and the knowledge he’d been a big reason why the team went from a bottom dweller of the NHL to serious foe during his nine years there.
“There’s no satisfaction at all in seeing your buddies go through a tough spell,” Okposo said of the Isles’ lousy season. “I figured there could be some growing pains with the three of us leaving. I feel like we were a big part of that room. I still talk to a lot of the guys there, we bounce ideas off each other — they’re friends, you want to help them out to a certain extent.”
The Sabres brought Okposo in and put an ‘A’ on his new sweater, much like the Islanders did with Andrew Ladd, who took Okposo’s salary and lineup slot. Okposo leads the Sabres with nine goals and 21 points, but it’s been a serious adjustment for the 28-year-old to make his first organization switch of his pro career.
“You don’t realize how easy things are when you’re comfortable and around everyone for so long,” he said. “Equipment staff, training staff, the guys in the room . . . I tend to be a little shy when I’m not totally comfortable, so it’s been a big adjustment.”
But even at his tender age, he’s not there to be quiet. With budding stars like Jack Eichel along with his old Islander friend Matt Moulson, who’s enjoying a renaissance season, Okposo is very much in the middle of what the Sabres are slowly trying to build — they sit a point ahead of the Islanders at the bottom of the East.
“I’m never going to be that guy who says something to a rah-rah sort of person,” he said. “That’s how I’ll always be. But I’ve been in the league a long time now and I’ve been a part of something that we built on the Island, so I know my job is pass along what I can to some of our guys and make that jump to being a good, consistent team every night.”
Notes & quotes: The Islanders face the Blackhawks on Thursday before the quick turnaround in Buffalo on Friday night, meaning both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss will get starts in goal the next two nights.
Kyle Okposo is putting up solid numbers in his first season in Buffalo: