BUFFALO — The Sabres did not begrudge Kyle Okposo the nostalgia he felt heading into his first game against the Islanders. In fact, they embraced it, as well as the rest of his experience that can benefit young star center Jack Eichel. And the kid is likely to have just as great an impact on Okposo.
“Eichs, he’s going to keep me young, that’s for sure,” the 28-year-old power forward said Friday morning. Perhaps proving that point, Eichel, 20, nudged his way among the scrum of reporters eagerly listening to Okposo’s reflection on the oddity of playing in an Islanders game for the other side.
Okposo and Eichel became linemates against the Kings on Tuesday and each had three points in a 6-3 win (for much of that game, they were joined on left wing by Matt Moulson, Okposo’s close friend and former Isles teammate). An injury that kept Eichel out until late November had prevented coach Dan Bylsma from doing it sooner. He envisions a blend of Okposo’s strength and spunk with Eichel’s speed and puck control.
It will not hurt that Okposo witnessed — and contributed to — the growth of another elite center, John Tavares.
“I’m going to try to pass on knowledge, especially watching Johnny for so long and the way he competes and the way he takes care of himself every day. I can pass a little of that on to him. I think Jack can be a superstar in this league,” said Okposo, who has nine goals and 12 assists in 27 games, including an assist on the overtime goal that beat the Islanders on Friday night.
Eichel said of his new winger, “You look at his skill, and you see he ‘gets’ the game. He makes a lot of plays and does things you don’t expect. He has seen a lot, he’s been through a lot. For myself, a young guy, he’s another guy I can learn from. I can speak for the whole team that we’re happy to have him here.”
There were deep and mixed emotions in every corner Friday. Moulson mentioned that he and Okposo are godfathers to each other’s children and that Tavares is godfather to Moulson’s daughter. Bylsma, a former Penguins coach, recalled what a force Okposo was in the 2013 Penguins-Isles playoff series.
As a former Islanders assistant, Bylsma himself grew nostalgic when he watched an Okposo clip that featured Nassau Coliseum. “It’s sad for me it’s not in the league anymore, that rink,” he said. “It was an awesome building to play in.”