Okposo: Our speed up front has 'vastly improved'

October 02, 2018 - 1:37 pm
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Kyle Okposo's tenure with the Buffalo Sabres has been a wild roller coaster ride as he enters his third season with the team.

On July 1, 2016, the Sabres signed Okposo to a seven-year contract worth $42 million, making him one of the highest paid players on the roster. This after he had spent parts of his first eight seasons in the National Hockey League with the New York Islanders.

That first season was a decent one for Okposo with 19 goals and 45 points in 65 games, but some bizarre after effects of a concussion late in the season forced him to miss the final six games and land him in the intensive care unit at Buffalo General Hospital.

After making a full recovery during the offseason, Okposo returned for the start of the 2017-18 season. While he got off to a slow start to begin the season, Okposo's game picked up as the season went forward and he finished the year with 15 goals and 44 points in 76 games.

This offseason was the first in a while for Okposo where he could work on his game and getting back to the player he knows he can be at the NHL level. Now that the preseason has come to a close and the regular season just a couple of days away, Okposo is looking forward to getting on the ice for some real game action.

"You get excited. There's nerves and excitement, some anticipation, optimism. You just want to show everybody what you've got, what you did in the summer, how much you've improved as a team. It's a huge opportunity for us," said Okposo on Tuesday morning with Howard Simon and Jeremy White. "With the way that our season went least year, there's no place to go but up. I think we did a lot of good work in the summer, and I'm really looking forward to the start of the year."

A little over a week ago, Okposo was featured in a story from The Athletic where he opened up about the days and the events that unfolded after the concussion he suffered late in the 2016-17 season. The story told of how his concussion had triggered a "dormant menace" in his brain and how he went days without sleep to the point where he asked his wife to put him in a coma. It went on to go through what he went through in the hospital during his darkest days, as well as the recovery process in the days and weeks after being released from the hospital.

Okposo is typically a more quieter guy who tends to keeps things to himself, and he was unsure of how his story was going to be received once it was published.

"It was scary to do for me," Okposo said. "I'm a pretty private person, and to put that out there was a tough thing for me to do, but the response that I've gotten has been totally worth it. It's just been so liberating for myself personally, and for other people it seemed to help them. I've had friends and acquaintances throughout the years reach out to me and tell me that they're going to seek some help now, and what it means to them that somebody like me would speak up. It definitely makes it all worth it and, me personally, I'm doing great."

The 30-year-old native of St. Paul, Minnesota is one player this offseason who remained on the roster, despite the team's 31st place finish in the NHL standings last season. Okposo was very well aware of the potential changes that would later occur, and has liked the offseason moves that general manager Jason Botterill made to the forward group.

One of those changes has been the acquisition of forward Jeff Skinner. The Sabres acquired the 26-year-old scoring winger this offseason in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Okposo has gotten to know Skinner over the years as the two work out with the same trainer during the offseason in Toronto. Even though Okposo has had limited experience so far with being a teammate of Skinner, he knows that his league-wide reputation speaks for itself.

"If you talk to guys around the league, you're not going to find a lot of guys that like playing against Jeff Skinner," Okposo said. "He's a bit of a pest out there, but he always seems to have a magnet with the puck. He always seems to come out of the corners with it, or get a full stick lift and he just always seems to have the puck. It irks guys. His skating is always such a plus, and he's a goal scorer. He knows how to score, he likes to shoot the puck. So any time you can have a guy like that, it's a big plus."

Another addition to the lineup that Okposo feels will help the complexion of the roster in Buffalo is winger Conor Sheary. The 26-year-old comes to Buffalo after winning two Stanley Cups in three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"He's won championships with Pittsburgh, I think two of them, and he's been a pretty big part of them," Okposo said. "When he's going, he adds such an element of speed and he's such a dynamic player. He can, pretty much, play up and down your lineup. He's a huge complimentary player for us and a really nice guy too."

With the addition of both Skinner and Sheary to the forward group, Okposo feels that one key element has been upgraded this offseason in the Sabres lineup - speed.

"I think it's vastly improved," Okposo said. "You add Patrik Berglund, who's an awesome guy, a great veteran presence to have in our locker room, just a smart player. Then you add Casey Mittelstadt. He's probably not known as the fastest guy, but he can move and he can think when he's going at a high rate of speed and his hands are always going. You add Tage Thompson in the mix too, and he's a big guy that can get up and down the ice. For our forwards, I think we're definitely in a better place than where we were last year. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do."

Okposo also talked about rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, as well as his former teammate Robin Lehner and what he's been through recently. You can listen to the entire interview below:

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