"Kyle, for basically playing only seven minutes of preseason hockey, was one of our best players," Gordon said. "I've said all along, he's just going to keep getting better."
The word from the BlogBox bloggers with locker room access after the home opener was that Kyle Okposo was in a foul mood. Foul, as in frustrated that the Islanders -- despite a promising opening display -- started their season off by blowing a third-period lead again. Foul, as in a newly named alternate captain taking a shootout loss hard.
Foul, as in this 21-year-old played all of seven preseason minutes yet drew rave praise for his fiery efforts from a coach who doesn't dole out praise easily. (Of course, even that coach was tickled by opening night optimism.)
Which brings me to the lovely one-game-in jump to fantasy: Do the Islanders maybe have something here?
I mean sure, that's been the whole point all along: To do this rebuild slow and do it right. But now that the games have started again and I look at a 21-year-old, a 20-year-old and a 19-year-old as easily the Isles' best three forwards, I start to salivate (all over again) at the the thought of what Okposo, Josh Bailey and John Tavares might become once they're no longer wet behind the ears. Of what the Islanders might look like once those three get out of the crib.
It's a pretty sweet dream, and with a few more days before Thursday's game in Ottawa, I'm going to let my head go there for a while.
But it's not just them. Since -- in a complete 180 from last season -- no one was maimed nor felled by illness in the home opener, suddenly Scott Gordon has lineup decisions to make. Day-to-day groin man and new captain Doug Weight is ready, as is Blake Comeau. Work those guys into the top two lines -- to say nothing of Rob Schremp Hockey -- and I'm not sure if Sean Bergenheim is ever going to get the chance at prominent minutes that he desires (minutes I still suspect he could capitalize on).
I really like Bergenheim, particularly when he's firing on all cylinders (and not devoting one cylinder to
dumb overexuberance-fed minor penalties). But this is a fantastic problem to have.
I'm not yet convinced on the NHL future of any forwards in Bridgeport, but if the existing forwards continue to develop (including my pet Frans Nielsen, who's resumed light skating), then I can see where the Islanders could be a team to reckon with in a few years. (The subpar blueline, as I've repeated as nauseum, is my real lasting concern.)
So while last season's miserable experience provided bits of fun when we saw little blips of stardust in the nascent galaxy forming, this year has started off with a flash quite a bit brighter. Put it this way: Not until well into 2009 did any Islanders line look the way Moulson-Tavares-Okposo looked Saturday night.
For now, I'll take that as a quite welcome step one.