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Grading the Islanders: Kyle Okposo, Tough Minute 'Thunderstorm'

Destiny: Fire and celebration at the Smurfs' expense.
Destiny: Fire and celebration at the Smurfs' expense.

Four days after Sean Burke speared Randy Wood in April 1988 -- during that first-ever Devils playoff series that, in retrospect, hinted at the Patrick Division power shift to come -- Kyle Okposo was born. This fact makes me feel old. But it also tells me we've only just begun to see what Okposo can do as the ex-Gopher prepares for his third full NHL season at the tender age of 22.

We know he can play all situations. We know he has a good (yet underperforming) shot, a relentless motor, and a competitive fire. How last year's second-leading scorer puts that all together, and whether he has another level to the combative/intimidation side of his game -- those are the unknowns that will play out in the next few seasons.

I had all sorts of language prepared for what Okposo needs to take that next step (the usual stats and bad poetry is after the jump), but it turns out he already said it better than I could, to Chris Botta in his FanHouse piece:

"...Scoring is a mindset. This is what I’m working on. I don’t care if it’s a game of shinny; if I’ve got a chance to score, I have to bear down and finish the scoring chance. Plays around the net, breakaways, loose pucks … it’s like having a killer instinct. You see the way Zach [Parise] plays, whether it’s a crucial moment like at the Olympics or a regular season game. I’ve learned from watching him and I’m working to improve my scoring touch every time I’m on the ice."

Too Many Tough Minutes, Too Soon?

Scott Gordon trusted Okposo in almost every situation last season, to the point I suspect he may have gotten too many tough minutes, so much so that his finishing (7.6%, vs. 10.9% the year before) may have suffered. (It's just a theory, but an exhausted player doesn't tend to have the same mustard and focus when unleashing his shot. Or maybe it's all luck and those damn posts.)

You might not take much stock in the Quality of Competition numbers over at Behind The Net (I do, particularly over a full season), but even a skeptic can see from those figures that Kyle Okposo had the toughest 5-on-5 QualComp of any Islanders forward by a country mile. Behind him was Frans Nielsen and Matt Moulson (two topics of debate around here), and after that no one else was even remotely close. Does that excuse Okposo's minus-22 on the year? No, but it goes a good long way toward explaining it, as he logged heavy PP time, heavy PK time, and the toughest minutes at 5-on-5.

Looking at 2009-10 vs. 2008-09 as we did earlier in the summer, you can see at a glance that Okposo logged a full 2.5 more minutes per game, including a full minute more per game on the PP and 30 seconds more on the PK. That's quite a jump for a kid who was already logging 18 minutes per game at age 20.

Kyle Okposo

#21 / Right Wing / New York Islanders



Apr 16, 1988

NHL Seasons: 2

Contract: 1 more year on ELC ($850k base, $1.67M cap)

Preseason View: "Mark him for 20+ goals and a breakout."

GP G A P +/- PIM QualComp SHG TOI PPtoi PKtoi Sh%
2009-10 - Kyle Okposo 80 19
33 52 -22 34
.041 (1st/14)
0 20:32 4:17 1:49

The Poem

A little innocence, a lot of fire
Now time to push a little higher

It's not the effort that is lacking
But execution, smart attacking

Okposo, ye "Thunderstorm"
May better teammates be thy norm

Your contract year is here, we see
Time to define the player you'll be

Do rising prospects lift all boats?
For KO and the Isles, that's the hope.

Coda: Phaneuf is still a tool, and now he's Toronto's captain tool. LOL!

The Grade

So in the negative, Okposo didn't score as much as you likely hoped, and his minus-22 stands out. On the plus side, he had by far the toughest assignments among Isles wingers and still drew 12 more penalties than he committed, which was second on the team only to agitator Jon Sim. He led the team in shots (though not in efficiency) and became the second-leading scorer, two points behind John Tavares.

Despite the increased responsibility and workload, he remained pretty healthy, missing only two games -- and recovering just fine from FrankenPhaneuf's dirty preseason hit. And he continued the style of play that befits his surname, which apparently means "thunderstorm."

Consider that and all of the above (well, except the poem -- that's just riffing to get you playing along), add your own criteria and evidence in comments, and then grade Okposo's 2009-10 based on your preseason expectations, with 10 being the positive extreme and 1 being the negative extreme.