He’s a self-professed nerd. His favorite cereal is Cinnamon Life. And he can likely name more Harry Potter characters than you can. With his thick glasses, he already has a head start on the Halloween costume. Kyle Okposo’s humble, down-to-Earth personality will quickly grow on you.
Okposo plays with a mix of offensive ingenuity and snarling toughness; dishing a sweet saucer pass one moment, then skating through an opponent’s chest the next. Though there’s nothing jaw-droppingly fancy about Okposo’s game, his leadership, work ethic, and never-take-a-shift-off attitude is hard to miss.
The 6-foot, 217-pound Minnesota native is a sure-fire top six forward in this league, having broken the 60 point mark twice in the last three seasons. He’s an underrated playmaker (117 assists in the last three seasons), especially on the power play. So when the Sabres saw a chance to snag the 28-year-old unrestricted free agent right winger, they didn’t waste any time inking him to a seven-year, $42 million contract.
ALWAYS AN ISLANDER
Selected seventh overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Okposo has spent his professional career–nearly a decade–in Islanders’ blue and orange. Since he joined the team, he was always considered part of their core, tallying 139 goals and 230 assists in 529 games for the franchise.
Last year, Okposo’s 22 goals and 64 points, the third- and second- best totals of his career, were as much about quality as quantity. Including shootout winners, he scored 11 goals that put the Islanders ahead in games and eight that put them in the lead for good – both team highs.
Two defining moments in Okposo’s life happened in 2013. The first, he and his wife Danielle had their first child, Elianna. Second, in a playoff game against the Penguins, Okposo dropped the gloves and exchanged blows with Matt Niskanen. It was a transformative moment for both him and the team. Looking overmatched and defeated in the series, the Islanders had lost series opener, 5-0. They were down by score of a 3-1 in game two. After the fight, they scored three straight goals to win the game, 4-3. The fight jump-started the Islanders, suddenly giving them confidence, though they eventually fell 4 games to 2.
And from that moment on, Okposo seemed to turn a corner, upping his game to another level.
The following year, despite the team failing to make the playoffs, Okposo put up career best numbers (27G, 42A), leading the Islanders in points for the first and only time since Tavares joined the team. He continued his strong play the next year though missing a month due to an eye injury that required emergency surgery to repair a detached retina. He showed no effects from the injury, playing in 79 games. The team reached 100 points in back-to-back seasons for first time in 33 years and the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 23 years.
Spoken by a small group of Midwestern Nigerians, where his father was born, ‘Okposo’ means ‘heavy rains and thunderstorms.’ It’s a fitting tribute to his heavy, rough-around-the-edges style of play.
Okposo and his sister were both raised to be introspective and independent thinkers by their parents, both highly educated pharmacists. Kome, Kyle’s father, left Nigeria at the young age of 16 and fast-tracked his way through school, getting degrees at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota.
Though Okposo has never set foot in Nigeria and his father has been back there only once since he left more than 40 years ago, they both are proud of their heritage. One of Okposo’s middle names is Evrovre, which translates into ‘Forgiveness.’ The name, as is the custom, was bestowed upon Kyle by his paternal grandfather and has a story of significance that Kome prefers to keep private.
When Okposo married Danielle Hirsch, herself a former varsity hockey player at St. Cloud State University, they decided they would carry on the custom of naming their children while reflecting their heritage. First they had a girl, Elliana, and Kome anointed her Seruo, which means ‘The Cherished One.’ This past April, they welcomed a son, Odin, into the world. His middle name is Ezi, which means ‘Spirit.’
Okposo welcomes the opportunity to play with rookie sensation Jack Eichel.
“Obviously I don’t know Jack’s game as well as Tavares’, but I see a lot of similarities in the skill set and some of the things he does from when Johnny was 18. I’m looking forward to maybe saying a couple things to Jack or sharing some of those experiences with him – just trying to help him grow.” – Kyle Okposo
He’s also excited to play with Ryan O’Reilly – whom Okposo called one of the smartest centers in the game today.
Regardless of who is centering for him, Okposo will be looked at for helping the Sabres making the jump to the next level, into the playoffs.
“The Sabres are a great organization and I couldn’t be happier. All I want to do is give the city a Stanley Cup. I’m excited for the journey and the challenge.”