Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Okposo Should Shoot for the Calder

Right now, on February 10th, Kyle Okposo has had a satisfactory rookie season in the NHL. It started off a little rough, with the Islanders' best prospect making less of an impact for the team than most had hoped. Then Okposo suffered a wrist injury that kept him out of the lineup for 13 games. One started to get the feeling that 2008-09 would basically go down as a lost year of development—or, at least, a disappointing one.

Then, after returning from the injury and listening to his coach implore him to do more than play as if he were just happy to be in the NHL, Okposo took an important step forward. He emerged as the considerable talent that coaches, scouts, fans, and the Islanders had made him out to be.

When you watch Okposo now, you see him trying the things that he's probably been able to do all his life, but seemed hesitant to try over roughly the first forty games of his NHL career. It's as if he remembered that he is special, and not just another winger skating up and down when his line is called. Whether it's a quick bit of stickhandling to create an extra foot of space, a swift and sneaky extra stride to beat his man to the puck, or a push of his tenacity-boost button to simply not be denied, Okposo has demonstrated the combination of skill and confidence that we associate with star players.

Okposo should set two goals to pursue for the remainder of the season. The first is to maintain the elevated level of play that saw him post six points in a five-game stretch from the end of January to the beginning of February. By becoming a consistent performer, he can establish himself as a go-to guy on a team that sorely needs one.

The second goal is strongly correlated with the first one, but goes a step further. Through his play, Okposo should force people—fans and media—to put him in the mix for the Calder Trophy. He's not going to win it. But he was certainly in the discussion when the season started. His rough start removed him from that discussion. He has 30 games to get back there starting tonight at home against the Kings. It will be tough with Versteeg, Ryan, Wheeler, Mason, Berglund, and a few others setting a strong pace. But, again, the goal isn't for Okposo to win the race. It's to make people remember and notice that he is in that class.

Okposo has ten goals and nine assists in 39 games played this season. Let's set an ambitious but reasonable bar for the rest of the way. How does 12 goals and 12 assists over the final 30 games sound? That would result in a 43-point season in 69 games. That's a good mark for a 20-year-old to launch a career from if you ask me.

(This post was originally published at http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=19312 on February 10, 2009.)

2 comments:

Dominik said...

With that great charge to the net and deke tonight (NJD game) on the powerplay, maybe KO is taking up your challenge.

Islanders Outsider said...

Make me look good, KO!