Former New York Islanders forward and current Buffalo Sabres leader Kyle Okposo was one of the players up for the Masterton Trophy come season’s end. His story, this season and since leaving the Islanders is one of perseverance, dedication, and leadership. As we wait to see who Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato chooses as captain of his young, determined group, it seems that Okposo is the front runner.
On June 22, The Athletic’s Tim Graham wrote a piece on Kyle Okposo’s leadership and what it has meant to the Buffalo Sabres as head coach Don Granato decides on a captain for the 2022-23 season. Although an announcement has not been made just yet, all signs point to no. 21.
The Buffalo Sabres have been a laughing stock of an organization for quite some time, having failed to make the postseason since 2011, and failing to get past the first round of the playoffs since 2007. Given the nightmarish competitive struggles of the organization, opponents would mock them but any time Okposo would hear it, he would step in.
The Masterton Trophy was awarded to Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price, who battled drug and alcohol abuse and his recovery was incredible. That does not take away from what challenges Kyle Okposo has had to overcome to get back to being the player he used to be.
Here’s a quick excerpt on Kyle Okposo from my Masterton Nominee piece:
For Kyle Okposo, the fact that he is still playing in the NHL is deserving of an award in itself. Back in 2014-15, his second to last season as a member of the New York Islanders, Okposo suffered a detached retina (which he had been playing through). He found out about the injury back in January, and surgery was needed, which could leave him unable to see.
However, the surgery was a success, and he could continue to play.
In his first season as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, 2016-17, Kyle Okposo suffered a concussion that landed him in a neuro ICU, leaving significant doubt that his NHL career could continue. But he made his way back.
In 2019, Okposo dealt with another concussion where again, his ability to continue his career was up in the air. But like he always has, he returned.
Although his career continued, his play on the ice dropped drastically over the last five seasons from 2016-2021. That was until this season’s rise in performance, where health has been at the forefront.
The 34-year-old Kyle Okposo has 21 goals and 24 assists in 74 games, his highest goal total since the 2015-16 season, highest assist totals since 2017-18, and the most games played since 2018-19.
Not to mention, he wears an “A” on his sweater and has been a leader for a young Buffalo Sabres team with a ton of potential.
Throughout Okposo’s nine years as a member of the New York Islanders, success was hard to come by. But despite the results on the ice, the commitment level of Kyle Okposo never wavered. And management saw that, as he was awarded an “A” for the 2009-10 season.
The 2009-10 season was just his second full season in the NHL and he was just 21 years old. That speaks volumes to what management saw from Kyle Okposo in terms of leadership at such a young age.
Okposo wore that “A” until he left the Islanders following the 2015-16 season.
After not being named an alternate captain for the 2016-17 season, his first season in Buffalo, that “A” was quickly added to his jersey the following season. He was an alternate captain from 2017-19 before the disastrous concussion left him unable to play. In no sign of disrespect, the alternate captaincy was given to someone else who was more of a presence.
For the shortened 2020-21 season and this past 2021-22 season, Okposo donned that “A”.
This Buffalo Sabres team seems ready to take that next step. There is more talent on this roster and with Jack Eichel gone, this team needs a captain that can help get these players to the next step and get the Sabres back to being a competitive force. It’s what the fans of Buffalo have been longing for and what they deserve.
Kyle Okposo may only have one year left on his contract but that should not impact Granato’s decision. He’s a veteran. He’s been a leader. He’s overcome so much to get to where he is. And he leads by example on and off the ice.
He may not be the most skilled player on the roster. He may not be the flashiest captain in the sport. But the Sabres need a veteran leader to help this young core grow and Kyle Okposo deserves the opportunity.