Former Post Beatwriter, Evan Grossman has an NHL.com feature on Kyle Okposo on 7/24...
Islanders know Okposo is worth waiting for
Evan Grossman NHL.com Staff Writer
Jul 24, 2007, 11:55 AM EDT
The New York Islanders selected Kyle Okposo seventh overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.By now, you’ve probably seen it. The goal has been all over television, it’s been viewed on YouTube over 50,000 times. It’s reached almost cult-like status among puckheads around the world. Without question, it was the prettiest goal scored anywhere in organized hockey in the last year.
Kyle Okposo came off the right wing wall in a game last December, took a no-look feed on the post from University of Minnesota teammate Ryan Stoa and in tight quarters, pulled the puck back between his legs and flipped it in behind his body.
“You practice that every now and again, just messing around at practice,” Okposo told NHL.com. “It was just kind of all instinct. It was pretty much the only thing I could do with the defenseman trying to cut me off, coming across the net there. So I just had to go back; I couldn’t stop and go back, so I just thought I’d try it. Luckily it worked, and I fanned on the shot even.”
Simply known as “The Goal” in Gopher hockey circles, the Okposo trick shot stood up as the game-winner in a 2-1 victory against rival Minnesota State. It also helped to jumpstart his folk-hero status as one of the more anticipated young players to come down the road in recent years.
“People ask about it all the time,” he says. “I didn’t think it was anything special when I did it. But I guess to do it in a game, it’s pretty cool.”
Going into his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota, Okposo could just have easily battled for an NHL roster spot this fall. He was drafted by the Islanders seventh overall in 2006 and could be the most electrifying player – on any level – in that organization’s system. Instead, he’s going back to school for at least another year, because, as he says, it will be better for his development. If you’re an Isles fan, that’s good and bad news all in one.
Okposo declared last month he would be putting his professional career on hold for at least one more season. The bad news in that declaration is that NHL fans will have to wait another year to watch him play on a regular basis. The good news, though, is that when he finally does make his NHL arrival, he’ll be even better than he is right now.
“It was a tough decision to go back to school,” Okposo said. “But I think it’s the best thing for me and my development. I think it’s the best thing for the people here (on Long Island). In another year, I’ll be going back to school and hopefully I can join the team or something when the time is right.”
While the Islanders are probably crushed on the inside that Okposo, a 6-foot power forward with soft hands, announced he’ll go back to school for another year, they have publicly supported his decision. After all, general manager Garth Snow attended the University of Maine and credits the education he got there in business school for his ability to make the transition from NHL goalie to executive.
He’s going back to school, and you know what, it’ll be good for him to dominate again at that level,” Snow says, “and then we’ll see what happens.”
Okposo decided to return to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore year, meaning Islanders fans will have to wait at least one more season until he arrives on Long Island.At this point, the only thing you’d expect to happen is something great. In Okposo, the NHL figures to have another young stud to go along with the unprecedented youth movement taking the League by storm. Last year, the scoring race was won by a 19-year-old Sidney Crosby, an 18-year-old Jordan Staal led the NHL in shorthanded goals, and just about every one of the 30 teams seems to have at least one player on the roster barely old enough to shave. That trend figures to continue again this season with the Blackhawks headed in the same direction with youngsters like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane hoping to make the squad.
Okposo could join an elite group of fresh-faced NHLers, but will put that on hold for another year. He’ll go back to one of the proudest NCAA programs in the United States when he pulls on the Minnesota maroon and gold for another season, returning to a program that’s chock-full of NHL draft picks every year.
Last season, Okposo was second in scoring with 40 points in 40 games for a team that also dressed 2006 first-overall pick Erik Johnson (St. Louis) and 2004 fifth-overall selection Blake Wheeler (Phoenix). Last year’s No. 5 selection, Boston’s Phil Kessel, also came to the NHL by way of the Gophers and won the Masterton Award in his rookie season.
“The competition’s great, especially in the league we play in, the WCHA,” Okposo says. “Night in and night out, you have to bring your A-game or you’re not going to have a chance. It’s really good for me in that way; it really pushes me and pushes my teammates. As far as the team goes this year, I think we have a really good crop of guys coming back and some good freshmen coming in. So it should be a fun year and we’re going to make a run for the NCAA title.”
In Arabic (Okposo’s father, like Jarome Iginla’s, is from Nigeria) his last name means “thunder storm.” Before long, the storm is going to hit the NHL with gale force. And may also include a trick shot here and there.
But first, it will remain in Minnesota for at least one more season, where Okposo will only get better in preparation of realizing his NHL dream.
“I think it’s going to be great,” he said. “Going back next year to Minnesota, where I think I learned a lot this year. I went in there as a freshman and I didn’t really know what to expect. Now I know what to expect, so I’m going to try and be a leader for that team and hopefully we get over the hump, get to the Frozen Four and get an NCAA title.”
And beyond that, we’ll all just have to wait and see what happens. --