Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Kyle Okposo Experiment: An Early Look

The choice to leave college early and join a professional sports league is not one young athletic prospects should take lightly. But since Kyle Okposo joined the Islanders franchise in early January spurning the continuation of his college career at the University of Minnesota, the coach for the Golden Gophers team made it sound as if the choice was made under duress. Seemingly blaming GM Garth Snow and the scouts of the Isles, Don Lucia bemoaned KO's choice as one not of his own making. I find this fact hard to swallow.

Kyle is by no means a dumb hockey player. Anyone who has had the joy to hear him speak knows he is an articulate, polite and animated young man. They see in his eyes a passion that lies very close beneath the surface. While Minnesota was struggling through much of their schedule Kyle did not have the room to expand on his talent. Scoring was hard to come and, only 2 years into his program it now seemed that less than a handful of players, especially KO, were being leaned on to take the reins of the Golden Gopher charge. While the team was struggling so was KO.

For those who have ever followed NCAA hockey, they know it is a scrappy game. Collegiate hockey is by no means the high speed, high octane, smooth competition we have come to expect at the NHL level. For players of Kyle's caliber, who have succeeded at Juniors by constantly outshining the lesser players, college is often more of an extension of the peewee leagues than it is a practice for the bigs. After showing off big time in his freshman year, expectation would have it that his sophomore season would be an extension of that flashiness and sadly for the most part it was not. KO made the choice to come the Isles early because of a number of factors:

* The atmosphere at UM was toxic. With such high expectations last season and such a poor finish the team had yet to recover emotionally. This year started off slow and never really kicked into high gear. Kyle was moved to center and was playing out of his natural position. KO was feeling stalled and I think he made Snow and the rest of the Islanders franchise support know that.

* The Isles own roster gaps meant the time is now for a young prospect like KO to make his move towards the NHL. With about half the season left for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, KO knew that he could get some good pro experience in as he makes a charge for a starting spot on the 2008-09 team.

* Personal hopes. One of only a handful of highly touted African-American prospects, Kyle could up the ante and bring more respect for players of African descent to the NHL sooner.

These are just a few reasons why. Without getting the chance to sit down with KO we may never really know his true motivations. His current play with the Sound Tigers is living proof that the move seems to have invigorated him as a player. With 14 games under his belt he has notched an impressive 5 G and 10 A, better than a point per game. He has yet to go more than 2 games without a point and most telling has 5 multi-point games since joining Bridgeport. We here at Okposo Net feel the move was the right step toward the Kyle's development.


Anonymous said...

"With such high expectations last season and such a poor finish the team had yet to recover emotionally."

Poor finish = OT loss in the regional final of the national tournament I guess eh?

Uncle Jr. said...

excellent article ... well said. i (hopefully) look forward to may years of K.O. on the Island.