Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kyle Earns an "A" in Our Book

If you haven't voted in the poll on the right hand side of the page, please take a moment to do so now. We've gotten some good feedback from the fans on this subject (verbally and in the comments section), but more is always welcomed. We're leaving the poll open for another 10 days or so to ensure that everyone who wants to vote does so. And thank you to those who have already participated.

The question posed to fans by this blog and others was how they felt the captaincy issue would shape up for the 2009-2010 season. Very simply, has Kyle Okposo done enough during his brief Islanders tenure to warrant wearing a "C" or an "A" on his uniform? At Okposo Net, we strongly feel he deserves the "A," but let's examine the other two possibilities first.

The Captaincy: Realistically, this is just not going to happen for Kyle. It's a case of too much, too soon. The captaincy is normally reserved for a team member of veteran stature who is a vocal leader on and off the ice. Typically, someone fiery enough to energize his colleagues in the locker room yet possessing a calm temperament when dealing with referees. Granted, the "veteran status" requisite has been changing in recent seasons, with young players such as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews ascending to the post at young ages. For the most part, however, one should be thinking along the lines of a Nicklas Lidström or Shane Doan-type player here (to use current examples).

Since the Islanders don't really have a player that currently fits the bill, we should expect to see the captaincy to go to someone like Mark Streit or Doug Weight this autumn (if a captain is selected). Trent Hunter or Brendan Witt have an outside shot at the "C" as well.

Nothing: Basically, the status quo for Kyle. The main knock on Kyle getting a badge is his inexperience. Let's remember that he's only 21 years old and has played a scant 74 games in the NHL. Is he ready for a leadership role? Nearly 50% of poll respondents say "no," wanting to see him grow as a player for at least another season.

The Alternate Captaincy: While not ready to assume a captainship, yet more than a role player on the Islanders, this is where we feel Kyle currently lies.

Last season, none of the "young Islanders" seemed as willing or able as Okposo to perform in a capacity that was both consistent and increasingly productive on the score sheet. While at times Andy Hilbert, Sean Bergenheim, Bruno Gervais, and others had long stretches of excellent and/or improved play, nobody did it like Kyle. Somewhat absent as a "presence" on the ice during the opening months of the campaign, by the end there wasn't one fan or media member not raving about Kyle's maturity and skill.

But this is not solely about point production. In the locker room Kyle always kept his demeanor the same whether he had participated in a 2-0 win for the Isles or a terrible, soul-crushing loss (of which there were a few). Always willing to answer every question, he became increasingly comfortable and engaging with the media as the season dragged on. We can only assume this was true amongst his contemporaries when the prying eyes of the scribes weren't around to see.

However, part of that comfort was expressed on the ice for all to see in the last few weeks of the season. With basically nothing to play for except personal goals, Kyle found himself embroiled in more altercations with opposing players. He was quick to support his teammates whether they were getting checked through open doors or run into the boards. Kyle was not afraid to get knocked to the ice in a scrum, and was not going to leave a teammate to fend for himself. That says a lot to us, especially on a team that recorded a 61 point season.

Kyle has learned a lot since this time a year ago, having now played a full season with the Isles and in several high profile international competitions. We feel that he has learned something from each experience and utilized the knowledge in his NHL career. While we know that he is still young and there are many able candidates on the Islanders (with hopefully more on the way), we think that Kyle has earned an "A" for next season.

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