The headlines around the Buffalo Sabres have consisted of the current nine-game winning streak, Jeff Skinner’s scoring outburst, Jack Eichel entering into unquestioned elite center status, and Rasmus Dahlin strong rookie season.
Even the resurgence of players like Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons has seen some highlights over the recent weeks.
Lost in the shuffle is the rebound season that Kyle Okposo is having so far. He looks like a different player than we saw in the first half of last season. It’s clear that the scary medical situation he went through in 2017, had an impact on his performance for most of the 2017-18 season.
Tim Graham of The Athletic wrote a great piece a few months ago on how dark it got for Okposo during his injury scare, describing the impact it had on his life on and off the ice.
The 30-year-old winger has five goals and 14 points in 24 games. Putting him on pace for 17 goals and 48 points this season. While that point total would be a career high during his time with the Sabres, those numbers don’t jump off the chart at you. Of course, you would like to see more production from your second highest paid player ($6 million cap hit), but this is the type of player he is now.
A top-nine right winger that get you around 15 to 20 goals and 45 to 50 points in a season.
All of the analytical numbers tell the story of a player who is only slightly playing above last season. His 5 on 5 IPP (individual point percentage) is at 75.0 through 24 games this season, which is above his 72.41 IPP of last season. The possession numbers at even strength are slightly improved so far with a 48.63 CF%, compared to 46.61 last season.
The eye-test is where you notice the improvement in Okposo’s overall game. His skating has improved and he’s been stronger on the forecheck this season.
It shouldn’t be overlooked the impact that Okposo has had on Casey Mittelstadt. The 20-year-old center is starting to solidify himself as a second-line center. Okposo, along with Conor Sheary has provided support for the rookie that is looking to settle into the NHL.
He’s been strong defensively, created opportunities offensively, and has done well in puck retrieval in the offensive zone.
The 2006 first-round pick is part of the improved depth scoring the Sabres are leaning on in the midst of this recent winning streak. Okposo has six points over the recent nine-game stretch.
The long-term outlook for Okposo in Buffalo is still very much in question with four more years remaining on his contract. However, in the short-term, he’s still an important piece on the roster and could nice veteran depth over the next few seasons.