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Kyle Okposo Should Play Less (Or Not At All)

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Kyle Okposo failed his chance again to get top-six minutes

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

As a self proclaimed fan of Kyle Okposo and his style of play throughout his career (the first jersey I ever bought is an Okposo jersey) it pains me to say this, it’s time he sees his minutes slashed if not outright healthy scratched.

I’ve been holding out hope all season that he would put it all back together and return to serviceable enough form, but we’re now 52 games into the season and have a clear picture of what he is. A negative possession driver with an ok-ish shot that doesn’t drive the net enough.

It’s never been Okposo’s game to carry a line and drive possession forward on his own, rather he just needed to be responsible defensively, work well with whatever top end center he was assigned to, drive the net, and put the puck in the net, and for most of his career he did just that.

Now he’s a drag on basically everyone he plays with.

CF% With & Without Okposo (min. 50 minutes played together)

With CF% With CF% Without Difference
With CF% With CF% Without Difference
Tage Thompson 36.49 46.9 10.41
Lawrence Pilut 44.53 54.03 9.5
Casey Nelson 45.6 54.52 8.92
Casey Mittelstadt 44.4 51.84 7.44
Conor Sheary 46.13 52.21 6.08
Zach Bogosian 44.96 50 5.04
Rasmus Dahlin 48.14 52.27 4.13
Jake McCabe 48.45 48.76 0.31
Nathan Beaulieu 50.3 50.3 0
Rasmus Ristolainen 47.19 47.14 -0.05
Jeff Skinner 52.38 52.23 -0.15
Zemgus Girgensons 51.16 50.64 -0.52
Johan Larsson 52.84 50.52 -2.32
Evan Rodrigues 52.41 49.4 -3.01
Marco Scandella 49.79 46.52 -3.27
Vladimir Sobotka 46.89 43.48 -3.41

You simply cannot have a player, regardless of stature or contract, dragging down his teammates the way Okposo is, especially when you’re dealing with the development of the player you hope becomes your second line center for the foreseeable future in Casey Mittelstadt.

On top of his poor possession numbers, Okposo is having significant trouble getting anywhere near the net when he takes a shot. Among Sabres forwards, only Rodrigues, Eichel, Thompson, and Sobotka shoot from further out on average than Okposo’s 34.9 feet. For comparison, most Sabres forwards average shot distance is right around 30 feet, that’s basically five full feet(!) further away on average. When your primary role is to put pucks in the net, you can not be stuck on the perimeter taking low danger shots.

I initially thought maybe Okposo’s most common center, Casey Mittelstadt, isn’t doing a good job of getting him the puck in a scoring position, but when you look at Mittelstadt’s other most common winger, Conor Sheary, you see that he has an average shot distance of 31.19 feet, almost four full feet closer to the net.

Not to suggest Mittelstadt doesn’t have work to do because he certainly does, something I plan to tackle in another article, but when one winger seems to have no trouble gaining an extra four feet on average before he shoots, it’s likely that Mittelstadt isn’t solely to blame for Okposo’s poor average shot distance.

I think there is an argument to be made that a part of Mittelstadt’s struggles this year are likely related to the significant amount of time Okposo has spent on his wing.

The Sabres are dealing with the development of players that are hugely important for their future while at the same time battling for a playoff spot. Every shift down the stretch matters and it is unacceptable to continue to play Kyle Okposo in these large roles when we clearly know what he is as a player and how he affects those around him.