Kyle Okposo Training Hard in Twin Cities
"To be honest with you," said Okposo, "vacation for me is just being at home. I really love being home. When the hockey season is over, this is where I'm happiest."
"Home" for the talented right wing is Minnesota, where Okposo was raised, where he played high school and college hockey, and where he purchased his own place with the money earned from being the Islanders' first round pick in 2006.
"Home" is also where he can improve his craft during the so-called offseason. Since the Islanders played their last game in April, Okposo almost immediately began preparing for the 2010-11 season -- his fourth as a pro, his third full year in the NHL. At such a young age, he is arguably the Islanders' best all-around forward, the player every pro scout wishes his team could steal even though they know Okposo's not available. Still, he only scored 19 goals last season, one more than the previous year. He was a team-worst minus-22.
This is a gem that needs polishing, and no one knows that more than the player himself.
"My workouts have been five days a week," said Okposo, who finished second in scoring with the Islanders last season with 52 points. "I've been skating for almost a month already. I've got a lot of work ahead of me to have a better season."
In the Twin Cities area, Okposo has the opportunity to train and skate with several professional hockey players -- some prospects, some at his level and one young star who serves as the model for the player most of them strive to be.
Asked if his workout partners could be called a "Minnesota mob," Okposo laughed and said, "More like Shattuck-St. Mary's," referring to the renowned prep school in Faribault where he and several of his friends played hockey. Among the pros in Okposo's regular workout group are Drew Stafford of the Buffalo Sabres, Hurricanes defense prospect Casey Borer, up-and-coming Canucks forward Jordan Schroeder and New Jersey Devils franchise forward and U.S. Olympian Zach Parise.
When Okposo went through goal scoring slumps last season with the Islanders, he mentioned Parise -- who has scored more than 30 goals in each of the last four seasons -- as someone he continues to learn from. In the offseason in Minnesota, Okposo gets to see the artist at work.
"What you see with Zach is all the talent, of course," said Okposo, "but you also see that goal scoring is a mindset. This is what I'm working on. I don't care if it's a game of shinny; if I've got a chance to score, I have to bear down and finish the scoring chance. Plays around the net, breakaways, loose pucks ... it's like having a killer instinct. You see the way Zach plays, whether it's a crucial moment like at the Olympics or a regular season game. I've learned from watching him and I'm working to improve my scoring touch every time I'm on the ice."
Rebuilding slowly and steadily around cornerstone center John Tavares and a core of players around Okposo's age and younger, the Islanders made a 19-point improvement last season from their 30th place finish of 2008-09. General manager Garth Snow has yet to make any major acquisitions in the summer, keeping his club a few million dollars before the CBA-mandated salary cap floor while signing defensemen Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina and forwards P. A. Parenteau and Zenon Konopka. Unless the Islanders acquire an impact player in August by utilizing their cap space, the pressure will be on the team's youngsters to produce to attain Snow's stated goal of qualifying for the playoffs.
Okposo has confidence in his teammates.
"This has been an opportunity to grow together as a group," said Okposo, on his way to another training session. "We made some good strides last season. If we all continue to develop, our team is going to be able to compete with anyone."