It has been nearly a week since the Buffalo Sabres landed free agent forward, Kyle Okposo. The 28-year old right winger signed on with the Sabres for seven years with an average annual salary of $6 million dollars.
On Thursday, Okposo made his first public appearance with the media at the First Niagara Center. Okposo said it was weird to walk on to the home bench, but he is excited to calling the First Niagara Center his new home.
“I’ve always liked playing in this building,” Okposo said. “There are some buildings where you feel comfortable and others where you might not feel as good. I’ve always felt good in this building. I’m excited to play in it and to call it home and make it home the next number of years.”
“Just walking out on to the ice for that first game will be different on the home side when people are cheering for you in this building. I’ve only known one organization throughout my career, but I couldn’t be happier to make this my new home.”
The Sabres and Okposo began talking a couple of days before free agency had opened on July 1. Okposo had his preliminary talks with both general manager Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma. After the first conversation ended, Okposo was enticed by the idea of joining the Sabres and being a part of the long-term solution.
“I think they have so much skill, and their future is bright,” Okposo said. “I really believe we can win here. That’s what sold me. You play the game to win a Stanley Cup, to win a championship, to raise banners. I think this team has the ability to do that.”
Okposo had spent parts of his first nine seasons in the National Hockey League with the New York Islanders, where he put up 139 goals and 369 points in 529 career games. While with the Islanders, Okposo was part of a team that went through some tough times and finished in the bottom of the standings.
Unlike the past few years in Buffalo, this Sabres team is on the uprise with some stellar young talent on the roster. Okposo is looking forward to the opportunity to playing with this young roster, especially with Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly.
“I’ve watched those guys play and played against them,” Okposo said. “I’ve been saying it for a week that Ryan [O’Reilly] is one of the smartest players, one of the smartest centers in the league. Jack [Eichel] has nowhere to go but up. His ceiling is so high, and he’s going to be such a tremendous player in this league for a long time. [I’m] looking forward to helping him grow, and just gonna try to continue to cultivate him as a player.”
While in New York, Okposo played mostly alongside franchise center, John Tavares. Tavares was the Islanders’ first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, and has become the face of the franchise in his tenure. In seven seasons on Long Island, Tavares has scored 207 goals and put up 471 points in 510 career games.
Okposo sees a lot of similarities between Tavares’ game and Eichel’s game. He also feels that his past history of working with Tavares and helping him grow in New York will help with the growth and development of Jack’s game in Buffalo.
“I think I see a lot of similarities in the hype and the skill set; some of the things he does out there from when Johnny [Tavares] did when he was 18,” Okposo said. “I know where Johnny’s career path went and I know how he worked and how hard it was for him to get there. I’m just looking forward to maybe saying a couple of things to Jack or sharing some of those experiences with him and helping him grow.”
While the Sabres already have Eichel and O’Reilly on the roster, another highly regarded player the Sabres are trying to reel in is free agent forward, Jimmy Vesey. The Sabres are traveling to Boston on Thursday to meet with Vesey and his agent to talk about Buffalo and the possibility of him signing with the team. Murray and Bylsma are both reportedly on the trip to meet with Vesey, whose rights were acquired by the Sabres back on June 20. If Vesey goes unsigned by the Sabres by August 15, he will become an unrestricted free agent.
As for Okposo, he gave his thoughts on what he would say to Vesey if he were trying to convince him to sign with Buffalo.
“I would tell him that we’re gonna be a good team for a long time. It’s gonna be a fun organization to play in. When you have the Pegulas at the helm, it’s gonna be a great organization. We’re gonna be contenders, and that’s something that isn’t always there on teams. I know that personally. We went through a really tough stretch on the Island. There’s not gonna be those rough times ahead. We’re going to be good.”
One other note from the press conference is that Okposo will wear the number 21 with the Sabres, which was previously held by fellow American, Drew Stafford. Okposo did have a talk with Stafford, and joked with him about taking his number.
“I told him I’d take it down from the rafters for him.”
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