Before John Tavares fell in to the Islanders' lap with the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft, Kyle Okposo was the face of the future for the downtrodden Islanders franchise. His first NHL goal, an overtime game-winner against Martin Brodeur in 2008, was met with excitement and optimism for the young winger's future. The hope was that Okposo would develop into a top six forward capable of consistently scoring north of 30 goals per season. To this point, Okposo has not come close to reaching the numbers the Islanders had envisioned for him. He has shown glimpses of greatness, which have only made watching the struggles of Kyle Okposo all the more maddening.
Statistically, Okposo had his best season last year. He scored 24 goals with a shot percentage just above 15 percent. To conclude the season, Okposo went on a torrid run of nine goals in nine games to salvage what had largely been a disastrous year. He was benched early on for three games due to what coach Jack Capuano thought was a lack of effort and urgency. Nevertheless, Okposo's strong finish once again brought back the optimism that he would reach his potential.
To start the abbreviated 2013 campaign, Okposo was given the opportunity to replace P.A. Parenteau on the Islanders first line next to John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Despite being given the same spot that made Parenteau $16 million richer, Okposo looked lost on the first line. In the first 12 games, Tavares and Moulson have seven and six goals, respectively, placing both among the NHL leaders. Okposo has managed just one goal to go along with three assists. His shooting percentage has dipped under five percent. These abysmal numbers earned him a demotion to the second line.
Kyle Okposo is a goal scorer. He does not create for other players, and he doesn't hit. He loses the majority of battles in the corners and this season has apparently forgotten how to skate. Unless he is scoring at a consistent rate, he is hurting the Islanders.
Islanders fans are no strangers to watching their players struggle. Five straight years with a top 10 draft pick will turn any fanbase cynical. What makes the Kyle Okposo's struggles so frustrating is that he is the first piece of the Islanders "rebuild." Okposo was the first member of the Islanders young core of first round talent that now includes Josh Bailey, Calvin De Haan, John Tavares, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart. The team has also made some savvy free-agent pickups (Grabner, Moulson) and solid later round selections (Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin) to bolster this core.
Every time Kyle Okposo goes through a period of struggle, doubt surrounding the front office's handling of the rebuild creeps into the heads of the Islanders faithful. Josh Bailey was rushed to the NHL and has struggled ever since. Calvin De Haan cannot stay healthy as his ailing shoulder has put his career in serious jeopardy. Nino Niederreiter's development was also criminally mishandled and has now demanded a trade.
Ryan Strome has become a top prospect, but there are concerns about his size. Griffin Reinhart is years away from being the top pairing defenseman he is projected to become, and years developing in the Islanders system should scare any fan. The success of the rebuild hinges on the performance of the Islanders first round selections, none of whom outside John Tavares have proven to be even productive NHL players, let alone a core that will eventually take them to the NHL Finals.
The struggles of Kyle Okposo frustrate Islanders fans to such a degree because it calls into question the organization's ability to assess and develop talent. Islanders fans have been patient. It is now year six of the Islanders rebuild, and it's time to see results. That starts with you, Kyle Okposo.