"It would be foolish to think we're rushing him in any way," Snow said. "He's been one of the best forwards in Bridgeport, averaging just under a point a game.
"He's earned a chance to put on an Islanders uniform and play at the NHL level. At the end of the day, it will be a good opportunity for him to compete. In no way are we rushing him. He's proven he's capable of playing in the NHL."
-Garth Snow, taken from the 3/14/08 Newsday article by Greg Logan.
I was very curious a few days ago if we would be seeing KO make his NHL debut in the final stretch of the regular season, and these words by Snow make it sound like they may be leaning towards the call-up for when the Isles host the Leafs this Tuesday.
It makes sense for many reasons. The organization, although still technically capable of making the playoffs, seem to have acknowledged that it will be something nearly impossible to accomplish. The Islanders still sit 13th in the East eight points out of the final playoff spot, but only one point away from falling down to the 14th seed. I have heard many Islander fans say that they only want this team to win just two more games this season – both being the final two of the season in a home-and-home with the New York Rangers. I can see why, because the farther they fall the greater the probability of gaining that first overall pick in this year’s lottery draft.
Kyle Okposo has almost managed, like Snow said, a point per game while playing in Bridgeport. I have not seen any of those games but I know someone who has, and he informed me that when he saw KO play, (and it was only one game), that he looked a bit slow and out of shape for the pro-hockey level. It was also noted that he played the point on the powerplay as well. It sounds a little confusing for a kid who is still only 19 and managing to almost play to a point per game after coming straight out of college. But who knows? That game could have just been a bad one, or he may be just getting by. I have also seen other fans post on message boards that he looks like he may be a year away from making the big club as well.
Bottom line is that he is still only 19 years old and was picked 7th overall in his draft for a reason. I remember before the draft seeing on TheFourthPeriod.com that the Blues were considering trading their first overall pick that year so they can move down and draft Okposo, as many have predicted him to possibly be the next Jarome Iginla. Now…if that is so…let’s look at Iginla’s stats over his career, shall we?
1996-1997 Flames 82 21 29 50 -4 37 8 1 3 169 12.4
1997-1998 Flames 70 13 19 32 -10 29 0 2 1 154 8.4
1998-1999 Flames 82 28 23 51 1 58 7 0 4 211 13.3
1999-2000 Flames 77 29 34 63 0 26 12 0 4 256 11.3
2000-2001 Flames 77 31 40 71 -2 62 10 0 4 229 13.5
2001-2002 Flames 82 52 44 96 27 77 16 1 7 311 16.7
2002-2003 Flames 75 35 32 67 -10 49 11 3 6 316 11.1
2003-2004 Flames 81 41 32 73 21 84 8 4 10 265 15.5
2005-2006 Flames 82 35 32 67 5 86 17 1 6 293 11.9
2006-2007 Flames 70 39 55 94 12 40 13 1 7 264 14.8
2007-2008 Flames 71 44 42 86 28 61 15 0 9 287 15.3
Iginla’s first season was definitely something to intrigue any organization, as an 11th overall pick in the 1995 draft, he posted 50 points in a full season. He hit the typical sophomore slump season the following year, but continued to develop into a 50-65 point player. In 2002 he finally blossomed into that power forward everyone thought he would be. However that was 7 years after he was drafted. His point production dropped a tad more, but then last season he regained form and has continued to so far this year.
It took 7 years for Iginla to become that huge force we all know him as today. What does this have to do with Kyle? It shows that everything takes time. If Okposo does not hit 50 points in his first NHL season it does not mean he is a mistake. It very well just mean it may take a bit longer for him to develop, and this is where this organization has to show patience, something they are not famous for. Think I am wrong? Just take a look at all the NHL All-Stars and where they were drafted. That is right. A HUGE chunk came from the Island. But most of those moves were from the Milbury era, and right now we are under the rule of Snow, Nolan, and Wang co. So far the only significant prospect they have traded was Robert Nilsson. I was very upset to see them move him, but he is not a “Ted Nolan-type” player and the Isles wanted to rid themselves the shame of passing up on Parise that year. I still think Nilsson will one day come back to bite us in the rear end, (as he has already got 33 points in 60 games), but that still remains to be seen.
With Kyle very possibly coming up, he will make this roster look even more like the Bridgeport Sound Tigers than they all ready do. Currently they have Regier, Tambellini, Spiller, Jackman, Colliton, and Walter up to replace the likes of Witt, Gervais, Sillinger, Sim, Fedotenko, and Hilbert. Add Nielsen to the mix as he may be returning soon, as well as the regulars of Bergenheim and Comeau. The players mentioned will be dressed and ready to go tonight when they face Montreal, a team fighting with the Devils for the first place seed in the Conference. For those of you that wanted a young team, you got one. Basically the top two lines that started for the Sound Tigers lineup are now playing with the big club.
Kyle’s first 9 NHL games, if he gets them, could be huge. They could provide a small taste of what it is like to play in a harder-hitting, faster league compared to the minors which could help him understand how to condition himself over the summer in order to maintain a full-time roll next year. For those who disagree with calling up Kyle, it can be argued that these games could possibly destroy his confidence if he does not play as well as he has in the minors; that we may be rushing him.
For me personally, I am caught in the middle. I would be VERY excited to see him play, but I still am for not rushing him to the big club if it means he will be a better player in the long run. However it is only 9 games, not 82, and I do not see that becoming a major setback.
All that matters is what Snow and Co. think, and Snow seems to be pretty assured that playing the last 9 games of the season is perfectly OK for the big KO.