As the 34th birthday approaches, Sabers’ Kyle Okposo has a remarkable season

BUFFALO – Sabers winger Kyle Okposo’s ability to remain a powerful NHL player in his mid – 30s can be traced to his willingness to keep reinventing himself and evolving.

Two seasons ago, after battling a series of terrifying concussions, he revived his career by embracing a new controlling role and thriving in it. That comeback turned out to be a warning for this year.

Following an injury-plagued 2020-21 campaign, Okposo may be enjoying its most impressive NHL season.

Okposo, who turns 34 on April 16, has scored 18 goals this season, which is the team’s third highest total. If he can score twice in the last 12 games, he would become the Sabers’ oldest 20-goal scorer since 37-year-old Dave Andreychuk in 2000-01.

At an age where most players are gray or out of the league, Okposo, who is expected to play his 900th NHL game on Tuesday, is one of the Sabers’ most valuable strikers.

In the Sunday afternoon 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, Okposo opened the scoring and skated 17 minutes, 42 seconds, most of all the Sabers forward.

Okposo has moved across the ranks this season, skating on goals and checking lines in addition to earning power-play and penalty kills.

Sabers coach Don Granato said Okposo’s ability to come back from adversity is “elite”.

“We’re talking about a National Hockey League player, they have to keep reinventing themselves,” Granato said after Sunday’s game. “Believe it or not, just like a young guy has to keep getting better, the older guy in this league, if he does not find ways to adjust his game and get better, they are obsolete sooner rather than later.

“Kyle comes on the field every day to find ways to add to his game and adjust his game.”

Although that game has changed over the years, Okposo’s high engine has remained a constant. Granato believes that even a beginner in the sport could spot Okposo’s stubborn determination.

“You can take your neighbor who knows nothing about hockey and he’s going to see it compete and that work ethic out of Kyle,” he said. “It’s the driving force. He’s just as passionate about the sport of hockey as he was when he was 17, and that drive pushes him through.”

Overall, Okposo has collected 41 points in 64 games that participated in Tuesday’s competition against the Carolina Hurricanes at KeyBank Center. The American has not produced offensive in this year’s pace since a season with 19 goals and 45 points in 2016-17, his first with the Sabers.

The 15-year-old veteran has not hit the 20 goals since 2015-16, scoring 22 times for the New York Islanders.

“I’m trying to take care of what I can control,” Okposo said. “In recent years, there have just been a number of things that I like to try and help fix, do better around here. I just try to take care of myself and everything else falls into place a little bit. I’m definitely playing a lot more relaxed than I’ve done in the last couple of seasons.

Last season, Okposo scored just twice in 35 outings. Still, he found a groove in his last appearances before getting a broken cheekbone in April last year.

“The end of last year was a good match into this season for me,” he said. “I just have to go out and play hockey. It’s been nice to get some consistency back and produce at a level I think I’m capable of.”

Okposo has produced with various linemates this season, including alongside center Cody Eakin and Zemgus Girgensons. Granato has used the tough trio, whom he recently reunited after a successful race in the early season, to start matches.

“That line has been really, really good for us,” said Sabers winger Jeff Skinner. “They have been a kind of our rock.”

Late in the first period on Sunday, Okposo tipped defender Mattias Samuelsson’s shot from the spot after Eakin and Girgensons moved the puck around the zone.

“We just like to grind and move the puck in the offensive zone,” Okposo said. “Some pretty heavy bodies playing against the wall get the puck up to the point and good things usually happen from there. We just seem to play our best when we paint. ”

Sabers had free Monday.

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