The Islanders’ season ends five weeks from today, but the hockey season may not end for the best player to emerge so far from the franchise’s rebuilding program.
Kyle Okposo has been placed on the list of eligible players for the American Hockey League playoffs. If Bridgeport can secure a berth, Okposo will be asked to play a major role in the Sound Tigers’ pursuit of the Calder Cup.
This would be a unique circumstance because Okposo, who will turn 21 during the first round of the AHL playoffs, has played this entire year in the National Hockey League. However, the Islanders have decided the playoff experience is crucial to Okposo’s development. Showing the maturity he’s displayed throughout this challenging season, the young right wing says he fully embraces the concept of an extra month or two in the minor leagues.
“I’m going to play hard wherever I go,” said Okposo, who had a goal and an assist in the Islanders’ 3-2 win today over Phoenix at the Coliseum. “If I go back to Bridgeport for the playoffs, I’m going to give our team everything I’ve got. The Sound Tigers organization and the coaching staff played a big part in getting me to the NHL, and I also have a lot of friends on the team. The chance to maybe take on more of a leadership role, plus get the experience of the playoffs, is exciting to me. If I’m fortunate to get that opportunity, I’d be foolish not to embrace it.”
And if the Sound Tigers qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs, Okposo will have company from the Islanders’ roster. Blake Comeau, who was a full-time Islander for the second half of last season and the final three-quarters of this one, is on the clear-day list and is craving for a shot to re-join the Sound Tigers in mid-April.
“You always want to be in the playoffs,” said Comeau. “We won’t be there this season with the Islanders, but this is a chance to get some invalauble experience in the A.”
Comeau knows what he’s talking about. Three springs ago, he was on the Bridgeport team that lost an intense seven-game series to Wilkes Barre/Scranton. As Comeau said today, “Playing in a high-pressure environment like that is important for any young player.”
BRIDGEPORT PLAYOFF LINEUP
A Point Blank Projection
Blake Comeau – Ben Walter – Kyle Okposo
Trevor Smith – Kurtis McLean – Mike Iggulden
Jon Sim – Jeremy Colliton – Jesse Joensuu
Junior Lessard – Tyler Haskins – Sean Bentivoglio
Tomas Marcinko, Michael Haley, Mitch Fritz, Joel Rechlicz and Co.
Andrew MacDonald – Dustin Kohn
Joe Callahan – Jack Hillen
Mark Wotton – Jamie Fraser
Notes: Yann Danis and Tim Jackman are not eligible for the AHL playoffs. Both would have needed to clear waivers and the Islanders opted not to take the chance. Lawson has been signed by the Islanders and is considered a legitimate challenger to win a job as a No. 1 in Bridgeport and eventually push for a spot in the NHL rotation.
THE TAVHEDUCH WATCH
Every team in the Tavheduch sweepstakes that played today won, leaving the idle Tampa Bay Lightning to gain ground on everyone. Vinny, St. Louis and Stamkos. Oh man, would Victor Hedman be perfect for the Lightning.
1. Islanders 22-37-7 51 pts (66 games)
2. Tampa Bay 21-32-13 55 pts (66 games)
3. Atlanta 25-35-6 56 pts (66 games)
4. Colorado 29-36-1 59 pts (66 games)
TW Notes: The moment we ran the 60-game Watch last week, a few readers posted their equations proving how the Islanders were a virtual lock to finish last overall and be guaranteed the first or second pick. Most started with something like, “If the Islanders play .500 the rest of the way…”
That algebra stuff is all well and good, but it has nothing to do with post-trade deadline hockey. What if the Islanders’ strong play at home carries over to the road? What if they continue to earn 6 out of every 8 points? The Watch will keep you up nights, that’s what.
As word circulated about Rick Tocchet getting a contract extension, the Lightning lost at home to Carolina last night, 9-3. Didn’t that happen with the Knicks and Isiah Thomas? Watch out for the Bolts.
Welcome, Colorado Avalanche, to Tavheduch. You should have traded Ryan Smyth. So long, Chris Campoli and the Sens. Hedman won’t be chewing up any of Campy’s power play time.
POINT BLANK 2009 DRAFT TOP 5
March 8, 2009
1. John Tavares, C, London (OHL)
Tavares had 3 goals and an assist today in a 4-3 win over Josh Bailey’s old team in Windsor.
2. Victor Hedman, D, Modo (Sweden)
3. Matt Duchene, C, Brampton (OHL), right
4. Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi, LW, Timra-IK (Sweden)
5. Evander Kane, C, Vancouver (WHL)
Andy Sutton could return to the ice soon; the question is whether it’s worth it. He’s almost healed from his foot surgery of two months ago and is ready to start practicing. The reasons to return? Mostly to prove to himself and his team that he’s back.
“This has been the toughest season of my career,” said Sutton, who has played only 23 games this season. “It would be great to get back practicing and maybe play in a few games. But I also understand the other view.”
The other view is that there’s no point in risking further injury just for the sake of playing games when his team is not in the playoff hunt. “We’ll talk it over with the doctors, trainers and coaches and decide what’s best,” said Sutton, who came into camp in the best shape of his life and had much different plans for this season.
After scoring just 2 goals in his first 44 NHL games this season, Jeff Tambellini has now scored 3 in his last 4.
Mike Iggulden, passed over countless times when the Islanders’ injury epidemic hit, has 3 assists in 2 games since his recall from Bridgeport yesterday.
Josh Bailey’s goal to make it 2-1 was his first NHL goal scored at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Today’s official attendance was 13,413, bringing the weekend total to 29,000 – not bad at all considering the lack of playoff push.
Another superb performance by Yann Danis, who may get every chance to prove it all over again in September in Saskatoon.
Darren Pang, in the press box today for Coyotes TV, on Okposo: “Great skater. He’s so strong on his feet. You don’t realize how good he is until you see him in person.”
Phoenix 2006 first-rounder Peter Mueller was a healthy scratch today. Speaking of which, where are we on the whole Okposo-Mueller debate?