Kyle Okposo (21) skates away from Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty on Tuesday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Kyle Okposo excited to face Islanders

BUFFALO – A reflective Kyle Okposo couldn’t stop smiling this morning talking about the New York Islanders, a team he said he “grew up” with for nine years.

Okposo, who signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Sabres on July 1, will face his old team for the first time tonight.

“I left there and I was a veteran guy, I was one of the guys that had been there the longest,” an excited Okposo said inside KeyBank Center. “But I still felt like I was one of the young guys because I had just grown up there. I was a young guy when I went.”

Facing the Islanders in Buffalo will make tonight easier.

“Going there, playing these guys for the first time would be a little weird,” said Okposo, who played 529 games with the Islanders. “That would really kind of get the emotions going.”

Still, the winger seemed emotional this morning greeting some familiar faces from the Islanders and talking about the special friendships he made on Long Island.

“You remember some of the specific games, but you remember the friends that you made,” he said.

He added: “It’s different coming here being a veteran guy where nobody really knows my past.”

Okposo, however, has meshed almost perfectly with the Sabres, scoring a team-high nine goals and 21 points in his first 27 games.

More on tonight’s game:

– The Sabres, who roared back to beat Los Angeles 6-3 on Tuesday, are 4-2-1 since slick center Jack Eichel returned from a high left ankle sprain. The Sabres’ league-worst offense has averaged 3.3 goals a game in the span.

“Since the 20-game mark or so, we’ve started to get some players back, and you’ve started to see how our team can play and how our team is going to play,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.

– Defensemen Zach Bogosian (knee) and Taylor Fedun (shoulder) both skated this morning but won’t play tonight. Bylsma said one will go on the Sabres’ two-game road trip, which starts Saturday in Carolina.

In other injury news, winger Tyler Ennis (groin) has skated on his own the last three or four days, Bylsma said.

– Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will make his 21st start tonight. Meanwhile, his counterpart, Jean-Francois Berube, the Islanders’ third goalie, will start his first game.

Berube has only played eight NHL games since New York claimed him last season. He made his season debut in a relief appearance Saturday.

“He works extremely hard, really good technical goalie,” Okposo said. “He’s put his time in over the last year and a half. I know it’s been tough for him.”

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has 11 points – one goal and 10 assists in his last 10 games and six points in the last four contests.

Ristolainen’s 18 assists rank 14th in the NHL. The Finn has assisted on 30.5 percent of the team’s goals he hasn’t scored, according to Sabres public relations, the third-highest percentage in the league.

At his current pace, Ristolainen would record a career-high 56 points.


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