BUFFALO – So far, just 38 games into his career here, Kyle Okposo has lived up to his billing as one of the NHL’s most underrated scorers. The winger has quietly been the Sabres’ most consistent forward, compiling 12 goals and 27 points, both team highs.
Okposo’s strong season was rewarded this afternoon with a spot in the NHL All-Star Game for the first time in his 10-year career. The Minnesota native will represent the Atlantic Division at the game Jan. 29 in Los Angeles.
Okposo said he was “a little bit” surprised when general manager Tim Murray told him this morning he had been chosen as the Sabres’ lone representative.
“I was thinking there was a couple guys (worthy),” Okposo said this afternoon inside KeyBank Center. “We got some really good young players on our team. I think (Rasmus Ristolainen) has had a standout year. Look at the three defensemen they took from our division. Tough competition. That being said, I’m really excited to be going.”
The minute-munching Ristolainen has enjoyed a stellar season, becoming the Sabres’ MVP. The Finn has three goals and a team-high 23 assists.
Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson and Montreal’s Shea Weber were the three Atlantic Division defensemen chosen.
The four teams – each division is represented – have six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies.
Where would the seventh-place Sabres be without Okposo? He has scored 13.8 percent of the team’s goals. Only five Sabres – Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, Ray Sheppard, Pat LaFontaine and Jack Eichel in 2015-16 – have led the team in goals in their first season.
Okposo, who previously played for the New York Islanders, signed a seven-year, $42 million contract July 1.
“It feels like it’s a bit of a reward for my play,” Okposo said. “This year is probably not the best statistical year that I’ve had. … Coming here and everything being new, the guys make it easy. But at times, it’s difficult. I’m just trying to get used to everything. Still trying to get cemented in the lineup somewhere. So it definitely feels good.”
Beyond his on-ice talents, Okposo’s attitude and professionalism have impressed Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.
Okposo said he plans to “soak everything in” during the NHL All-Star weekend.
“It’s going to be a pretty cool event with it being the 100th year of the NHL, a lot of special players from throughout the years that are going to be there,” he said.
Okposo said he hasn’t been an all-star since he was a 17-year-old in the junior United States Hockey League.