Will St. Paul native Okposo consider the Wild?
Kyle Okposo has gotten the question so many times from friends and acquaintances back in Minnesota that he shakes his head when he hears it again. As one of the top NHL players set for free agency this summer, would Okposo, the St. Paul native an...
Kyle Okposo has gotten the question so many times from friends and acquaintances back in Minnesota that he shakes his head when he hears it again.
As one of the top NHL players set for free agency this summer, would Okposo, the St. Paul native and former Gopher, consider returning home to play for the Wild?
“That’s something so many people ask me about,” Okposo said.
So, has he considered it?
“Not really, to be honest,” he said.
For now, Okposo is playing a leading role on a New York Islanders team in the thick of a playoff race. But his contract with the Islanders, the team that drafted him No. 7 overall in 2006, expires on the last day of June and, barring an extension before then, he will be free to negotiate with any team July 1.
“We haven’t had a lot of dialogue yet,” he said of potentially signing a new contract with the Islanders, and indications around the league point to him becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Regardless of whether he signs with the Wild this summer, Okposo still considers Minnesota home.
He returns each summer to his house in Deephaven, just west of Minnetonka, and assimilates himself with the other NHL players that reside here during the offseason.
He often works out at James van Riemsdyk’s house on Crystal Bay with Brock Nelson (an Islanders teammate from Warroad), Jake Gardiner (a Toronto defenseman who played three seasons for Minnetonka High School), and Mike Reilly, the Wild defenseman from Chanhassen who turned pro last summer.
And, of course, he sees a lot of Zach Parise. The two became friends after Okposo, one of the most talented hockey players St. Paul has produced since the 1970s, spurned high school hockey to play at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, back when the program was run by J.P. Parise, Zach’s late father.
“My dad told me how good a player he was and how good of a kid he was,” Zach Parise said of Okposo. “He talked about a lot of his players, but he said that Kyle, in particular, was going to be a real good player.”
Feelings have simmered since Okposo left the Gophers in the middle of the 2007-08 season, a move that was followed by Islanders GM Garth Snow and Gophers coach Don Lucia getting into a war of words through the media.
Since then, Okposo has become a top-line forward in the NHL, posting career highs in goals (27) and assists (42) in the 2013-14 season. This season, he has 15 goals and 28 assists in 51 games.
“He’s a power forward with tons of skill,” Parise said. “He uses his size really well, but I don’t want to just classify him as a straight up-and-down power forward because he’s got unbelievable hands, great moves, and he’s a really good one-on-one player. He plays that big, physical, tough game, too.”
In many ways, Okposo has what the Wild lack. But while Okposo seems destined to hit free agency this summer, the Wild would need to make some major moves to clear cap space to try to sign him.
“Anybody that tells you they don’t think about it is lying,” Okposo said of his contract situation. “I’ve been thinking about it a little, but when I come down to rink and put my pads on, you just go out and play.”
He’s enjoying life with the Islanders, a team that features four Minnesotans playing key roles. Those Minnesotans - Okposo, Nelson, Edina’s Anders Lee, and Eden Prarie’s Nick Leddy - often hang out together, Okposo said, much to the chagrin of their teammates, who jokingly tell them to stop pining for home.