Kyle Okposo is off to such an impressive start to his Islanders career that it's easy to forget he played a half-season in the minors between his time with the University of Minnesota and his NHL debut. While with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League for 35 games, Okposo picked up nine goals, 19 assists and countless lessons on how to be a pro.
"I'm really grateful for my time with the Sound Tigers," Okposo said after practice the other day. Speaking of his coaches there, Okposo said, "Jack Capuano, Pat Bingham, (former assistant) Bernie Cassell...they helped me in every aspect of the game and prepared me for the NHL."
But when you're 19 years old, as Okposo was when he joined Bridgeport during the 2007-08 season, there's nothing more impactful than the leadership of a teammate.
"Mark Wotton is the man," said Okposo. "What a great person."
The 36-year-old Wotton is currently in his fourth season with the Sound Tigers. A former teammate of Garth Snow's in St. Petersburg, Russia during the NHL lockout and also with the Canucks briefly in the late '90s, Wotton is Bridgeport's captain, defenseman and symbolic big brother. He played 42 games over parts of three seasons in Vancouver. Outside of one game during the 2000-01 season with the Dallas Stars and the one season in Russia, Wotton has spent this entire decade in the AHL.
Every player that has come through the Islanders' AHL affiliate the last four years has credited Wotton's leadership. Okposo is especially appreciative.
"Wotts really took me under his wing," said the Islanders right wing. "I got there and the staff was extremely helpful, but to have a player like Wotts show you around, look after you, give you little suggestions on how to prepare for games, that was a huge for me. The AHL could not have any more different a lifestyle and a style of play than college.
"Some of our fans may not know about a lot about Mark, but I can tell you he played a big part in my development in Bridgeport - just like all the coaches. I can't thank Wotts enough."