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2024 Stanley Cup Final

Kyle Okposo Goes from Trade Deadline Pickup to Stanley Cup Final



Okposo panthers
Think Kyle Okposo was fired up to play for the Stanley Cup for the first time? Look at the way he celebrates Florida’s Game 6 win over the New York Rangers last Saturday night. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

SUNRISE — Eight years removed from his last playoff appearance, Kyle Okposo didn’t know if he would ever get a chance to win a Stanley Cup.

But he finds himself four wins away from one with the Florida Panthers.

“I didn’t know if it was going to happen,” Okposo said. “It was a long time where I wasn’t close to getting to this point and I almost resigned myself to the fact that, hey it might not happen.

“I’ve had a long career and some ups and downs, but maybe I just had a good career and I don’t even get a chance.”

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His face said it all once the Panthers secured their spot in the Cup Final with a win against the New York Rangers.

Nobody was smiling wider than he was.

Panthers captain Sasha Barkov recognized that and pushed him to the forefront of the celebration, squeezing him in right next to the Prince of Wales Trophy for the team photo.

“I don’t love any attention or anything like that but it’s nice that the guys recognize that I played a long time and it’s my first time here,” Okposo said.

“But we just want to do it collectively for everybody in the organization. For the players in everybody in that room who’s worked so hard the entire season for this moment. This is what they work for.

“I didn’t want to be next to the trophy. I went to go skate by [Barkov] and he grabbed me was like ‘Oh, you gotta be here! You gotta be here!’ And he grabbed me and put me there. I was just trying not to step on the carper and hit the trophy and then [Bill Zito] came in and pushed me closer and I was uncomfortable the whole time.”

Okposo cup

Florida Panthers forward Kyle Okposo talks during media day on Friday in Sunrise — with the Stanley Cup hanging out in the background. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

After his initial seven-year contract with Buffalo expired, the former Sabres captain signed a one-year deal to leave open the possibility for a trade to a contender.

And when their season went sour, opportunity came knocking in South Florida.

“From the first time that I came here, I didn’t know what to expect. It was the first time that I had gone to a new team midway through the year, so a lot of changes for me,” Okposo said. “The expectations were lai out immediately and they were clear and concise and there was no gray area. I knew what was expected and that phenomenal for me to here.”

Those expectations were high: The Panthers play a more physically taxing game that requires a lot of speed and stamina.

It was something Okposo had to adjust to early on and he obliged, staying on the ice late and working hard while he couldn’t crack the lineup in the beginning of his tenure following the trade deadline.

But once the playoffs rolled around, he was faster and more tenacious on the forecheck than he has been in a while and that earned him a consistent spot on the fourth line.

“It’s funny looking back to when he first got here. Obviously, his character hasn’t changed. He’s the same guy and he has been that way his whole career,’’ Steven Lorentz said. “He’s a captain of a hockey club, he comes in here and brings that leadership and you can feel that vibe and that aura coming off. He’s a very special person and a great player.

“But you can see, when he first got here, there were some tendencies that maybe he could get away with in Buffalo.

“I was the same way coming here from San Jose last year where this group has a much higher of an intensity level and that much harder of a game that it takes a little bit of getting used to and he embraced it with open arms. He hasn’t been going in the lineup maybe every single game right off the hop, but he’s worked his way in and we both found a spot on this fourth line and we found some success with each other.

“That’s just crediting him and going out in the scratch skates and watching these games when he’s not in the lineup and just learning from the guys who are doing the job. So all credit to him. He’s a great leader and a great guy to learn from.”

Okposo, himself, has noticed the fruits of that work.

He noticed it himself in his own living room as he was getting ready to walk out the door for media day on Friday morning.

“My kids were watching highlights this morning from when I was with the Islanders, and as I was walking out of my room, I was like ‘My gosh, I was not a good skater,’” Okposo said. “But the pace that is expected every single day was communicated to me and was something that I tried to take to heart and work on. And it’s still something I try to do every day.

“You just have to move faster, you have to get to pucks quicker, be more physical, everything. Coach [Maurice] has always been like that, and if coach tells you to jump, you say ‘how high’ and that’s it. And I’m going to try to get better. I’m going to try to get better for the guys. It’s been very demanding but also extremely rewarding as well in the last few months.”

For More FHN Coverage of the Florida Panthers:

  • When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • National TV: ABC
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Local Betting Odds — Panthers Favored: Money Line (-145); Puck line (-1.5, +165); Over/Under 5.5 (-120/-110). Series Panthers -150
  • Series Schedule, All Games 8 p.m. on ABC — Game 1:Edmonton at Florida, Saturday; Game 2: Edmonton at Florida, Monday; Game 3: Florida at Edmonton, Thursday; Game 4: Florida at Edmonton, Saturday June 15; Game 5*: Edmonton at Florida, Tuesday June 18; Game 6*: Florida at Edmonton, Friday June 21; Game 7*: Edmonton at Florida, Monday June 24. (*) – If Necessary
  • How They Got Here — Florida: d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2, New York Rangers 4-2; Edmonton: d. Los Angeles 4-1, Vancouver 4-3, Dallas 4-2.
  • This Season (Florida Won 2-0) — At Florida: Panthers 5, Oilers 3 (Nov. 20). At Edmonton: Panthers 5, Oilers 2 (Dec. 17).
  • Last Season: Edmonton Won 2-0
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Oilers lead 23-16-0, 3 ties
  • Postseason History: First Meeting

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Kevin Hawkey

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t get what we kept trying to make this work. Didn’t feel like he still had his former skills. But he has found his place and hasn’t been a liability. What I see that is even more important is how character counts. I love how Barkov was thoughtful enough to make sure he was included in the moments. Selflessness is the definition of Barkov. Okposo and Barkov may not have much in common on the ice but when it comes to being incredible, likable men of integrity and character, they are twins! I… Read more »

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