Can Kyle Okposo maintain momentum from his breakout year?

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John Tavares rightfully grabs the most attention as the New York Islanders’ best player in decades, but in an era where depth can make the difference between contending and just surviving, it’s crucial for others to step up. As much of a difference as the team’s impressive offseason moves might make, the team could be especially dangerous if the Kyle Okposo we saw in 2013-14 is the one who’s here to stay.

That’s not to say that Okposo was lackluster in other seasons, mind you.

A big leap

At 26, he’s one goal short of 100 in his NHL career. Including his career-high 27 from last season, he has two 20+ goal seasons and two others that were very close (18 in 2008-09, 19 in 2009-10) to boot.

The 2013-14 campaign stands out because of two reasons: 1) he fired more shots on net and 2) he generated more assists.

Okposo collected 42 assists in just 71 games, giving him almost a point-per-game overall (69 in 71). To give you an idea of how big of a jump that was, consider that his previous career-high for points was just 52.

No doubt about it, some of that stems from playing with Tavares, especially when the Islanders enjoyed the work of that blistering-but-short-lived trio that also included Thomas Vanek. It would be foolish to depict Okposo as a mere passenger, however.

Growing into his role

His work in the month of March is demonstrative enough, as Tavares was already out for the season and Vanek’s last game with the Isles took place on March 2. Even with those two stellar linemates out of the picture (for the most part), Okposo scored three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 11 games before suffering a season-ending ailment of his own.

There have been some measures taken to explain why, exactly, Okposo made such a big jump … but here’s a vote for the vague notion of “being more assertive.”

It’s a generalization to say that more shots translate to more confidence, but it might be a decent measure for a power forward like Okposo.

Okposo averaged 2.75 shots per game in 2013-14, second only to the 3.11 he managed in 2009-10. Most other seasons he leaned closer to two per contest.

That might not seem like much, yet 80-100 extra shots during the span of a season could mean something like 8-10 additional goals (based on his career 10.4 shooting percentage). To get dorky for a moment, Islanders fans should be excited to see that his shooting percentage was a fairly repeatable 13.8 last season, as that’s not the kind of “puck luck” that is often a red flag for a fluky year.

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Of course, the big jump in assists is probably the easiest place to see the “Tavares effect.” But, really, is that such a bad thing? The ultimate message might be that the Islanders would be wise to keep Okposo with No. 91 and give him the green light to shoot.

Will he maybe slow down a bit in 2014-15? It’s plausible, but there are also plenty of reasons to believe that he’s going to be one of the league’s more productive power forwards.

Ekblad out again, this time with a sore neck

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It’s not concussion-related, Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe told reporters today — but defenseman Aaron Ekblad woke up this morning with a sore neck and will miss tonight’s game against Arizona.

Ekblad had only just returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion. He logged 18:14 in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Carolina.

And now he’s out again.

Certainly, the timing of Ekblad’s latest injury, not to mention the fact it’s a sore neck, will lead many to doubt Rowe’s assertion that it’s not concussion-related.

But Rowe said before the Hurricanes game that the club was being cautious with its 21-year-old star defenseman.

“We didn’t want to rush him back because he’s such a young guy,” said Rowe, per the Miami Herald. “With a concussion, we didn’t want to rush him back.”

Stars’ Janmark won’t play this season, and there’s a ‘question mark’ about next year

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In a season filled with injuries, one of the biggest Dallas suffered this season was Mattias Janmark‘s knee issue.

The 24-year-old Swede has missed the entire season thus far, but recently resumed skating and practicing with the club. That said, Janmark confirmed he won’t play this year — meaning he’ll miss the entire 82-game campaign.

And what’s more, he might miss games next season as well.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” GM Jim Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Losing his services was a big blow for Dallas. After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Janmark’s contract situation complicates things. He’s a pending RFA, currently in the last of a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an $733,750 cap hit. The Stars would (presumably) like to keep him, but the uncertainty regarding his health might made negotiations difficult.

Fehr injures hand, spotted in cast following Leafs debut

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Eric Fehr finally played his first game as a Maple Leaf on Wednesday night, suiting up for the first time since being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.

It didn’t go especially well.

Fehr, who logged 10:44 TOI in a 5-2 win over Columbus, suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in the third period and was seen afterward wearing a cast, per TSN.

According to the Toronto Sun, the 31-year-old forward confirmed he spent the night in hospital.

While a break or fracture might rule him out for the remainder of the season, it’s worth noting Fehr won’t be done entirely in Toronto. He’s in the second of a three-year, $6 million deal with a $2M cap hit. Prior to joining the Leafs he appeared in 52 games for the Pens, scoring six goals and 11 points while averaging just under 11 minutes a night.

He was also a regular in last year’s Stanley Cup run, scoring three times in 23 games.

Though his role decreased, Fehr was still frequently used by head coach Mike Sullivan — albeit in a more limited capacity. He is a good PK contributor, and can play both center and wing. Those were some of the attributes the Leafs were hoping Fehr could bring down the stretch and, should they make it, into the postseason.

He’s back: With 10 games left, Isles recall Halak

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The Isles are in full playoff push mode, and on Thursday made a move to bolster their chances.

Jaroslav Halak, the veteran netminder that’s been in AHL Bridgeport since early January, has been recalled ahead of New York’s crucial three-games-in-four-days stretch, the club announced.

It’s the latest in what’s been a tumultuous move for the 31-year-old. Halak opened the year as part of an uncomfortable three-goalie rotation — along with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube — and was soon on the trading block after agent Allan Walsh criticized the setup on Twitter.

With no takers — and after then-head coach Jack Capuano called him out for his poor play — Halak was placed on waivers, and sent to the minors.

Halak has been really good in Bridgeport. He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, there’s a shot Halak could be making a start for the Isles soon.

As mentioned above, the club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in last night’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles head to Pittsburgh on Friday, then host the Bruins on Saturday, then host the Preds on Monday. The Boston game looms large because, after last night, New York found itself just two points back of the B’s for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Per Newsday, there’s a real chance Halak will face the Pens on Friday, which would open the door for Greiss to take on the Bruins the following day.