|Kyle Okposo vs. Chris Stewart||Tweet|
|Written by Steve Laidlaw|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2012 10:19|
Kyle Okposo vs. Chris Stewart – this is a comparison that is almost too easy to make and it has nothing to do with race. Both Okposo and Stewart are 24-year-old former 1st round pick right wingers – Okposo went 7th overall in 2006, Stewart 13th in 2005. They are both young power forwards who have shown flashes of brilliance but have struggled to find consistency as they enter their fifth full seasons as professionals. Both derive the majority of their fantasy value from their potential rather than what they have proven. So which one has the most potential? Or rather, which one will do the most with said potential? That’s what I will answer in this week’s Cage Match.
This past season was a year to forget for Stewart in St. Louis as he saw himself fall into the dreaded dog house of head coach Ken Hitchcock. It wasn’t so long ago that Stewart appeared on his way to becoming one of the league’s top power forwards after posting 28 goals and 64 points in 77 games as a sophomore and then following that up with 28 goals and 53 points in 62 games while missing time with injury and getting traded mid-season. Last season, however, Stewart scored just 15 goals and 30 points in 79 games.
Stewart saw his shot rate fall to just barely over two shots on goal per game after posting a SOG/game of 2.75 over the previous two campaigns. This is predominantly the result of reduced ice time. In 2010-11 Stewart skated 17:29 minutes per game with just shy of three minutes per game on the power play. Last season those numbers were down to 15:26 per game with just 1:33 on the power play.
That reduction in playing time is a direct result of Hitchcock’s presence. When you breakdown the season into quarters you can see Stewart’s ice time declining steadily as the season wore on.
Hitchcock arrived in St. Louis on November 6, 2011, partway through the first quarter of the season. As the table above demonstrates Hitchcock slowly fazed Stewart out of the lineup and into the doghouse as the season progressed, culminating in a combination of obvious benchings and healthy scratches during the playoffs.
It is likely that Stewart was always going suffer from the immense depth in St. Louis but under Hitchcock he is completely hopeless. This is because Hitchcock’s system demands accountability. You have to play proper positioning and make safe plays. This doesn’t suit Stewart’s game. Under Joe Sacco in Colorado and even under Rick Payne in St. Louis the only demand was that Stewart play hard. Stewart excels at playing hard or at least appearing to do so. He is a high effort player who utilizes his physical advantages to level big hits and carve out space near the net. The problem for Hitchcock is that Stewart’s propensity to go for big hits often takes him out of position. Furthermore, Stewart likes to cheat in an effort to get himself into scoring position. This is how he was able to rack up such impressive totals earlier in his career. Under Hitchcock cheating is simply not an option and with all the depth St. Louis has up front, Hitchcock has plenty of other players he can give big minutes.
Even though he was an RFA it was surprising to see Stewart re-sign with the Blues this summer after he faced such adversity with Hitchcock at the helm. The deal does amount to something of a “show-me” deal as it is only for one season but at the same time, last season was also a contract year for Stewart and he showed the Blues nothing. With Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko going pro the Blues now have 15 NHL forwards on their roster (although that does include part time players in Ryan Reaves and Chris Porter) so something will have to give. With how little Stewart was utilized in the playoffs I wonder if he wasn’t re-signed by the Blues on principle alone. It is certainly better to re-sign a player to a friendly deal so that he can be dealt than to lose him to free agency and only receive picks as compensation.
Ultimately, Stewart is not a fit for St. Louis any longer. They have other players who can fill a similar role but actually mesh with the head coach. Stewart needs a change of scenery if he is to re-coup any value and he needs a team willing to accept his warts. Stewart is not a complete player and he is surely more sizzle than steak. His hockey sense is also mediocre at best but what Stewart does offer is a big body with a huge motor and a willingness to battle in the tough areas. On the right team he could fit in on a top scoring line that receives a majority of offensive zone starts to maximize his skills. He would also need a team willing to give him plenty of power play time as the net presence as it is in tight where Stewart does the most damage. But as my father always says, “don’t count the rain until it is in the gauge.”
You simply cannot act on the hope that Stewart will be dealt and land in the perfect situation. For now, consider him banished to the depths of Hitchcock’s doghouse and well on his way to becoming a fantasy hockey corpse like Nikita Filatov.
Kyle Okposo suffers from nearly the exact opposite problem as Stewart. While it is true he fits the similar profile as a struggling young power forward, Okposo’s issues are more about compete level than hockey sense. Okposo is actually a fairly skilled playmaker and where he struggles is with asserting himself physically. Okposo tends to shy away from the tough areas on the ice, which may reduce his ultimate upside as an offensive producer and his lack of physical dominance will also may limit his potential as a multi-category performer.
Where Okposo excels is utilizing his size and quality hands to shield the puck from opponents and make plays for his teammates. He demonstrated this skill back in 2009-10 when he registered 33 assists of which 18 came on the power play. That season Okposo spent the majority of his ice time alongside snipers Matt Moulson and John Tavares including a ton of power play time but when he was injured to begin the 2010-11 season he saw himself replaced by playmaking winger PA Parenteau and never really recovered. Parenteau is now gone to Colorado and there is reason to hope Okposo will resume his spot alongside the Islanders’ top snipers. This is because the Islanders are shallow up front as they wait for some of their top prospects to develop.
Looking at the Islanders depth chart Okposo may be the only reasonable option to play with Tavares and Moulson. Michael Grabner is most certainly not a fit as his speed-based game does not mesh with what Tavares and Moulson like to do. Nino Niederreiter may be the long term plan for the Islanders but at present he is headed to the AHL after a dreadful rookie campaign. Josh Bailey is starting to come around but his two-way game fits better on the second line, plus he plays left wing, which Moulson already occupies. Free agent pickup, Brad Boyes, is certainly a threat, particularly to steal power play time but he appears a bit more than washed up. Boyes’ $1 million, one-year contract hardly screams confidence either.
It seems like the Islanders are taking more of a flyer than actually looking at Boyes as a legitimate plan. Finally, Okposo actually spent nearly half of his even strength shifts playing alongside Moulson and Tavares last season anyhow. It seems reasonable to assume that with Parenteau out Okposo may make that his full time position.
What Okposo really needs however is to get the call up to the top power play unit. As much as Okposo skated on the top line last year he was relegated to the second power play unit skating just 1:41 with the man advantage per game with the likes of Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey as his usual linemates.
There is of course no guarantee that Okposo gets the top line power play opportunity but if he did it would be magic. The Islanders had the seventh best power play in the league last season with Mark Streit working his magic along with Tavares, Parenteau and Moulson. This season the Islanders could be adding Lubomir Visnovsky to the mix. Adding Visnovsky could turn the Islanders’ power play into the league’s best.
What Okposo needs to do is step up his determination and willingness to take punishment. With so many playmakers on the power play what the Islanders need is a net presence. This is where Okposo struggles but last season offers some hope as Okposo stepped things up by paying the price a bit more and becoming more of a goal-scorer. He took only 158 shots, which is well behind his career high of 249 but he also shot 15.8%, on his way to a career high, 24 goals, indicating an improvement in shot quality. This could of course be a simple outlier so only time will tell.
With Okposo you get a guarantee of quality ice time on a team on the rise. Okposo also has a real chance to mesh with what could be one the league’s top offensive units. If you are concerned that there are a lot of “ifs” here well you aren’t wrong but recall how many “ifs” were involved with Stewart’s situation. At least Okposo is in a spot where he can succeed. He just needs to finally show some consistency and competitiveness to reach his potential. Stewart needs a trade and it has to be the right trade. Of course, Stewart also has more potential. He has proven himself a more capable scorer and much more ferocious rotisserie asset.
Still I have no desire to gamble on Stewart. How long will it take for Stewart to be traded? Also, is there anyone playing fantasy hockey who has forgotten about Stewart’s excellent two-year run? Honestly, I think Hitchcock is the only one who doesn’t believe in Stewart but he is the only one who matters. Okposo, on the other hand, has not shown quite as much potential and what he did show was over two years ago. His potential is nowhere near as fresh in the minds of poolies. That means you will likely get a better price on Okposo. So while the upside may not be quite as high, the gamble is much better. Score this one in favour of Okposo.
|Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 01:29|