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Islanders prospect Okposo signs deal, will join team after junior tournament

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The New York Islanders signed top prospect Kyle Okposo to a three-year, entry level contract on Friday.

Okposo, playing for the United States at the world junior tournament in the Czech Republic, reached a deal with the Islanders just more than a week after he left the University of Minnesota.

He will join the Islanders organization, which selected him with the No. 7 pick in the 2006 NHL draft, after the junior tournament is over. The 19-year-old right winger from St. Paul, Minn., already has a goal and two assists in two games with the American team.

Okposo earned an assist Friday in the United States' 4-2 victory over Switzerland.

"This is an incredible day for me and my family," Okposo said in a statement. "I want to thank the Islanders for making it happen and I want our fans to know that I can't wait to begin my Islanders career. My focus right now needs to be on Team USA, but I'll be more than ready when my pro career starts in a few weeks."

He will earn US$850,000 each year of the deal and is eligible for bonuses that could reach a maximum of another $850,000 per season.

In 1 1/2 seasons at Minnesota, Okposo had 26 goals with 25 assists in 58 games. As a freshman, he scored 19 goals and 40 points in 40 games.

"It would be an understatement to say we're excited about coming to terms with Kyle Okposo on his first contract with the Islanders," general manager Garth Snow said. "Kyle is the complete package. He has skill and character in abundance.

"Our organization is going to work extremely hard with Kyle to make him the best player that he can be."

Okposo was listed as six feet tall and 200 pounds on the USA Hockey website.

He got off to a slow start this season with Minnesota, enduring an eight-game scoreless streak after a three-point game in the opener. He had seven goals and four assists in 18 games for the Gophers.

"I've had the chance to observe Kyle and talk with him at our prospect development camps," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. "This is a very gifted hockey player and a special individual.

"I was asked the other day to compare him to Jarome Iginla or other power forwards in the NHL. My response is that it's our responsibility to develop him and see that Kyle Okposo makes a name for himself."

Okposo's departure from Minnesota was a bit messy as Snow and Gophers coach Don Lucia got into a sparring match in the media. Lucia said the Islanders put Okposo in a difficult position in getting him to leave school, while Snow criticized the coaching and development opportunities the program was providing.

"They have a responsibility to coach, to make Kyle a better player, and they were not doing that," Snow told the Star Tribune. "He just wasn't getting better - bottom line. And to me, that's the frustrating part. We entrusted the coach there to turn him into a better hockey player, and it wasn't happening. We feel more comfortable in him developing right under our watch."

Lucia defended the job he did with Okposo and the team.

"I am proud of all the success of our program," he said in a statement to the Star Tribune. "I believe our staff does an excellent job of developing our players on and off the ice.

"We have had numerous players sign and play in the NHL, but just as important many more move on to have successful careers after graduating from the University of Minnesota."


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