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Uncertain future is a constant for Islanders' Kyle Okposo

Kyle Okposo is in the final season of a five-year, $14 million deal. Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- In some ways, Kyle Okposo is the New York Islanders.

Not the face of the franchise, of course; that is a designation deservedly owned by captain John Tavares.

But as a player trying to put past obstacles and disappointments in perspective while facing an uncertain if promising future, Okposo embodies much of the team's identity.

Thoughtful and quiet, Okposo, 27, was selected seventh overall by the Islanders in 2006 and is part of the bedrock of a team many believe is capable of contending for a Stanley Cup.

He plays often with Tavares, a close friend, and this season he leads the team in scoring with 31 points through 38 games despite taking a few games off just before the holiday break with a nagging lower-body injury.

"I mean, the last few years he's really kind of come into his own, his game," Tavares said in the dressing room after a recent practice. "Obviously been producing at a very high rate. I think he's just got a good understanding of who he is, the type of player he is.

"He's a big leader for our team, someone I really rely on, really lean on to help me not just on the ice but off it. ... It's a lot more than just putting up numbers. ... It's a lot of things that people don't see, behind closed doors and what happens in the locker room on a daily basis. How things are handled and his impact on the group, things he does, things he says. How he works, how he's setting an example the right way, and that goes a long way, especially for a guy that's been through all the ups and downs here. We've all kind of come together, and he's been one of those main guys that's been a part of it."

In that regard, it's hard to imagine the Islanders without Okposo or Okposo without the Islanders. But the game is a business, and it might not be in the cards for the futures of Okposo and the Islanders to continue to be intertwined.

Okposo, a right winger, is in the final season of a five-year, $14 million deal that carries a very manageable $2.8 million annual cap hit.

To determine his future value to the team, the Islanders must determine if they are as good as they think they are or simply as good as the team that was nipped by the Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

On the open market, what would a 25-goal, 60- to 65-point big man like Okposo earn? What will Milan Lucic get paid if he re-ups with the Los Angeles Kings? What does Wayne Simmonds' next contract look like?

It's safe to say that Okposo will be looking at a pay raise of possibly three times what he is making now.

But the open market is a sea of unknowns.

What if the Islanders go on a long playoff run, and Okposo, who has five goals and two assists in 13 career playoff games, is a big contributor?

Do the two sides get the job done and make him an Islander for the long haul? Or does general manager Garth Snow have too many moving parts in the form of guys such as Anders Lee, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson to commit to Okposo regardless?

But nothing is cooking as far as talk of an extension goes.

Of course, Okposo thinks about it.

He is the father of an almost 2-year-old daughter, and he and his wife are awaiting the arrival of a son in the spring.

He plays for the New York Islanders, but he also plays for his family.

"Anybody that tells you that they don't think about it at all is lying," Okposo said after a recent practice. "To put it bluntly. So, yeah, it's definitely in my mind, and you want to play well, and you want to help your team in any way that you can. You also want to play well personally for your own issues, for your contract's sake. Definitely, you want to play well for your family."

Okposo remains calm, at least outwardly, about his future.

"I'm OK though with where the things at," he said. "There's really been no dialogue, and that's OK. I'm fine with that. I'm fine with just going out there and playing and trying to do everything I can to help this team. I think we have enough here to be there in June and to be the best team in the league. That's definitely my main focus. You try to put that stuff out of your mind as much as you can."

Maybe some of that Zen attitude toward his immediate and long-term future comes from a particularly scary moment a year ago, when he discovered he was suffering from a detached retina, which required emergency surgery to save his sight in that eye.

Okposo missed six weeks and 22 games with the injury, giving him time to reflect on how lucky he was to have kept the sight in his eye and to be able to continue to play hockey. No particular hit or play was cited as causing the injury. Okposo is near-sighted and has worn glasses since he was a child.

However, he has not had an issue with the eye since returning to play and managed two goals and an assist in the Islanders' first-round playoff loss to Washington last April. But even though Okposo said he plays without fear, it was not always so, and, in some ways, it is something that never truly leaves you.

"My vision and my eye have never been an issue after," Okposo said. "It was more a mental thing, just kind of the fear of getting, of it happening again. I think that's pretty common with any injury, let alone it being your eyes. You only have two, and obviously they're very important. Once I got my vision back and I was able to kind of get back into the swing of things, I was able to trust it more, and now I don't even think about it.

"It was definitely an adjustment period. When I came back last year I literally sat on the couch for five weeks. I couldn't do anything, because I couldn't put any pressure on the eye. It just had to kind of sit there and relax and do nothing, which was really tough to do."

At least one scout familiar with the Islanders said he felt Okposo did play with a bit more finesse when he returned from the injury. The scout praised Okposo's game, calling him "a nice finisher and an underrated passer," but said that he understands the Islanders' contract strategy with Okposo.

"Tavares makes the players around him better, and the Isles have some good, young forwards that they are going to have to pay at some point," the scout, a former NHLer, said. "The club is going to have to give him top dollars and term. I like that they are asking him to continue to produce and play with some pressure."

Another veteran NHL player and longtime scout likewise praised Okposo's skill and wondered if playing with Tavares should be Okposo's priority.

"Really liked the blend of size and skill," the scout said. "Not many of those guys around and would believe many teams will be interested in his services if he hits market July 1. Would never have him as a centerpiece to [my] team, but he would be large and important complimentary player. For him, he should consider whether he could get paid and play with a guy like Tavares. Great spot and fit where he is currently."

Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said he has been happy with Okposo this season.

"I think he's shooting the puck more," Capuano said in a post-practice scrum. "He's played well defensively. He's working away from the puck. His 200-foot game is where it needs to be, and you know overall he's got good leadership and character. He's one of the hardest-working guys we have. To me, [he] really isn't doing anything differently. That's the way that I've always known him to play. He's on track."

There are so many moving parts for Okposo and the Islanders as they head into the second half of their first season at Barclays Center. They are ensconced in a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, but they have not dominated in a way that screams "Stanley Cup."

And for Okposo, apart from the desire to win a Cup, there is also the World Cup of Hockey in September.

Okposo was stung when he was not selected for Team USA at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when U.S. managers went with a speedier unit, and Okposo was not really a factor in lineup discussions as the team was being assembled.

This season, however, Okposo is definitely on the U.S. radar, with the World Cup of Hockey being played in North America on an NHL rink.

"It's something that's in the back of your mind, definitely, with the last Olympics and not being on that team," Okposo said. "This time I know that there's so many good players, and everyone's going to be selected for a specific role, and I would love to be part of that. Would love to kind of do anything to play on that team. It's such a special honor to represent your country, and it's something that I haven't done at the highest level yet. And this being a best-on-best tournament is something that would be a tremendous honor."

The only question is which NHL team will Okposo be representing if he does get a chance to don a USA sweater next fall?