Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Don Granato has decided to split the captaincy this season between two players: Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons. Both players will wear the "A" on their sweaters.
“We feel they’re great leaders. They’re veteran guys that have a passion and a love not only for the Sabres, but for Buffalo," the Sabres head coach said following Tuesday's practice.
“They have homes here, they enjoy their time here, they spend a lot of their offseason here and they do a great job in that locker room, as well as on the ice.”
Granato was looking for leadership last year when he became the head coach of the team on March 17.
“That’s where Kyle was great last year," Granato said. "The older guys made it easy for me to be an incoming head coach and easier for that whole room. Zemgus is much of the same. They’re just quality people, and they’re confident within their role in the NHL.”
Victor Olofsson has only played two full seasons in the NHL, but he’s one of the older players at 26-years-old. He likes the choice of Okposo and Girgensons as the leaders of the group.
“I feel like they deserve it," Olofsson said after practice. "They’re just two good leaders. They give it their all on the ice.”
Girgensons is just about a year-and-a-half older than Olofsson, but has been with the Sabres organization since 2012. Olofsson said not having Girgensons in the lineup at all last season hurt the team a lot.
“We missed him so bad last year," he said. "He takes so much responsibility both 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill. I think he’s probably one of the tougher guys to play against in this league, and he’s a really big part of our team.”
Okposo and Girgensons are the definition of team players. Okposo is proud to have been selected as a team leader by Granato.
“It means a lot. It’s a tremendous honor," the veteran winger said on Tuesday. "'Gussie' [Girgensons] is a guy that does everything right, and it’s nice to see him get recognized like that.”
Okposo is not the guy that is going to stand in the middle of the room and give a Herb Brooks speech every game. He’s a guy that addresses the situation and calls is for what it is.
“I just wait to see what the situation calls for," Okposo explained. "I think if you go about planning leadership messages when you don’t have any context, it’s not a good recipe for success. I’m going to be nothing but myself, and I know Zemgus is going to do the same.”
Okposo is a man that treats everybody with respect. If he has a problem with something, he’ll talk about it, but in a respectful way.
Sabres second-year forward Dylan Cozens is a young player and is extremely hard on himself. That sometimes can take an affect his play.
“We can surround him with the best culture that we can," Okposo said of the 20-year-old. "You shouldn’t look at it as pressure, you should look at it as a challenge. That’s something that I’ve said since I was 10-years-old, and as long as we insulate him and when we feel that he’s putting too much pressure on himself, then we’re going to say something to him like, 'just relax, go play.'
“Sometimes he presses because he wants to get points and he wants to be an impactful player, but there are things that you’ve got to learn about pro hockey and that only comes with experience. That comes with having a level head, and those are all things that you learn over time.”
Girgensons is a man of few words, but his leadership comes by example both on and off the ice.
“It’s an honor to be selected as one of the leaders, especially to be next to 'Okie' [Okposo], who's been a leader throughout the years," Girgensons said on Tuesday. "I’ve taken many notes from, so it means a lot to me to be next to him. But we have a lot of leaders in that room.”
What you see is what you get when it comes to Girgensons. He says that is never going to change.
“I’m not going to change the way I am or my style of play," Girgensons said. "We’re all about work, so that’s what I do. I work hard, so for me to come in, day-in and day-out, to put in the work to show what it takes.”
With the Buffalo roster built with youth as a focus this season, the 27-year-old can relate to being in those players' shoes.
“Sometimes it’s just talking to the guy. Sometimes it’s mentally hard to keep it steady," Girgensons said. "I remember in my younger days if an older guy came up to me and had a little chat, it took your mind off what was going through your head.”
Girgensons has served as a leader of his teams in the past. He was the captain of his junior team in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the 2011-12 season.
In their time playing together with the Sabres, Girgensons has learned a lot from just being around a person like Okposo.
"It’s the way he carries himself. He’s a pro on and off the ice," he said. "Everything about him is leadership, and just being around him for the years, it definitely has brushed off on me.”
During Tuesday's practice, forward Drake Caggiula collided with a teammate and left the ice with an injury. Granato had no update on his status following the session.
Nothing has changed as far as the lines and the defense went at practice. Here is a look at the lines, as well as the power play units:
Skinner – Mittelstadt – Hinostroza
Bjork – Cozens – Caggiula
Asplund – Thompson – Olofsson
Girgensons – Eakin – Okposo
Ruotsalainen – Hayden
Dahlin – Jokiharju
Hagg – Pysyk
Bryson – Miller
PP1: Skinner - Mittelstadt - Thompson / Olofsson - Dahlin
PP2: Okposo - Asplund - Cozens / Miller - Bryson
***Photo: Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres)