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Okposo's leadership, illness on Sabres' minds as they depart

The Sabres are saying goodbye, but they made it clear they’ll say hello to Kyle Okposo anytime he’s ready.

“We’re all hoping for the best for him,” defenseman Zach Bogosian said Monday. “He’s helped out every single person in this room, and we owe it to him and his family to help him out with whatever he needs because that’s part of being a team, part of being a leader.”

Okposo left the Sabres on March 28 after an illness that sent him to the neuro intensive care unit at Buffalo General Medical Center. Coach Dan Bylsma still has no update on Okposo’s condition, including whether the 28-year-old will be OK at the start of next season.

The Sabres hope so.

“He’s developed into and become a big leader in that dressing room,” Bylsma said in KeyBank Center. “There’s a big part missing when he’s not there with that leadership. That’s one he’s hoping to recover well from in this sickness, which is summerlong now, but get back to our team in the fall and being that for this group in the fall.”

Okposo made a positive impression during his first season with the Sabres. Signed to a seven-year deal, the right winger had 19 goals and 45 points in 65 games. He added way more than numbers.

“You miss him in the locker room,” center Jack Eichel said. “You miss him every day. He’s a leader. He comes to the rink, works hard. He’s a good voice, great player. A good friend of mine, really close with him.

“Tough to see him go through what he went through.”

Okposo has moved toward the top of Buffalo’s leadership chart by providing something others lack: consistency.

“You could never tell if he’s having a good day or a bad day,” Bogosian said. “The way he is as a professional, he comes in and he works. He does the same thing every day. He plays the game the same way. He practices the same way. I think that’s what’s gotten him success in the league, and that’s what has gotten him success as a leader. Guys respect him.

“He says the right things. He shows it more.”

It was a tough final month for Okposo. He was out for 10 games with a rib injury suffered March 2. He returned for just two before falling ill.

The Sabres went 3-6-1 during Okposo’s rib injury and closed with a 1-5 slide while he was sick. Center Ryan O’Reilly says it’s not a coincidence the Sabres won the two games in between with Okposo in the lineup.

“When Okie came back, he really helped out,” O’Reilly said. “He’s a voice. He came in and addressed everything. Even though we were out of the playoffs, he said, ‘We’re going to make changes right now.’ We lose him, and it’s tough to maintain that.”

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