When you sign the biggest contract in a franchise’s history–$52.5 million over seven years–it comes with some seriously high expectations.
Through 32 games, Ryan O’Reilly has been worth every penny. He’s everything General Manager Tim Murray could have asked for and more. Since being given the role of #1 center, he’s taken the opportunity and ran with it, dominating regardless of who’s on his line. Teammates love him. Fans are absolutely nuts for him.
“Complete player ROR – the new ‘Mr. Hockey.’”
“ROR is the best C in town since LaFontaine.”
“We fleeced Colorado.”
In late June 2015, the 24-year-old O’Reilly was traded alongside Jamie McGinn from Colorado to Buffalo in a blockbuster deal for Nikita Zadorov, forward Mikhail Grigorenko, prospect J.T. Compher and the 31st pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
A TEAM AND LEAGUE LEADER
Though he wears the “A” on his jersey as an alternate captain, he leads like a true captain. He’s carrying this team on his shoulders, leading it in goals, assists and points.
He has 12 points (4G, 8A) in his last 11 games and is on pace for career highs of 28 goals, 43 assists and 71 points.
League-wide, entering last night’s schedule, O’Reilly was:
- tied for 19th in points (28)
- 1st in faceoff wins (466)
- 3rd in faceoff win % (59.4%) – minimum 200 faceoffs
- tied for 10th in power-play goals (5)
- 1st in time on ice time among forwards (21:52 per game)
- tied for 4th in power play points (13)
“He’s pretty much been there in every situation and every opportunity for our team,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “He’s been nothing short of magnificent for us.”
After playing junior hockey in Toronto, O’Reilly was the first overall selection in the 2007 OHL draft. He spent two years with the Erie Otters in the OHL, posting near point-per-game numbers.
At the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, O’Reilly was drafted with the second pick in the second round (33rd overall) by Colorado. The top five drafted overall that year were (1) John Tavares (2) Victor Hedman, (3) Matt Duchene, (4) Evander Kane and (5) Brayden Schenn. Aside from Tavares, O’Reilly has performed on par or better than all of them, despite spending most of his first few years a defensive forward.
John Tavares 1st 461 187 237 424
Victor Hedman 2nd 423 41 157 198
Matt Duchene 3rd 450 141 204 345
Evander Kane 4th 383 115 117 232
Brayden Schenn 5th 303 65 84 149
Ryan O'Reilly 33rd 459 101 173 274
As an 18 year old, O’Reilly surprisingly cracked the opening night roster for Colorado’s 2009-2010 season, becoming the youngest player in Avalanche history to appear in a regular season game. He spent his first six years of his NHL career there, positioned as a top defensive forward and penalty killer, while anchoring the shut-down third line. His offensive output nearly doubled in his third year (18G, 37A), playing alongside linemate Gabriel Landeskog.
MAKING HIS MARK
O’Reilly signed a two-year, $10 million offer sheet with the Calgary Flames. The Avalanche quickly matched it. New Head Coach Patrick Roy promptly moved O’Reilly to the wing to play with Matt Duchene and he responded, lighting the lamp with a team-leading 28 goals and 64 points in 80 games, catapulting the Avalanche into the playoffs. The league took notice too. His impressive offense, combined with a league-best 83 takeaways and single penalty minor earned him the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly conduct and sportsmanship.
In 2014, O’Reilly eventually agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract before arbitration. He continued his production, putting up 17 goals and 38 assists, and leading the Avalanche in average ice time per game.
Hockey runs in the O’Reilly family. Ryan’s older brother, Cal, a 2005 fifth round pick of the Nashville Predators is also under contract with the Sabres. Tuesday night against the Devils, they became the first brother tandem to lace up in the same Sabres game since Bob and J.P. Suave in 1983. One of Ryan and Cal’s sisters, Tara, is captain of the Carleton University women’s hockey team.
Growing up, the O’Reilly family often housed a rotating cast of foster brothers and sisters, including two others also named Ryan. So, Ryan’s grandmother gave him the nickname ‘Snook’–an Irish term for a child with a ton of energy and full of mischief– to set him apart as he was a seen as a little ball of energy who constantly got into trouble.
LEADING THE WAY
Knowing they had so many young prospects, the Sabres’ brass sought out a proven leader. O’Reilly’s reputation for putting in extra hours practicing as well as his commitment to preparation are beyond commendable.
A classic example of this was this past Tuesday morning. Despite being in the midst of playing 10 games in 19 days, O’Reilly took the ice for the optional skate instead of resting. Teammates are often wide-eyed at O’Reilly’s daily routine. It’s common to find him on the ice helping goalies or tipping pucks when most players have already showered and changed.
“You can’t say enough good things about the guy. It’s big-time when one of your star players is the one working hardest. That’s what you want as a team and as an organization, to have that work ethic and desire to be better every day, and he’s the epitome of that.” – Jake McCabe
Less than two weeks after signing the monster contract, O’Reilly was charged with impaired driving and leaving the scene of an accident after allegedly driving his vintage pickup truck into the side of a Tim Hortons coffee shop near London, Ontario. The case is still before the courts, and he will not face any supplementary discipline from the league. He apologized to the Pegulas and General Manager Tim Murray and has put it behind him.
WORST TO FIRST?
The Sabres clearly bottomed out with an epically horrific 2014 season. They were dead last or close to it in every meaningful statistic and had been operating without a legitimate first line center since the departure of Chris Drury and Danny Briere after the 2006-07 season.
Then General Manager Tim Murray went to work. After acquiring Evander Kane from Winnipeg, he set his sights on O’Reilly and boldly went after him. Along with rookie sensation Jack Eichel, the Sabres are soon to become relevant again. The roster has been overhauled, a new coaching staff was hired, and a new chapter in the franchise’s history has begun.
O’Reilly understands he’s being paid elite money. And he doesn’t take it lightly.
“Coming here and seeing what they expected me to be, I have to be hard on myself. On previous teams, I don’t think my role was as big, so here being brought in to be seen as one of those key guys offensively, I think there’s more pressure on myself, which I enjoy, but at the same time I have to be better.”
“We want to have success, and we want to win a Cup. That’s the main goal. As a group, we have to demand the best out of ourselves every day if we want to give ourselves a chance.” – Ryan O’Reilly
The optimism surrounding the Sabres is largely based on O’Reilly’s presence and leadership. Jack Eichel may be the face of the Sabres, but Ryan O’Reilly is undoubtedly their heart and soul.
- Shootout move: “Fake snapper, backhand under the bar.”
- Goal celebration: “Whatever comes to me.”
- Movie: Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Peaceful Warrior
- Actor: Will Ferrell
- Cartoon: Family Guy
- Book: Path of the Peaceful Warrior
- Pump-up song: “Live your life” by Rihanna
- Philosophy: Do everything with love and passion
- Snack: Almond M&M’s