Blues’ O’Reilly & Thomas Top-20 Centers According to NHL Network

As the first part of their nine-part rankings series, the team over at NHL Network recently released their rankings for the Top-20 Centers in the NHL.

Spots 1-5 are of no surprise, but two St. Louis Blues made the list: Ryan O’Reilly (15) and the newly-paid Robert Thomas (20).

Ryan O’Reilly at No. 15 is No Surprise

Finding Ryan O’Reilly’s name on this list is a given. Year in and year out, he’s among the elite two-way centers – finding himself in the top five for the Selke Trophy in each of the last four seasons. In 78 games in 2021-22, O’Reilly was one of the Blues’ much-discussed 20-goal scorers (21) and added 37 assists. While his point total (57) isn’t overly impressive, O’Reilly’s game has never been just about scoring. He’s generally considered to be one of the best at his position at the face-off dot. He ranked fourth in the NHL with 1585 total face-off (FO) attempts and was second in face-off wins (FOW) with 900. He ranked ninth in the league in face-off win percentage (FO%) at 56.8%.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues Winter Classic
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues Winter Classic (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Among Blues forwards, O’Reilly led the team in ice time (ATOI), averaging 19:05 per game in the regular season and 21:24 in the playoffs. He also logged significant minutes on both the power play (2:36) and penalty kill (1:56). With his ice time and how often he touches the puck in the offensive and defensive zones, O’Reilly might be the most crucial player to the team on any given night.

Robert Thomas Comes in at No. 20

Despite Robert Thomas’ stellar campaign in 2021-22 (career highs: 20 goals, 57 assists, 77 points), some may find it surprising to see him on this list. Not to take anything away from Thomas, as his breakout performance proved that he is one of the top players in his position. However, he made the NHL Network’s list ahead of renowned veterans Matt Duchene, John Tavares, Anze Kopitar, and Dylan Larkin. Clearly, his talent has opened a lot of eyes around the league.

Not only did he set career highs in points, goals, and assists, but he was also second to O’Reilly among Blues forwards in ATOI (18:46). Like O’Reilly, he spent plenty of time on the power play (2:02) and penalty kill (1:35), although he still has some work to do in the face-off circle; however, his 49.0 FO% was a career-best as well.

Thomas Should Continue to Ascend

At 23 years old, if Thomas can duplicate or even improve upon his play from last season, he should continue to find himself on lists such as this year after year, and he should see his minutes increase in 2022-23 and beyond. We saw him shoot at a higher rate this season; his 115 shots and 17.4 shooting percentage (S%) were both career highs – his previous career highs were 87 shots and a 13.6 S%.

Related: Blues 2021-22 Report Cards: Robert Thomas

On the other hand, at 31 years old, O’Reilly will likely go in the opposite direction on lists like these. His particular skill set and play style tend to get overlooked and underappreciated. His game is more cerebral, making sure he’s always in the right place at the right time. You’ll often find him doing the little things during his shifts that are generally overshadowed.

O’Reilly and Thomas will anchor the Blues’ top two forward lines this season and will be critical to the team’s special teams’ success. Will Thomas be able to surpass O’Reilly as the top-line center? Given how electric he is, it’s very possible. Blues fans have known that Thomas is elite for a while now, and the league is beginning to take notice.