If you were to ask most Buffalo Sabres fans their thoughts on Ryan O’Reilly after the first few games of the year, you may have gotten a mixed bag of reactions. Ranging from he’s going to be another overpaid bust to he’ll break out soon enough, there was no shortage of opinions on the highest paid player in franchise history.
If you ask that same question today, it’s as close to a guarantee as possible that the reactions would be 100% positive.
O’Reilly is riding a streak unlike any that he’s had in his career. Over the last five games for the Sabres, the 24-year old from Ontario has tallied three goals and six assists for nine points. Those his team has only won two of those five games — both against the Philadelphia Flyers — O’Reilly has proven to everyone that his acquisition was worth everything it took.
The former Colorado Avalanche center, who was never going to get a fair shot at being the guy with the Avs, has looked every bit the part of a number one center for the Sabres. He has 13 points in 11 games as of Saturday, and is on pace for 96 points on the season. Though not impossible, it can be viewed as unlikely he hits that number, but for a player who has been a .57 point-per-game player for his career, those types of numbers are exemplary. He’s not thinking about any of that though. Instead, he’s simply thinking about how he can help his team win games.
“I try to take it game by game,” he said after Buffalo’s 3-1 victory over the Flyers on Friday. “It’s more looking at the results, and we don’t have the wins we want. We’ve been in a lot of tight games, so I’m just taking it game by game; trying to do whatever I can to help win right now.”
Should he hit, or even come close to that number (96), O’Reilly would be the first member of the Sabres to finish a full season with more than a point per game since Derek Roy finished with 81 in 78 games during the 2007-08 season. The last Sabres player to play a full 82 games and finish at over a point per game was Thomas Vanek in the 2006-07 season that saw the team win the President’s Trophy.
O’Reilly has proven to be everything the team needs in a number one center. He’s been able to play well with whomever is put on a line with him, which is something expected from a top guy. Whether it’s Tyler Ennis or Nicolas Deslauriers, O’Reilly has shown no sign of slowing down.
Yes, it took him a couple games to get in the swing of things. But you can just tell when watching him on the ice that he feels the team can score every time he has the puck. From the way he skates to the looks he makes when passing, there is confidence just oozing out of him. He knows exactly what the team expects of him, and he’s happy to oblige. But if you think that confidence has a chance of becoming arrogance, you’ll be happy to hear that O’Reilly is his biggest critique.
“I don’t feel great (about my game),” he said during the week. “It’s nice to get on the board. I think I’m a little more confident that way; a little more relaxed that way out there on the ice. At the same time, I’ve got to turn it up a bit more. I think there’s a little extra in there.
“I’m still nowhere near where I need to be though.”
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.