Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Building the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres roster--Ryan O'Reilly

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Happy Labor and Labour Day, y'all, hope you're doing anything but laboring on this unofficial end to summer. As we head into fall with high school and college football already under way and the pro's getting ready for the season to open on Thursday, hockey fans still have a couple more weeks until training camps get into full swing.

For Buffalo Sabres fans in particular, it's been a pretty uneventful off season save for some signings and re-signings of players and major movement in the front office. Sabres GM Tim Murray got nearly all of his work done between February 11th when he pulled off the trade for Evander Kane and draft day when he selected Jack Eichel with the second overall pick and traded for Ottawa Senators goalie Robin Lehner as well as Colorado Avalanche forward, Ryan O'Reilly who looks to be the team's top-line center.

But before we get to O'Reilly as we build the 2015-16 Sabres roster, for posterity's sake I present last year's opening game roster for the Buffalo Sabres:

Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson, Sam Reinhart, Brian Gionta
Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Chris Stewart
Nicolas Deslauriers, Cody McCormick, Torrey Mitchell

Josh Gorges, Tyler Myers
Andre Benoit, Andrej Meszaros
Mike Weber, Rasmus Ristolainen

Jhonas Enroth

In the Press Box--Brian Flynn, Tyson Strachan, Nikita Zadorov

Now that you've finished shuddering at the memories of this lineup and for one last time say goodbye to the team that finished 23-51-8 last season, rest well with the knowledge that this year's line-up will be much stronger. Although the playoffs still may be out of reach, by adding more firepower up-front this edition of the Buffalo Sabres promises to be much improved and decidedly more watchable than anything witnessed over the course of the last two seasons. And O'Reilly is one of the reasons for this.

Moments after the Buffalo Sabres contingency left the Sunrise, FL with Eichel in tow, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stepped to the podium to announce a trade. The Sabres had acquired O'Reilly and forward Jamie McGinn from the Avs for F, Mikhail Grigorenko, D, Nikita Zadorov, prospect JT Compher and the 31st pick in the draft (traded to San Jose' for the 39th pick, LW AJ Greer.)

The 24 yr. old O'Reilly with 427 NHL games under his belt, is a young veteran who's skill-level and compete fit right Murray's plans for speeding up the Sabres rebuilding process.

O'Reilly was the 33rd pick in the 2009 Draft and hit the NHL after only two seasons in Erie (OHL.) He had two solid seasons as a top-nine center posting 26 points each year. In his third season he lead Colorado in scoring with 55 points (18+37) and was a minus-1 with only 12 penalty minutes while leading all forwards with 19:31 ATOI.

After the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, O'Reilly came back with a vengeance. He had a career-high 64 points (28+36) and once again finished with a minus-1 rating. He had only minor penalty in 19:48 ATOI and was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy which goes to "the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

It was perfect timing for O'Reilly as he was coming off of a two-year bridge contract courtesy of a poorly thought out offer sheet from the Calgary Flames. Calgary GM Jay Feaster was well aware of the contentious issues between the highly sought after O'Reilly, who was at the end of his entry-level deal, and the Avalanche and decided to offer-sheet him. The two year sheet worth $3.5M and $6.5M respectively was matched by Colorado and it was a good thing for the Flames. Had they not matched, league rules would have placed O'Reilly on waivers due to the lockout and him playing in the KHL.

With O'Reilly's Lady Byng Trophy and a career year in the books, drama unfolded once again as he sought a lucrative, long-term deal with the 'Lanche. Prior to arbitration, the two sides agreed to another bridge deal of 2 yrs./$12M. From the moment he signed that deal, rumors that he'd be traded ran rampant. He had a decent 2014-15 season scoring 55 points (17+38) in 82 games but Colorado had a disappointing season, possibly because of the O'Reilly distraction.

None of that drama would had an effect on Murray and his desire to acquire O'Reilly, however. After the first round of the draft he said O'Reilly, "I think his hockey sense is off the charts. I think he makes everybody around him better. There's nothing I don't like about him. And I think the consensus from a lot of players that I've spoken to that have played with him and been around him was he seems to be 'the guy.' At the World Championships, for example, (Sabres forward) Tyler Ennis came back and raved about him. I've heard the same from other GMs that their players have said the same thing.

"I think he changes a lot of things for our organization."

That he does. The team goes from Ennis as their #1 center last season to O'Reilly who, after 427 games, has developed into an elite two-way forward.

But, and there always seems to be something with him, just after O'Reilly signed a creative seven year extension with Buffalo worth $52.5M, he ran into trouble with the law. Just 10 days after putting ink to paper the Ontario Provincial Police charged him with "driving a motor vehicle while ability impaired (alcohol) and care or control over 80 mgs. He was also charged under the Highway Traffic Act with failing to remain at the scene."

He'll be in court on September 10th.

What will happen in court and whether or not the NHL steps in with any kind of suspension remains to be seen, but when he does hit the ice, new head coach Dan Bylsma will have him anchoring the top line, at least until Eichel acclimates himself to the NHL, which is something that might take only a few months.

And that's another reason Murray was really after O'Reilly. Having him anchoring the top line means rookie centermen like Eichel and Sam Reinhart will have the opportunity to grow into their roles as opposed to being thrown into the fire.

C, Ryan O'Reilly

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