With contract negotiations now in his rearview mirror, forward Ryan O'Reilly can be a key piece to the puzzle for fantasy owners around the world.
The Colorado Avalanche matched a two-year offer sheet to the forward tendered by the Calgary Flames on Thursday, meaning the team's leading scorer from a season ago is back in the fold and could return as early as Sunday.
Most fantasy owners who drafted O'Reilly (center eligible in Yahoo leagues) could not afford to store him on their benches for the first five-plus weeks of the regular season, so it's important for all owners to consider what this 22-year-old can bring to the table from a fantasy standpoint.
By no means is O'Reilly an elite fantasy asset, but his contributions last season in a number of categories made him a commodity in most leagues. Despite being one of only 26 forwards League-wide to register 37-plus assists and 189-plus shots last season, O'Reilly is only owned in 18 percent of Yahoo! leagues -- even after an 11 percent growth in value since his new deal was announced on Thursday night.
He posted career-high totals in points (55), shots (189) and power-play points (15) while operating primarily with Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog last season. He's a crafty two-way player who led the NHL in takeaways (101) in 2011-12. While most fantasy leagues don't categorize takeaways, it's a telling stat that shows how much of a difference-maker O'Reilly can be to an Avalanche team that currently ranks 20th or worse League-wide in both goals and goals against per game.
On the flip side, it's important to consider that O'Reilly may need some time to get back into game shape upon his return to a lineup that is already deep at the center position. He will likely need to outplay Paul Stastny (12 points in 19 games) in order to see consistent time with Landeskog again. Matt Duchene, the team's leading-scorer in 2012-13, missed Tuesday's game due to a groin injury but bounced back with a goal and an assist in his return Thursday to give him 19 points in 18 games.
That being said, O'Reilly will almost certainly be utilized right from the get-go, even on the power play, as the Avalanche are without Steve Downie, who will miss the remainder of the season due to injury, and defenseman Erik Johnson, who's currently on injured reserve. Duchene only has two points with the man advantage this season and the team owns the fourth-worst power-play conversion percentage (12.9) in the League.
O'Reilly could prove to be the missing link for that unit.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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