With an average age of 21, the Colorado Avalanche scoring line of Ryan O’Reilly, Daniel Winnik and Gabriel Landeskog
is notable for its youth.
Upon closer inspection, age is but a number. During their short time together, O’Reilly, Winnik and Landeskog are proving to be wise beyond their years.
Given their wisdom and dependability, perhaps they should be referred to as the Owl Line.
“As a coach, when the game’s on the line, these guys are out there,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. “It’s dictated by how you play and the confidence the coach has in you. When you see an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old out there in the last 30 seconds of a game when you’re up a goal, you don’t really need to say much more than that.”
O’Reilly is the 20-year-old center who already has two-plus years of NHL experience, while Landeskog is the 18-year-old rookie who made the jump directly to the NHL after being the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 Entry Draft. Winnik is the “old man” of the trio, a 26-year-old veteran in his fifth NHL season.
Skating together since the puck dropped on opening night, O’Reilly, Winnik and Landeskog combined for 10 goals and 16 assists in Colorado’s first 16 games. No other scoring line was more productive for the Avs during that span.
|Ryan O'Reilly, whose nickname is "Factor," leads the Avs in faceoff wins and percentage. |
“It’s been great,” Landeskog said. “The communication between us is what’s making it so much easier to play with them. We’re talking every day at the rink and discussing small things on the ice. They’re two great guys and they make it easy to play hockey out there.
O’Reilly and Winnik, who also happen to be roommates on the road, developed a rapport while playing together last season, but they never found a consistent third linemate as the Avs dealt with numerous injuries.
“Last year, there was a lot of juggling of the lines,” Winnik said. “Ryan and I had somewhat of a revolving door on the wing. Everyone likes playing with the same couple of guys for a lengthy period of time because you build chemistry and you know what to expect from one another.”
Enter Landeskog, a major-junior phenomenon who impressed his new coaches and teammates with his physical play, soft hands and attention to detail in the defensive zone. His discipline is unique for a player of any age, let alone a rookie six months removed from high school.
“He’s very mature,” O’Reilly said. “You don’t think he’s 18. He’s handled it so well. He’s smart and easygoing. Everyone loves him.”
O’Reilly was in a similar situation two years ago when he bypassed the minors and played 81 games as an 18-year-old in 2009-10, and his learning curve continues to be steep. With 11 points through 16 games, he’s on pace to shatter the 26 points he recorded in each of his first two NHL seasons. O’Reilly, of course, credits his linemates for his success.
“Both those guys (Landeskog and Winnik) are great players,” O’Reilly said. “You put any other center with those guys and they’re going to be successful.”
|Daniel Winnik, the "old man" of the trio at 26, is in his fifth NHL season. |
While their scoring punch has been impressive, Sacco has been equally impressed with their strong two-way play. O’Reilly, Winnik and Landeskog are often assigned to check the opposition’s top scoring line, a responsibility that carries its own badge of honor.
“It’s something our team takes a lot of pride in, taking care of the defense first and let the offensive part solve itself,” Landeskog said. “Ryan and Daniel are great at making sure we all stick together in our own zone and making sure we know what to do.”
Sacco attributes much of the line’s success to its exceptional conditioning and work ethic.
O’Reilly’s extended post-practice and postgame workouts are becoming legendary. He ran the stairs of the Pepsi Center after a tough loss earlier this season, and he rarely leaves practice without flipping dozens of pucks into a bucket – using only his stick. On many days, Landeskog is right there with O’Reilly skating for an hour after practice.
“The key to their success is their work ethic,” Sacco said. “They’re all in terrific shape, which allows them to sustain a lot of pressure in the offensive zone. For me, it all starts with work ethic. There’s no substitute for that.”