CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly returned to the ice on Saturday morning as he practiced for the first time with his teammates at the South Suburban Family Sports Center.
The 22-year old from Clinton, Ontario arrived in Denver on Friday, and head coach Joe Sacco said he will be in the lineup on Sunday when the team plays in Columbus (1 p.m. MST).
“It will probably take a little while to get back into the swing of things and find that chemistry and catch up to the speed of the game, but this is a great team and that last win, the boys played great,” O’Reilly said. “I can’t wait to be a part of what’s happening here.
“I’m hungry. I can’t wait to be playing hockey again.”
Sacco said that he will watch his ice time closely early on, and that it will likely depend on how the first few games play out.
“If it’s a good game and a close game and he is playing well, we’ll see how he looks throughout the course of the game and if he feels like he has good energy and if I think he is fresh, he’ll play more,” Sacco said of playing O’Reilly. “That will all work itself out.”
The forward will likely start the game against the Blue Jackets as the center on a line with Milan Hejduk on the right side and John Mitchell on the left.
He has previous playing experience with Hejduk, but this will be the first time that he will play with Mitchell, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason.
“I’m excited,” O’Reilly said of his new linemates. “Obviously, I’ve played with Hejduk before and he is a great player and just to be on a line with him is very exciting and Mitchell has been playing great this year. I think we got a little bit of everything on that line.”
The focus of Saturday’s practice was on special teams and it looks like O’Reilly will have the chance to contribute right away on the power play. Sacco said that O’Reilly would be on one of the power play units against Columbus, “quarterbacking” from the blue line like he had done in previous seasons.
“He looked very comfortable,” Sacco said of O’Reilly’s play during the team’s power play drills. “He looked like he hadn’t missed a beat as far as being on the back end.”
As for the penalty kill, Sacco said he will “break him in slowly.”
O’Reilly will be wearing a different number this season as he decided to change the #37 that he had wore for the previous three seasons to #90. He said he grew up wearing #9 but with Matt Duchene currently sporting the number, he decided to go with a different variety of it.
“The last couple of years I’ve wanted to change it,” he said of his jersey number.
Physically, O’Reilly is ready to go as he passed his medical tests on Friday afternoon and was cleared to play. He had been staying in shape by skating with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, but he admitted that getting back to 5,280 feet of altitude did have an effect on him during the morning’s skate.
“I’ve been doing my best to stay in shape,” he said. “Coming to the altitude is different. Even today I could feel it, it’s a whole different level. I feel good, I’ve been staking as hard as I can.”
Johnson And Wilson On The Road Trip
Colorado may be getting two of their injured defensemen back in the near future as Erik Johnson and Ryan Wilson will travel with the team on its three-game road trip.
“Both are making good progress. We’ll see how it goes over the next few days,” Sacco said. “I don’t have a timetable on when one or the other will play or not, but they are both making the trip and that is encouraging.”
Johnson has missed the previous eight games with a head injury, suffered on Feb. 11 against Phoenix, and participated in the majority of Saturday’s practice in an orange non-contact jersey.
Wilson has missed the last 11 games with an ankle injury that occurred on Feb. 2 versus Edmonton, but he skated before practice for the second straight day. He also wore a no-contact jersey.