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Ryan O'Reilly: Face-Off Extraordinaire

Blues forward Ryan O'Reilly explains how he got so darn good at winning face-offs

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

Who am I up against?

Is he a righty or a lefty?

Is he gonna go forehand or backhand here?

Those are some of the questions running through Ryan O'Reilly's mind as he skates into the face-off circle.

With one quick glance, he knows the answers to all of those questions, and before the puck has even dropped, he knows he's probably going to win the draw.

"After taking so many face-offs, it just comes natural," O'Reilly told "The decisions for what I want to do are made in a split second. After having success a lot of times, I'm going in there in control of the dot. I know I can win the draw, I'm confident in that."

O'Reilly attributes some of that confidence to being familiar with his opponents.

"There are certain tendencies, little tells that every guy gives away," he said. "You know after playing against them for awhile, you know (those tendencies). You develop a sense for how that draw is going to go, but at the end of the day, it's about being strong and having good hand-eye coordination and having a plan. I try to have that on every face-off. A lot of it is looking at the ref, looking at the puck, using my peripherals to read what (my opponent) is doing, seeing where he's off-balance and where he's strong. It's all those little reads you make. But again, it's about being confident.

"A lot of it, too, is communication with my linemates and them getting a good feel for my tendencies," he added. "A lot of times there are 50/50 pucks they're helping win back for me. It's a good recipe of everyone on the ice being on the same page, of me being strong in there and confident, but also knowing if there's a 50/50 puck or if I lose one a little bit, my linemates are going to be there to bail me out and win it. So there's a lot that goes into it."

Video: CAR@STL: O'Reilly nets his first career hat trick

Take a close look at the League's recent face-off statistics and you'll find your jaw on the floor faster than O'Reilly could win a draw.

As of Wednesday, O'Reilly led all players in the NHL with a 63.2 face-off win percentage this season. He has won at least 15 faceoffs in a game five times this season, joining Boston's Patrice Bergeron, Carolina's Jordan Staal and Vancouver's Bo Horvat as the only players in the League to accomplish that feat.

In fact, since the start of the 2015-16 season, O'Reilly has won more face-offs than any other player in the League with 3,514, which is over 300 more than his closest competitor (Bergeron).

Perhaps most interesting about all of this is that O'Reilly said he feels like face-offs aren't really that big of a deal.

"They're an important part of the game but I think they're a little overrated," he said. "There's so much else going on in the game. For the amount of time a face-off is, it's a small fraction of the game. I take pride in them and I try to win every draw and I want to make a play off that, but there is so much else in the game I'm focused on."

Like scoring, for instance.

O'Reilly recorded his first career hat trick in Tuesday's 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes and extended his point streak to eight games (seven goals, eight assists). The streak matches his career high, which he has accomplished twice in his career.

Through his first 13 games as a Blue, O'Reilly has 19 points, which ranks fourth all-time in franchise history.

"This is what we were hoping for from him," Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "Not necessarily getting hat tricks every night, but for me, that was just a reward of consistent, good play, which is what he's giving us. He's engaged in battles, he's winning face-offs, he's a strong two-way center and he's impacted the game - definitely in our own zone and all over the ice."

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