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World Championship

Ryan O'Reilly wants more from himself, Sabres

Center, playing for Canada at World Championship, says he needs to become leader, help Buffalo end playoff drought

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

PARIS -- Center Ryan O'Reilly is putting it on himself to help the Buffalo Sabres improve on a disappointing 2016-17 season.

O'Reilly, who finished second on the Sabres in scoring with 55 points (20 goals, 35 assists) in 72 games, expects to improve and help Buffalo get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011.


[RELATED: O'Reilly already primed for 2018 Winter Classic | Complete World Championship coverage]


"There were some tough times during the year where I think I shunned away and focused more on my own game instead of taking responsibility for other guys," O'Reilly said. "[Kyle] Okposo, at the end of the year, he finally stepped up. He held everyone accountable. He finally said, 'We're changing things,' and he held everyone accountable. He made a change.

"It was a good realization, to realize there's a lot of things that have to change and I have to be a guy who is holding guys accountable, being more disciplined in certain things. There's a lot that needs to change."

The Sabres finished last in the Atlantic Division and 26th in the NHL with a 33-37-12 record; they were 17 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. General manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma were fired on April 20.

Video: TOR@BUF: O'Reilly nets SHG with beautiful wrist shot

O'Reilly sensed that change was coming.

"I thought it would be done quicker if it was to happen. That was my mindset," he said. "I was more focused on my own game and what I could've really done differently. It wasn't the year I wanted to have. Leadership-wise I wasn't in the spot. I could've made some changes and been the guy. That's what I'm really focused on.

"You can't say the past guys were the reason. I look at myself. There were a lot of things I could've done differently. When things don't go well, changes [are] made. I think that's what [owners Terry and Kim Pegula] did. I support them. It's really on myself, though. There's lots of things I could change in that room and will change."

Jason Botterill was hired as general manager on Thursday. Botterill, a former NHL forward, was an associate GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the past three seasons after joining their front office in 2007. He was promoted from director of hockey administration to assistant GM in 2009.

The news quickly found its way to O'Reilly, who is playing for Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Paris and Cologne, Germany, through May 21.

"Hearing it on the news, it's good," he said. "The Pegulas, they're great and they want to win and if things don't work they make changes. I'm definitely excited for it. I've heard great things. I haven't had a chance to talk to [Botterill] yet at all, but I'm sure when things wind down over here I'll get in touch with him. I'm excited."

Video: TBL@BUF: O'Reilly blasts a PPG to open the scoring

The change in management is only one step of the process, O'Reilly said. Another starts with himself.

"I think it is a big part of my job," he said. "I want to be that leader. I want to be that guy that everyone respects. I want to be the guy that can say the right things and hold guys [accountable]. I've got to be that guy. I've played enough seasons now (eight). I'm knowledgeable enough in the game. I feel guys respect me. It's time to change.

"If we don't, making the coach and GM change … it can only do so much. It comes down to guys on the ice and I'm responsible for that. I'm one of those guys. It's my job."


Results from Friday

Sweden 8, Italy 1: Elias Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes) and defenseman Jonas Brodin (Minnesota Wild) each had a goal and an assist and forward William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs) had three assists in a Group A preliminary round win at Lanxess Arena in Cologne.

Czech Republic 5, Slovenia 1: Petr Mrazek (Detroit Red Wings) made 14 saves and defenseman Michal Kempny (Chicago Blackhawks) scored in the Czech Republic's fourth straight Group B preliminary round win at AccorHotels Arena in Paris.

Denmark 3, Germany 2 (OT): Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg Jets) assisted on Peter Regin's goal 1:40 into overtime for Denmark in Group A in Cologne.

France 4, Belarus 3 (SO): Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Philadelphia Flyers) scored the tying goal in the third period and France kept Belarus winless in the tournament with a shootout victory in their Group B game in Paris.

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