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Northwest: O'Reilly turning heads across the League

by Roger Phillips /
It's closing in on the one-quarter mark of the season, and Avalanche rookie center Ryan O'Reilly continues to make a strong case for consideration as the NHL's Rookie of the Year.

O'Reilly is among the NHL leaders in plus-minus, he is among the rookie points leaders and he's a key component of the Avalanche's solid penalty-killing unit.

And the 33rd player chosen in the 2009 Entry Draft is only 18 years old.

"I'm lucky to have the points I have," O'Reilly told the Denver Post. "I'm playing with great players and the team is doing good so I think I probably wouldn't have these numbers on any other team. ... I still can't really believe I'm here. I'm trying to sustain the moment and take it game by game."

O'Reilly, who is living with veteran teammate Darcy Tucker and his family, is one of two 18-year-olds on the Avalanche. The other is Matt Duchene.

It's easy to understand why O'Reilly is a bit stunned by his speedy success. After all, he began 2009 playing junior hockey with Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, for coach Robbie Ftorek. Ftorek is a former NHL star who also coached in the NHL. In fact, Ftorek was Wayne Gretzky's first coach in Los Angeles after the trade that rocked the NHL in 1988.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for (Ftorek) and the whole staff at Erie," O'Reilly told the Post. "They gave me so much -- Robbie, the staff and the GM. Robbie, playing at this level and coaching at this level, he knew the game so well, including penalty killing. He taught me how to play the game."

Un-heated -- No one would say the Oilers and Senators are have-nots. But they certainly are Heatley-nots.

Tuesday night, the team Dany Heatley refused to be traded to and the team he refused to play for clashed in Ottawa. The Senators skated away with a 4-3 shootout victory against the Oilers.

During the summer, Heatley raised the ire of Edmonton and Ottawa fans by demanding a trade from the Senators, then refusing to join the Oilers after his wish was granted. Eventually, he was dealt to San Jose.

Heatley's controversial decisions led to some intriguing conversation recently among the Edmonton players who nearly became Senators. Would Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid and Dustin Penner skate during warm-ups in Ottawa wearing Heatley jerseys? As it turned out, it didn't happen; but such a move would -- at the very least -- have raised eyebrows.

"I wore the jersey at our Halloween party, but that's as far as I'll go," Cogliano told the Edmonton Journal.

When he was asked about possibly wearing the Heatley jersey, Smid told the Journal, "That would be too much, all of us in his jersey ... but I think we should wait until we play against Heatley, don't you think?"

Smid's right. It would indeed be a truly memorable moment if three Oilers wore Heatley jersey when facing the Sharks.

As for any hard feelings about being potential trade fodder for the Oilers only to remain in Edmonton, Cogliano said, "For us it's water under the bridge. It was a long time ago."

The Oilers-Senators game was an appetizer to a potentially much more heated showdown in a few weeks.

The day after Thanksgiving, for the first time, Heatley will appear in Edmonton as a member of the Sharks. Every time he touches the puck that night, there's little doubt Oilers fans will remind him how big a turkey they think he is.

Lettermen -
- Saying he wants to "expand his leadership group," first-year Flames coach Brent Sutter is rotating his alternate captaincies around the team this season.

Two players hold permanent titles: captain Jarome Iginla and alternate captain Robyn Regehr.

Dion Phaneuf and Daymond Langkow wore the temporary "A" in October, Craig Conroy and Jay Bouwmeester are wearing the "A" this month, and Cory Sarich and Olli Jokinen are next in line. Bouwmeester wears the "A" on the road and Conroy wears it at home.

"I think it’s nice," Conroy told the Calgary Herald. "For everyone who gets it, it's an honor. You wear it with pride."

Iginla, Regehr and Phaneuf wore the letters last season under then-coach Mike Keenan.

Bouwmeester told the newspaper that wearing the letter does not affect how he plays.

"Ultimately, it doesn't change anything -- and it shouldn't," he said. "I've played long enough, I know the deal and I know how I have to lead. For myself, I'm not a rant-and-raver or anything like that. But the things you do out there -- being solid, working hard -- that's the example you want to set."

"I've played long enough, I know the deal and I know how I have to lead. For myself, I'm not a rant-and-raver or anything like that. But the things you do out there -- being solid, working hard -- that's the example you want to set."
-- Jay Bouwmeester

Nonetheless, Bouwmeester admitted he appreciates being recognized by his coaches just months into his tenure in Calgary.

The Flames have taken a course this season that is the opposite of one of their division rivals. The Wild named Mikko Koivu full-time captain this season, the first time in that franchise's history the "C" hasn't been rotated through the season.

Feeling Fine --
Roberto Luongo's return to action came two periods earlier than expected.

The Canucks' star goalie had been sidelined for two weeks with a cracked rib when he dressed as Andrew Raycroft's backup for Tuesday's game at St. Louis. The plan was for Luongo to watch that night, then play Thursday at Detroit.

But Luongo's return was accelerated when Raycroft allowed four first-period goals. Luongo played the final two periods.

"I got some minutes, but it's tough," Luongo told reporters afterward. "You don't want to come in in situations like that."

Actually, it was a bit curious Luongo was considered healthy enough to dress for Tuesday's game at St. Louis yet didn't start. If he was healthy enough to be in uniform, then why not just play him?

"It's quite simple: If Roberto would have had two practices in, he'd probably be starting (against the Blues)," coach Alain Vigneault told reporters before the St. Louis game. "He's ready to go, but the smart thing to do is give him another regular practice and then put him back in."

The plan changed after Raycroft's rocky first period Tuesday. Luongo survived, stopping 15 of 17 shots by the Blues. But the Canucks lost anyway, falling 6-1.

Watch your head -- Player safety is at the forefront of NHL news these days, as general managers prepare to study the idea of making blindside hits to the head illegal next season.
That topic especially was relevant this week in Edmonton and Minnesota. The Oilers were angered when Buffalo's Clarke MacArthur drove Edmonton left wing Liam Reddox into the boards in the Sabres' 3-1 win Wednesday night.
MacArthur received a five-minute boarding penalty, and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff defended his player's "hockey play." Reddox was helped off the ice after a five-minute delay, and Oilers coach Pat Quinn was angry afterward.

"Watching it on tape, (MacArthur) knew exactly what he was doing," Quinn told reporters. "I don't have anything to say on it."

Minnesota players, meanwhile, were not exactly wild about a recent hit by Dallas' Steve Ott that left forward Petr Sykora with a concussion. Ott did not receive a penalty on the play, nor has he received supplementary discipline from the NHL.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Ott smacked Sykora with a leaping elbow and Sykora smacked his head against the glass. Wild coach, Todd Richards, labeled Ott's hit "questionable."
Sykora is one of two Wild players sidelined by concussion. Pierre Marc-Bouchard is not close to returning from a concussion suffered in the Oct. 3 season opener in Columbus.
As for how soon Sykora might return, Richards told the Star Tribune, "Concussions are a touchy thing. Sometimes they clear up, other times they linger. So he'll be kind of a day-to-day thing, or week-to-week, or month-to-month, however long it takes."

Richards' team has been riddled by injuries this season, and though no team can afford an onslaught of injuries, the Wild seem particularly ill-equipped to deal with such an epidemic.

After all, the team is making a stylistic transition from former coach Jacques Lemaire's conservative defensive approach to the more offensive game plan Richards was hired to install. Losing skilled offensive players like Sykora and Bouchard only complicates matters.
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