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O'Reilly excited to take on leadership role with Sabres

by Kristen Nelson

Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly, acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in a draft-day trade Friday, will be looked upon to help their future franchise center to acclimate.

With forward Jack Eichel set to take the spotlight after the Sabres selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, coach Dan Bylsma will have O'Reilly, a six-year NHL veteran at the age of 24, to mentor him.

"It's flattering to be looked at that way," O'Reilly said Monday. "To come in with confidence in myself and them having confidence in me, it's definitely a huge honor and I'm looking forward to it."

O'Reilly had 17 goals and 55 points in 2014-15 and the highest average ice-time among Colorado forwards.

But O'Reilly never felt challenged to be a vocal leader with the Avalanche, which is what he's looking forward to doing with the Sabres.

"I've always wanted to be a big piece like that, have that leadership role and be seen as that by the management," he said. "It's another area to grow my game. If I can do that and transfer what I know and still at the same time learn new things, it's only going to benefit the team and benefit myself. It's a huge step that I can't wait to get started with."

With a year left on his contract, O'Reilly can sign a contract extension with the Sabres when free agency begins Wednesday and said he is interested in doing so.

The Sabres finished in last place the past two seasons, but a bustling offseason has helped bolster their status for 2015-16. With O'Reilly came forward Jamie McGinn, who also has a year left on his contract and played with O'Reilly in Colorado for the past four seasons.

"[Jamie] brings so much to the table," O'Reilly said. "He's a big body that finishes checks and plays with grit, and at the same time he's got great scoring touch. He's tough to play against."

Additionally, the Sabres added forwards Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart, who O'Reilly could see as his wings on the top line, and Bylsma said either Eichel, Reinhart or Zemgus Girgensons will likely move from center to wing.

O'Reilly is familiar with Kane, having frequently played against him and the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference.

"For Kane, obviously playing against him a lot, he's a guy that you give him a chance, he's going to bury it," O'Reilly said. "He creates so much with his speed and his strength that he's going to make any team more effective, more dangerous."

Buffalo general manager Tim Murray also added goaltender Robin Lehner in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

O'Reilly said he is confident in the team Murray is putting together.

"Anyone can win on any given night, and with the additions that we've made over the last couple days, we're going to be right in the mix of that," O'Reilly said. "We have to start preparing for that and get ready to take that responsibility on. It starts in the summer with training and coming to camp ready to play.

"It's never going to be easy, but this is the group that I think we can turn it around and get back in the winning books."

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