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First Round

O'Reilly thriving for Blues, enjoying playoff return against Jets

Center named Selke Trophy finalist ahead of Game 5

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- Ryan O'Reilly is thrilled to be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

"It's the best hockey," the St. Louis Blues center said ahead of Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN360, TVAS, FS-MW). The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2.

"(It's) the most fun, the way every play matters," said O'Reilly, who was last in the playoffs in 2014 with the Colorado Avalanche, who lost to the Minnesota Wild in seven games in the first round. "Especially being in that (Winnipeg) building. There's nothing like playoff hockey. It's so much fun to be a part of."

 

[RELATED: Complete Jets vs. Blues series coverage]

 

There was even more joy for O'Reilly on Wednesday, when he was named one of three finalists for the Selke Trophy, awarded to player voted the best defensive forward in the NHL. The other finalists are Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone.

O'Reilly has had a strong all-around season in St. Louis after being acquired July 1 in a trade for forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson, a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. He had an NHL career-high 77 points (29 goals, 49 assists) in 82 games, led Blues forwards in average ice time per game (20:46) and played in all situations. 

O'Reilly also led the Blues with a plus-22 rating, the best of his 10 NHL seasons, and was tied with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner for seventh among NHL players who finished the season with at least 75 points. He was fourth in the League with 94 takeaways.

But most of all, O'Reilly was elite in the face-off circle, which is nothing new. He led the NHL in face-off wins (1,086) for the second consecutive season, joining Bergeron (2013-14 through 2016-17) as the only players with at least 1,000 in four consecutive seasons since the statistic was introduced in 1997-98. He was seventh in the NHL in face-off win percentage (56.9 percent) among players who took at least 450 face-offs, and fifth among the 49 players who took at least 1,000. It was his fourth straight season above 56 percent.

Video: STL@WPG, Gm2: O'Reilly lights lamp with quick shot

O'Reilly also was fourth in defensive-zone face-off wins (382).

"I think his play speaks for itself," St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "He's been good since the start of the year." 

But aside from his impressive two-way play, Pietrangelo said O'Reilly's easygoing personality is ideal for the Blues.

"Anytime you bring in a player of that caliber, you want to make sure he fits in in the locker room, and he does," said Pietrangelo, a defenseman who is in his 11th NHL season, all with St. Louis. "He fits in perfectly with our group. It's like he's been here as long as I have.

"We've got a pretty good group in here. We've got a fun group and we like to get after each other. He fits right in."

Perhaps that is because of O'Reilly's commitment to improving his game and his sense of professionalism, qualities his teammates quickly noticed.

"He's an extremely hard worker and very intelligent player," forward Alexander Steen said. "Right off the hop, (he) took a big responsibility here. It was noticeable. He's played some remarkable hockey this year."

Defenseman Colton Parayko said, "It's the way he approaches the game. And it's the character, the way he goes about the game. He's always wanting to learn and wanting to get better and it's contagious.

"When you have a player that wants to get better, it makes the other guys want to do things. He stays out after practice and does drills, and guys see him out there and stay out there to do the drills he's doing. It's cool to see."

Video: Bergeron, O'Reilly, and Stone named Selke finalists

O'Reilly's 77-point season didn't come out of the blue; he had scored at least 60 points three times (64 with the Avalanche in 2013-14; 60 in 2015-16 and 61 in 2017-18 with the Sabres). But he said his game has gotten stronger since he won the World Cup of Hockey 2016 with Team Canada.

"I think it was something that gave me some confidence, for sure, to be able to be on that team," said O'Reilly, who has two points (one goal, one assist) in the playoffs this season and scored the winning goal in Game 2. "The World Cup is the most elite group of Canadian players. Of course there were the young guys (on Team North America) like Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid that weren't (on Team Canada), but still, it was some of the highest caliber of the country's best. Getting to play in it was amazing. It was some of the best and fastest hockey I've ever played."

Steen said he didn't need to see the World Cup to know O'Reilly's game was on the rise and that he would help the Blues, who missed the playoffs last season but finished third in the Central Division this season, tied in points with the Jets.

"[Players] notice the subtle stuff that goes unnoticed to the untrained eye sometimes," Steen said. "I'll speak for myself. I knew he was a player, extremely intelligent. You can tell by his positioning in the game and how he reads the plays. His hockey IQ is very high. 

"Sometimes it takes a big stage like that or a big event to open up eyes. Throughout the League he's been a respected player in that department, to know who Ryan O'Reilly is."

And now that the Blues players know who he is, some of them are trying to take after O'Reilly. 

"All the little stick skills might take some time to get to his level," said forward Zach Sanford, who is in his third NHL season. "He's pretty good there. But the hard work and the positioning and being in the right spot at the right time, that's been working for him, and that's what I'm trying to get working for me."

NHL.com correspondent Louie Korac contributed to this report

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