If you were to sit down and chat with Colorado Avalanche GM Greg Sherman during training camp, chances are that he would tell you that rookie Ryan O’Reilly will still need a couple years with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. The Avs were not hoping to send O’Reilly back to junior; it’s just that there wasn’t a soul that expected him to still be in Denver. O’Reilly himself has his eyebrows raised.
"I'm not going to say we had Ryan penned in to make our opening-night roster," Sherman told NHL.com. "It's a nice surprise he fit the criteria in that manner. You're always hopeful in training camp they've worked hard in the offseason and worked for a position. Ryan has done all the little things coming into camp and in the exhibition games, he played strong, two-way hockey. He has strong hockey sense about him. He's a little more mature than most 18-year-olds are. He's earned himself the opportunity to start the season with us." Not only did O’Reilly earn himself a spot on the roster but so far he is fitting in nicely and turning heads around the league. The 2009 second-round draft pick scored his first NHL goal in his seventh game against the Montreal Canadiens. He is sitting at a comfortable +12 leading the Avalanche. He has knocked in four goals, one being a game winner, and 11 assists for 15 points in just 20 games. He is averaging 16:32 minutes of ice time per game and is right up there on the face-offs for the Avs averaging 48.6%. “I felt coming into (training) camp, in the back of my head, I thought I can make it," said O'Reilly. "But I never really thought about it. It's pretty surprising, coming here playing with the best players in the world, against some of the best players in the world. I surprised myself, I guess."
Only five of the 32 players picked ahead of O’Reilly made the opening-night roster of an NHL team which is a shot that every second- round draft pick hopes for. He's the first player taken outside of the first round to play in his draft season since the 2003-04 season.
The first nine games rolled along for O’Reilly and the Avs but the tenth game was the haunting decision for GM Greg Sherman. Do they keep O'Reilly for the season or return him to his junior team, the Erie Otters of the OHL?
"I think anytime you're in the evaluation process, especially with an 18-year-old, you're looking at can they keep pace with established NHL players," said Sherman. "… It's an 82-game season and it's where they are at maturity wise. You have to bring all these factors in. At 18-years-old, these are difficult decisions and you want to do what's right for the franchise and you also want to do what's right for the player. You don't want to put a player, especially an 18-year-old player, in a position where he's not able to perform at that level."
Was it better for O'Reilly to stay in Colorado playing on the third or fourth lines, or go back to Erie where he'll play on the top line, the first power-play unit and kill penalties.
So far it has proven to be a good decision for both the organization and for the young 6-foot, 200-pound center from Clinton, Ontario.
Ryan O’Reilly’s favorite player growing up was Wayne Gretzky and is currently Henrik Zetterberg. His favorite NHL team growing up was the Edmonton Oilers.