NASHVILLE - Buffalo Sabres alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly has watched a lot of NHL All-Star Games in the past, but this year will be the first time he'll be able to play in one. And it won't look much like any All-Star Game anybody has seen before.
The 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday will be set up as a 3-on-3 tournament for the first time. The first two 20-minute games at Bridgestone Arena - the semifinal round - will see the Central Division All-Stars play the Pacific Division, and the Metropolitan Division All-Stars take on O'Reilly and the rest of the Atlantic Division. The winners will play for the championship and a $1 million prize pool in the third game.
"It's going to be kind of exhausting. Most All-Star Games you can relax a bit and take a little bit off, but here, you have to skate or you're going to be exposed," O'Reilly said. "It's automatically going to bring the pace up. For myself, I hope I'm in good enough shape to play decent, I guess.
"The pace of the game is probably going to be so quick and back and forth. I've always come in as [a player who's] good defensively, but I'm open to be in good in that area and have offense come from that."
His Atlantic Division teammate Patrice Bergeron, a three-time Selke Trophy winner, knows a little something about playing defense and shared some of O'Reilly's thoughts on defending during 3-on-3.
"Three-on-three, you can't really hide, right? Your coverage is there, you can't really miss him," Bergeron said. "You don't want to look bad so it's one of those things where you want to play well on both sides of the rink.
"It's going to be a man-on-man situation, really. That's the easiest way to go with it but there are lots of give-and-gos that can happen and stuff like that," Bergeron said. "You have to be somewhat careful with your forecheck because then you can get beat up the ice and give up odd-man rushes."
O'Reilly hits the All-Star break as Buffalo's leader in goals (17), assists (23, tied with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen ) and points (40) through 50 games. He's already matched his goal total from last season and his on pace to set a career-high with 66 points. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has relied on him in virtually every situation on the ice.
He leads all NHL forwards in average time on ice at 21:52 per game and has taken more faceoffs (1,267) than anyone else, winning 57.1 percent of his draws.
He's certainly making the most of his first season in Buffalo. And while he's always looking to make a positive impact, even he is surprised with the amount of personal success he's had since being traded from Colorado in June.
"I never thought I'd be in this position. Everything happens so fast. Being in Buffalo, it's been great," he said. "The team, we're not where we want to be [in the standings], but me being able to come to this is definitely a positive.
"I can remember watching these games back when I was young and seeing the players in it - to be considered one of them, it's an honor. It's amazing how in that seventh month period how much has changed."
The on-ice celebrations begin Saturday night with the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, SN, CBC and TVA Sports.
O'Reilly said that he'd like to avoid participating in the Fastest Skater competition and he got his wish. He will be a one-timer left shooter during the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay and will look to score in Round 1 of the Discover NHL Shootout.
Then on Sunday, he'll skate alongside his Atlantic Division teammates for the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game begins on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. The game can be seen on NBCSN, CBC and TVA Sports.
Stick with Sabres.com for on-site coverage from Nashville all weekend long.