With the Buffalo Sabres, center Ryan O’Reilly has the opportunity to step up and be a top dog while serving as a mentor to the younger forwards coming up through the system.
The Sabres acquired O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn as part of a five-player trade with the Colorado Avalanche on Friday during the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
In addition to his expanded on-ice role, O’Reilly sees stepping up as a leader – particularly off the ice – and being a more vocal guy is a challenge he’s ready to face head-on.
“I can’t wait to have that responsibility and role,” O’Reilly told Kevin Sylvester and Andrew Peters on Sabres Hockey Hotline on Monday. “It’s something I’ve always wanted.”
In making some hypothetical line combinations, Sabres coach Bylsma said Saturday that he had O’Reilly penciled in as his No. 1 center.
“He’s a top player in the League and plays in so many different situations at a great skill level,” Bylsma said. “He plays at both ends of the rink, he plays the power play, penalty kill.”
O’Reilly, 24, said he feels more comfortable at center and hopes he’ll be able to make an impact with the Sabres as a pivot.
O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Cody McCormick, Johan Larsson and David Legwand are among some of the players who are comfortable at center. A few of them may have to slide over to a wing in order to create a balanced lineup.
“There are certainly a lot of different possibilities that could be there and training camp is going to see some of those scenarios play themselves out,” Bylsma said. “The depth of our team is a lot of different at the forward position than it was a few days ago.”
Sabres general manager Tim Murray said his ideal scenario did not have Reinhart and Eichel, both teenagers, as his top centers heading into training camp. Adding an experienced player of O’Reilly’s caliber who can play center can make things a little bit easier for the young centers.
“We want to take the pressure off them. Certainly at home when we have the last change, I like the fact they may get easier matchups,” Murray said. “On the road, they’re still going to get tough matchups and we know that.
“…[O’Reilly] changes a lot of things for our organization."
Over the weekend, the Sabres added McGinn, Legwand, Eichel (the second-overall pick in this year’s draft) and goaltender Robin Lehner. This coming season will also see wing Evander Kane make his Sabres debut.
After two last-place finishes, O’Reilly doesn’t think the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2016 are out of the realm of possibility.
“With the additions that we’ve made over the last couple days, we’re right in the mix of that. For us, we have to start preparing for that and getting ready to take that responsibility on,” he said. “It’s never going to be easy but this is the group, I think that we can turn around and get back in the winning books.”
Helping to facilitate those vibes are all of the good things he’s heard from the players he’ll be suiting up with come the fall.
“You never know when you’re coming into a new team what it’s going to be like, but all the feedback has just been phenomenal,” he said. “It’s definitely nice to hear. You can relax and not worry about that.”
O’Reilly is looking forward to playing for Bylsma as well.
“My brother played for him and I know many guys who have played for him and said he’s a fantastic coach. I’m going to love him,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this coming season but O’Reilly told Sylvester and Peters that he hopes to have a deal done soon. Murray said on Friday that he was prepared for negotiations to start at a high number.
Coming over in the deal as well was McGinn. O’Reilly called him one of his closest friends on the Avalanche and is happy they’ll be able to join a new team together.
“He’s a great player, a real power forward,” O’Reilly said. “He finishes his checks. He goes to the hard areas and he’s got natural goal-scoring ability. He’s a guy that gets in front of the net and will out-muscle guys and put it in.”
And as for a jersey number, O’Reilly told Sylvester and Peters that he’ll stick with No. 90, the last number he wore in Colorado.
“It’s kind of a sick number,” he said. “Makes me look a little bigger out there so I like that too.”