It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Ryan O'Reilly. When he woke up on Sept. 13, O'Reilly wasn't sure whether or not he'd be included in the World Cup of Hockey at all. The next day, he was playing for Canada in a pre-tournament game in Pittsburgh. By the end of the month, he'd played in every game for the team that won the whole thing.
Having played seven of the fastest games he's ever played, O'Reilly didn't force himself to pratice on Monday. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that O'Reilly will travel with the team to Marquette, Mich and return to the ice for practice on Tuesday. He'll make his preseason debut on Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Even without him on the ice, his presence on the Sabres has already been a welcome addition.
"Our team got smarter, it got better, it got harder-working. Our coaches got better today," Bylsma said. "When Ryan comes back, he's that type of player."
O'Reilly said playing at the World Cup pushed him and his Canadian teammates to new limits, both mentally and physically. It forced them not only to play faster, but to think faster too. If he got the puck and didn't know his next move, he was in trouble.
The tournament did leave him with a few things to nail down before the season starts, which is why the two preseason games he does play will be important (he also plans to play in Ottawa on Friday). In terms of ice time, his work load at the World Cup was far less than what he'll likely receive with the Sabres. He also saw little work on the power play in the World Cup.
But he does enter the season not only with the advantage of having played competitive games, but also with a championship mindset. The Canadians were undefeated in the tournament, all the way up to the wild last three minutes of their final game when they scored twice to end regulation and win the Final.
"It was kind of an interesting dynamic, having the best-of-three," O'Reilly said of the final game. "We wouldn't panic. I obviously wasn't playing at that time but still just trying to stay engaged with the game. I think every situation we got into in this tournament, it was an experienced group and the guys didn't panic.
"It's a great feeling and it's something that we want to have soon."
Hear more from O'Reilly and his expectations for this season in Monday's Sabres in :90 below.
Video: Sabres in :90
Okposo leaves practice early
Even with O'Reilly back in the mix, it might still be some time before the Sabres get to see their forward lines at full strength. Kyle Okposo took a hard shot off his knee in practice on Monday and is questionable for the next two games, Bylsma said. Okposo continued to practice after taking the shot but eventually left the ice early.
Zach Bogosian (groin strain), Dmitry Kulikov (lower-body bruise) and Nicholas Baptiste (lower-back) also remained absent due to injury. Bylsma said that Bogosian will not be joining the team in Marquette while Kulikov's status might be the same.
"I haven't heard that ruling on Kulikov but I assume that's going to be the case," Bylsma said. "He's still dealing with a bruise to his tailbone and it's gotten better and progressing, but [he's] probably not going to be able to come with us considering the schedule."
The Sabres continue their preseason slate on Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes at Lakeview Arena in Marquette,this year's Kraft Hockeyville USA winner. Count Bylsma among those who are excited for the experience.
"It's a preseason game and we need it go get our game back in us and the timing of our game and some aspects of our game but at the same time, it kind of has an outdoor game type of feel to it," Bylsma said. "It's a spectacle, it is a performance, it's kind of an old-time feel. I've played in the Lakeview Arena, I've been there a few times, so it's like this has a return to the roots of hockey type of feel to it … I'm gonna be jacked up to play it."
Bylsma grew up in Grand Haven, Mich., a 428-mile hike across Michigan from Marquette. The arena should look a bit different than when he played a showcase at age 15, given the $150,000 in upgrades it received for winning the Kraft Hockeyville grand prize.
The game begins at 7 p.m. and can be seen live on NBCSN. It'll be the first of back-to-back road games for the Sabres and Hurricanes, who play again the following night in Sault Ste. Marie.
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
63 Tyler Ennis - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson
70 Alexander Nylander - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 52 Hudson Fasching
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 34 Casey Nelson
45 Brendan Guhle - 38 Taylor Fedun
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson
35 Linus Ullmark