This is my second attempt at writing a story about Ryan O'Reilly. My first attempt quickly turned into a jumbled, confusing mess - proof that even humble bloggers like myself can sometimes lose their way. I think part of the problem is that O'Reilly is such a tough player to define. Obviously, he does a lot of things really well on the ice, and off the ice he is a well-known rink rat. But there's no single description that fits O'Reilly perfectly. In the NHL there are gritty players and skilled players, shooters, passers, fast skaters, leaders, followers, big hitters, hard workers, defensive specialists. Many of those words fit O'Reilly, but none tell the full story of what he brings to to the Avalanche night in and night out. Radar just seems to do what needs to be done and this is why, on top of all the cute nicknames - Radar, The Factor, ORLY, Snook - O'Reilly has earned a new title this year: #1 center.
O'Reilly's pedigree of "intangibles" has never been in question. Coming out of the OHL, many people felt that O'Reilly's strengths would be things like defense, faceoffs and penalty killing. His drive was never a question; in fact, his OHL coach Robbie Ftorek had to try to keep him from trying to to do much and shouldering too much responsibility when things didn't go well. E.J. Maguire, the late director of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, felt that O'Reilly would contribute in all facets of the game. So far, O'Reilly is living up to those lofty expectations.
The big change this year has been offense. O'Reilly leads the Avs in scoring and is on pace for 52 points this year. That's a somewhat modest total and only two teams - Carolina and St Louis - have a leading scorer with less points, but in the context of the Avalanche, it's O'Reilly - not Duchene, not Stastny, not Hejduk, not Landeskog - leading the way. O'Reilly is finally getting PP time and has responded with 8 PP points (he had 4 in his career going into this season). His PK time has dropped this year, freeing him up to pile up more minutes at even strength (tops among forwards on the team).
Over the years, the Avalanche / Nordiques have drafted 44 players in the 2nd round and O'Reilly is already 10th in terms of career NHL games played. And right now, he's contributing more than another former 2nd rounder (Stastny) and even more than the guy taken 30 spots before him in 2009 (Duchene). The Avalanche are heading into a critical portion of the season and O'Reilly's play will be key for them. It's worth noting that O'Reilly has just 1 point in 19 career games in January and 3 in 16 games in February. Perhaps that's when fatigue sets in for the notorious hard worker? That won't cut it this year. He is no longer that under-the-radar third line center that we appreciate for the intangibles. He is a top-line player for the Avs now and his continued performance is vital to the Avs' success. As O'Reilly goes, so do the Avalanche.