Right now, there is a 20-year-old center leading this team with 21 points. He has been our reliable go-to guy for most of this year, notching at least one point in 47% of the games he's played in. He's averaging the most even-strength TOI of any forward on the team, and has won 55.2% of his team-high 480 faceoffs. He's considered a "Core Player" by management and is quickly becoming a fan-favorite for the Captaincy when Hejduk retires.
And his name is NOT Matt Duchene.
We are one third of the way into the season, and Ryan O'Reilly's play has been spectacular. He's no longer played in just a 3rd line defensive roll - he's become one of our best Top 6 forwards. However, the question becomes which Ryan O'Reilly is the real one? We already know that he's a solid forechecker that takes good care of the puck and will work harder than any other player out there. But is his offense here to stay as well? Should we be re-evaluating his ceiling or is he destined to come back down to earth? Do we have a future elite two-way player on our hands, or is this all just wishful thinking?
Some facts to consider after the jump.....
The Scoring Has Been Going On for a While
O'Reilly hasn't been good just this year. He managed to get 8G / 2A in the last 18 games of the season last year - quite a feat considering the team's lack of many quality wingers at that time. If you add in those totals to this year, he's had 14G / 17A / 31Pts in 46 games, good for .67PPG, better than Stastny's .56PPG and not too far off Duchene's .80PPG in the same time. And 46 games isn't exactly a small sample size - that's over half a season.
However, he has recently been quoted as saying that he's never produced like this at any level (even Juniors), and in true O'Reilly fashion, he accredits it all to his linemates making him look good. Yet despite the fact his previous years' stats weren't the strongest (26pts each in his first two seasons), he is a known hard worker and rink rat. He also has very high expectations for his on-ice play and often inflicts self-discipline when he feels he didn't work hard enough. So, even though all this scoring is an anomaly for him, could it just be all his hard work paying off?
Despite the Added Offense, He's Still the Same "Radar"
O'Reilly made the league in his draft year because of his strong defensive play, work ethic, and maturity. He played a 3rd line role - a job usually given to vets - and was one of our top penalty killers. Even though the puck occasionally found its way from his stick to the back of the net, he knew that he was there to preform a defensive role, and he did the best he could at it.
But when it looked like all hope was lost during the second part of last season, he stepped up his game and started to score. When Paul Stastny went down with an injury, O'Reilly was right there to pick up the slack. That offensive spark has carried through into this season as well, but Radar hasn't neglected his end of the ice either.
O'Reilly is tied with Datsyuk in the League lead in takeaways at 38. I don't think anyone can deny that when it comes to puck-handling centers, Datsyuk is one of the best. For a 20-year-old kid to be neck-'n-neck with him after 28 games is pretty impressive. And it's not like there's a huge TOI differential either. Datsyuk may have missed 2 games this season, but when you add up icetime, Radar has played a whole 22 more seconds than him. O'Reilly's managed 4 fewer turnovers as well (10 vs 14).
He's -2 on the season (up from the -7 he finished with last year). He does lead the team in GA (25), but once one factors out the 5 that have slipped by him on the PK, he drops to #4 after Hejduk, Duchene, and tied with Stastny (all of whom, I might add, are All-Star candidates this year).
And even though I'm probably going to get run off the board for even mentioning it, his Corsi is second on the team at 14.4 (behind only Landeskog's 19.1). I'm still not exactly sure what numbers are plugged into what equations to find Corsi, but from what I do understand, this means that O'Reilly has been on the ice for more shots-at-net-for than shots-at-net-against. That might be helped by Landeskog's insane 88 shots so far this year, but regardless, it means that the shot totals on the other end of the ice are being kept in control.
Breakout Seasons Have Happened for Players Like Him Before
Not so long ago, there was a young center that played for the US National Development Program. He put up decent numbers (.76PPG, just a bit under O'Reilly's .91 in Juniors), and played one year of college before being drafted at #23. Over the next four years, he played as a shutdown forward with major penalty kill responsibilities for his NHL team, only averaging 25 points each season. However, he was then given the chance to play on a top line and saw his point totals jump from 37 to 59 in one year. Since then, he's had two 70+ point seasons, been an All-Star Alternate Captain, and won the Selke Trophy.
Even though I now feel completely dirty for having compared O'Reilly to both a Red Wing AND a Canuck, you have to admit that having a player with the 2-way play of Ryan Kesler around wouldn't be a bad thing. O'Reilly's on pace to score 61 points this season, which would be very closely on par with Kesler's breakout '08-'09 campaign. Crazier things than shutdown forwards blossoming into 2-way centermen have happened.
What All of This Means
This could just be a hotstreak, but it's looking more and more like the 2-Way play of Ryan O'Reilly is here to stay. He's consistently been one of our top two centers all year long, and with Paul Stastny out and Matt Duchene's line looking fairly meh when it comes to scoring, once again, O'Reilly is going to be called on tonight as our top center. He has great chemistry with Landeskog and Hejduk right now, but even without those two players, he can still put up numbers as shown by his point run last year. He was the NHL's #2 Star of the Week last week, and Sacco's was quoted as saying " He's been playing really well. The kid's [O'Reilly's] been showing signs and emerging as one of the top players."
Once we get the winger situation sorted out to the point where we can ice three top lines, we'll have one extremely offensively-gifted center, one playmaking center, and by the looks of it, one true two-way center. I for one am okay with this.