It was a bit of long wait to be able to preview the upcoming season for Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly. For almost three months since the Avalanche had their last campaign cut short, O'Reilly was not under contract with Colorado, and until that changed, it was not reasonable to project his role for the 2014-15 season. Now that O'Reilly is officially back in the fold, we can examine his career thus far and see where he fits in now.
The way O'Reilly first entered the league was highly unusual. He was a second round draft choice (33rd overall) by Colorado in the 2009 NHL Draft, and he made the Avalanche roster that same year. Players not drafted in the first round immediately making the opening day roster for the team that drafted them is almost unheard of, but O'Reilly did it. That was the year that Colorado took Matt Duchene with the 3rd overall pick. 30 picks later, the Avalanche struck gold and found another NHL ready player who has since proven himself to be a talent equal to Duchene.
When considering the core of extremely talented young forwards the Avalanche have, there are four players who primarily come to mind: Duchene, O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. It is interesting to compare where each of those players was drafted in their respective draft years. As mentioned earlier, Duchene went 3rd overall. Two years later, Landeskog went 2nd overall. And of course, last year was when Colorado landed MacKinnon with the 1st overall pick. Rounding out this group is O'Reilly, who did not go first, second, or third, but 33rd the year he was drafted. But O'Reilly has outplayed his draft status right from the beginning, and he is rightfully considered to be on par with his top-pick teammates.
Now O'Reilly is coming of the best year of his career so far. His team-high 28 goals along with 36 assists, league-leading 83 takeaways and only two penalty minutes all season long earned him the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. During his first few years in the NHL, last year especially, O'Reilly has shown tremendous chemistry with Duchene, despite the fact that both players are natural centers. For whatever reason, Duchene and O'Reilly compliment each other perfectly on the ice, and both consistently play better when the other is present, so it is a good bet that they will continue playing on the same line next season. O'Reilly has adapted well to playing on the left side instead of in the middle, where Duchene is at his best. Together they are a potent scoring threat.
Hopefully there will not be any more contract related difficulties with Ryan O'Reilly in the future. He is one of the core players who should be kept around for a long time.
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Tags: Colorado, Colorado Avalanche, Gabriel Landeskog, Hockey, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, NHL, Ryan O'Reilly