Ryan O’Reilly has it. “It” is the determination and leadership that no one can teach. While O’Reilly will likely never be a 40 goal scorer, or a key offensive pivot like Matt Duchene, he could be just as important.
No Stanley Cup winner in the post-lockout NHL has won on talent alone. Not to say that O’Reilly lacks talent by any means, but his play is built on fire, not flash. He can kill penalties, fore-check, back-check, provide secondary scoring, and block shots. Most, if not all, 20-year-old forwards lack the necessary defensive polish to be a reliable two-way center. O’Reilly plays a very disciplined defense-first game. Players like O’Reilly are becoming increasingly important in the post-lockout NHL as teams can no longer afford the luxury of numerous all-stars playing together for more than a year or so. O’Reilly won’t command the salaries of top scorers, but can be just as effective, providing the Avalanche with affordable defense from the center position.
While defense is O'Reilly's specialty, he is no slouch in the offensive zone. He can provide some secondary scoring as evident by his 13 goals and 26 points last year. As O'Reilly expands his game, he could follow suit of someone like Ryan Kesler and eventually chip in anywhere around 60 points each season.
A look back at past Stanley Cup teams all have a defensive forward who can kill penalties. The Boston Bruins have Patrice Bergeron. The Chicago Blackhawks had John Madden. The Pittsburgh Penguins had Max Talbot. Even fans with a bias against the Detroit Red Wings can’t argue that they preach a defense-first system, proven effective by their cast of multiple Cup-winners Kris Draper, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg. Longtime Avalanche fans remember Dan Hinote’s high-tempo, energetic play and his effect on the Avalanche. Ryan O’Reilly plays slightly different style than Dan Hinote. O’Reilly is already as sound defensively, but lags behind Hinote’s physicality and ability to deliver a momentum turning hit. O’Reilly is an NHL level hitter and has nowhere to go but up as he continues to grow stronger. After all, he’s only 20 and already with two full years of NHL experience under his belt, O’Reilly has potential to be one of the greatest defensive forwards in the game today.
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