The Buffalo Sabres came into the new NHL campaign as league trailers from the previous season.
So they decided to switch up the team and change the head coach to make a push for anywhere but 30th in the league, and Ryan O’Reilly is proving to be their saviour of the season.
The Tides Begin to Turn
The reform all started with them trading in Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian from Winnipeg on February 11. The season continued and Buffalo ended bottom of the league. In the final games of the season, fans were actually getting excited by losses, as the generational talent Connor McDavid was coming through in the upcoming draft.
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But then the (completely fair and totally not rigged) draft lottery came along, where Edmonton were given the top overall pick for the fourth time in six years, thus stealing Connor McDavid away from Buffalo.
Luckily, second overall pick Jack Eichel is a very accomplished forward and has been one of the top-performing rookies this season.
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When Draft Day came, general manager Tim Murray added Jack Eichel then set his sights on speeding up the progress of his franchise. Ryan O’Reilly’s acquisition seemed a poor prospect at first glance. Colorado Avalanche receiving top prospects Zadorov, Grigorenko and Compher, whilst Buffalo would only receive 24-year-old O’Reilly, in the final year of his contract, and 27 year old Jamie McGinn.
Murray then traded in Robin Lehner, to become Buffalo’s first choice keeper, and veteran David Legwand from the Ottawa Senators.
In their most recent transaction, the Sabres acquired Cody Franson from the free agency, who has played every game of this season.
All of these additions were great moves by the GM, and have not only boosted the Sabres’ current team, but made them more solid in future seasons. The man who highlights all of this is Ryan O’Reilly.
O’Reilly and his Team Leading Play
Despite being a second-round pick, O’Reilly clocked in 427 appearances and 246 points for Colorado and played 81 games in the season following his draft.
Buffalo’s leading goal scorer and assister after 21 games has been a dominant force on the ice. Despite his young age, he acts as a strong leader and makes hockey moves of a 1000 game veteran.
This all comes from his constant desire to improve his game and help his team. Following Buffalo’s third game of the season, a 4-2 win at home to the Blue Jackets, The Buffalo News reported O’Reilly as saying:
“There’s still some things where I thought my timing was off and things I have to get better at still. But I thought my energy was a lot better and was a little more creative. It’s my job to get goals and provide offense for the team.”
This was following a match in which he scored and got an assist.
Even though he’s the highest scoring Sabre, the biggest upside of his game is his faceoff success. After 21 games he had 291-206 faceoff wins-to-losses, leading to a 58.6% faceoff win percentage. He boasts the second most faceoff wins in the NHL, sitting behind Claude Giroux of the Flyers.
Buffalo’s number 90 expressed to The Denver Post that he anticipates being more of a leader with the Sabres. The star forward said:
“I think it’s going to be a big challenge with me. I think in the past with Colorado I wasn’t really looked at as much of a leader. I think … with the Sabres I have to be a more vocal guy, be that more off-ice leader and on-ice as well.”
The 6'1'' forward has been named as an Alternate Captain for the Sabres. When watching a Buffalo game you can see him taking on this role, providing a dominant and composed presence in the offensive zone and calling to his team from the bench.
Are they Playoff Contenders?
Not just yet, their divisional rivals are just so much better than they are right now, apart from the Maple Leafs.
But in a couple of years – once Lehner has gained some experience between the irons, and rookie Jack Eichel and Buffalo’s other youngsters have become more established in the league – then yes, they probably will make a decent push for the post-season.
Current Buffalo captain, Brian Gionta, is 36-years-old and is most likely seeing his last couple of seasons in the NHL. Ryan O’Reilly has got to be one of the top contenders to take the C badge upon Gionta’s departure.
As O’Reilly signed a big seven-year contract in July, highlighting how much Buffalo believe in his ability.
The team that the Buffalo Sabres have forged this season will be the foundations for the advancement of the team in future seasons, which could very likely be lead by Ryan O’Reilly.