Photo Credit: Paul Stastny – Billy Hurst / Ryan O’Reilly – Kevin Hoffman (USA Today Sports)
Additions and subtractions define the mentality and character of any professional sports team. Depth is a must. You have to work together. You have to play with pride for the team that you’re on. Sometimes, those additions and subtractions come with some surprising connections that bridge the “Old Guard” with the “New Guard”. Sometimes, a fan never suspects that the make-up of his or her favorite player may herald back to someone that no one suspects had a hand in leading or guiding the next generation. In surprising ways, perhaps some players were destined to be Blues, based on the company that they kept. Learning from former Blues or native St. Louisans may have rubbed off on them a bit.
For Ryan O’Reilly, some of the most intriguing twists of fate led him to play for the St. Louis Blues, including years spent with a former St. Louis Blue and native son of the Midwest.
Now, please note: many of these points are drawn assumptions, based on the players themselves, and the rosters they were put on. I have no insider knowledge, other than my own, gut-instinct intuition. However, based on the information I found and what my eyes and ears have seen or heard, I don’t believe I am that far off-base. Disagree as you wish; I would love to discuss!
I had no idea what kind of player O’Reilly was until I watched him play for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championships in Denmark this year. When I watched him play, though the Buffalo-St. Louis trade rumors were swirling around at that time, nothing had been set in stone. O’Reilly could have ended up anywhere. Yet, when I watched him, I distinctly remember saying to myself, “He will be a Blue next year.”
It took me a while to think why I had that opinion. Then I realized, it’s because I’d seen in him some of the same “Blue-collar” characteristics that I saw in another “Note-able” Blue… one I badly missed after we traded him to Winnipeg: Paul Stastny.
But first, the backstory of O’Reilly. This centerman was drafted 33rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche, in the 2009 NHL draft, the same draft year as 5th overall pick Brayden Schenn, one of the many current Blues he’s played with at IIHF Worlds. At 18, O’Reilly turned pro his same draft year, and by the end of the 2009-2010 season, missed a single game. In his first NHL game against the San Jose Sharks, on October 1, 2009, he was exactly 18 years, 236 days old, and he became the youngest player in Avalanche history to suit up. He also recorded his first point – an assist. His first goal came 14 days later, against the Montreal Canadiens. He had seven consecutive game points from October 1 through October 24, the longest point streak by a rookie in 2009-2010.
He was an impressive rookie, and not a bad centerman. No doubt, he most likely caught the eye of his fellow centerman and teammate, St. Louis native Stastny, 6 years his senior. Most people are aware of Stastny and O’Reilly’s Colorado connection, but probably do not know how long these two played together. Answer? A total of 5 years, give or take. I believe O’Reilly picked up more than a few good skills from Stastny’s example.
THE MAIN EVENT
Apart from the hockey lock-out in 2012-2013, these two saw a lot of each other. Check out their games played, and where I believe O’Reilly learned from Stastny in a big way: faceoffs.
Stastny, even back then, was an incredible centerman and faceoff taker. Who would a young and impressionable O’Reilly be battling with for faceoffs? My guess would be Stastny. Year after year, taking faceoffs against one of the best on ice, had to leave its mark, and it did. After Stastny was traded in 2014 to the St. Louis Blues, O’Reilly exploded. Take a look at his games played to faceoff percentage ratios, and Stastny’s in comparison.
To remain at that high of a faceoff percentage, and statistically playing more (or about the same) games as Stastny, O’Reilly would have to have more faceoff opportunities and win more of them than Stastny. And he did, with flying colors. For the 2017-2018 season, O’Reilly won a staggering 1273 faceoffs and lost 850. Stastny won 832 and lost 683 with both the Blues and the Jets.
For kicks, let’s compare the Stastny of then with the O’Reilly of then. Stastny came into the league at 21, but his faceoff percentage was not calculated until 22. How would these two at 22-24 pair up during their Colorado years? The faceoff and game stats are surprising.
O’Reilly at age 22 would have been his last year with Stastny as a mentor on the team. Statistically, at the same age, O’Reilly’s faceoff percentage is significantly better at ages 23 to 24, when he was on his own, when compared to Stastny’s at ages 23 and 24. Yes, O’Reilly played more games and had more opportunities to take faceoffs, but he would, again, have to win more than Stastny in order to bring his percentage totals up so high. Stastny did more with less; O’Reilly had to continue to be excellent with more opportunity.
Though I believe O’Reilly was a natural centerman and faceoff taker to begin with, I believe he benefitted from having Stastny as a teacher; practicing with him, talking hockey with him, and learning from him (as Stastny is admittedly a student of the game and always striving to be better, whether by watching footage or putting in extra hours), that only made O’Reilly’s potential grow, and sharpened it into a threat on the dot today.
I also believe O’Reilly learned some of his leadership skills by watching Stastny; O’Reilly has many qualities of a leader, but Stastny’s example enhanced them. As a student of the game, and teaching younger players like O’Reilly, Schenn, and his teammates in Winnipeg, Blake Wheeler, and Patrick Laine, Stastny shared his knowledge and hockey IQ with anyone who would listen, and O’Reilly benefitted from the example Stastny set for improving gameplay. Stastny was well respected, well liked, and was listened to without question in the locker room. His hockey IQ is some of the highest I have seen in a player, and because of that, he is sought out extensively for his ability to read plays almost instantaneously. Though he left the Buffalo locker room on what may be a sour note, O’Reilly is respected in the league for the man he is, and also has high hockey IQ. He wore an “A” for the Sabres because he was a leader, and at one point, in both Colorado and Buffalo, he offered to help younger players through additional practices after the standard ones. The best leaders are teachers, and I believe O’Reilly wanted to help newer players, to teach them as Stastny taught him, when they played and practiced together.
When you think of Blue-collar hockey, Stastny is right up there with “homegrown talent”, especially in the faceoff and leadership category, and I have no doubt that he rubbed off on and encouraged O’Reilly on the path he walks today. It’s no wonder that O’Reilly will fit right in as a Blue: he learned from the best, took everything he could from the best, and made it his own.
The student became the master.
(Citations: Hockey-Reference.com, MileHighHockey.com, DenverPost.com)
For a more in-depth comparison on how O’Reilly has taken what he learned from Stastny and improved upon it, check out Brenden Keller’s “Is Ryan O’Reilly the Next Paul Stastny?” article for a stat comparison between the players.
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