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While Ryan O’Reilly is a natural center, he spent the majority of last season playing wing to star center Matt Duchene. It doesn’t look like head coach Patrick Roy is going to change that formula this season.
A wing’s role on a team is somewhat different that a center’s. Obviously, the wing takes fewer faceoffs and works more on the outer playing area. Centers typically cover more ice and should be playmakers — occasionally more so than goal-scorers.
Considering last season Matt Duchene led the team in scoring with 70 points but Ryan O’Reilly beat him in goals 28 to 23, that relationship seems to hold true for the Colorado Avalanche.
O’Reilly is well-known for being a rink rat. He’s renowned for his hockey IQ and his two-way style of play. In fact, he plays a great defensive game. So, how does Ryan O’Reilly match up to other Central Division players who line up at his position?
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Benn’s bigger than O’Reilly — 6-foot-2, 210 pounds to O’Reilly’s 6-foot, 200 pounds. That’s not a huge difference except Benn is known for being a very physical player. He uses his size to advantage. O’Reilly’s not a scrapper, as evidenced by his Lady Byng Award.
Benn’s the captain of his team. He leads by example — and often that example comes with a scoring touch. O’Reilly’s got a strong work ethic — he’s known for being a rink rat. And there’s that Lady Byng, which most certainly shows character and leadership.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Kane is a pure offensive dynamo. He’s a playmaker, and the pucks just seem to come to him. His stick handling is some of the best in the league. He is an elite scorer.
And he knows it. His cockiness is renowned — we all remember his crowing “Showtime!” after a slick goal against the Minnesota Wild. O’Reilly is humble. Kane’s also on the small side, and he doesn’t always know what to do with himself when the puck isn’t on his stick. O’Reilly’s definitely better at the two-way game.
Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
Like O’Reilly, Sharp has excellent hockey sense. He’s a speedy forward with an excellent shot. He’s versatile and able to kill penalties as well as score, so that’s similar to O’Reilly, too.
It’s a sad truth that, at 32 years old, Sharp is considered a veteran. His best days may not be quite behind him yet, but… he’s getting close. He can go into prolonged scoring slumps, especially as the season wears on. O’Reilly, of course, is much younger. He also tends to remain pretty consistent in scoring.
Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues
Steen is a bulldog on skates. He’s only 5-foot-11 but weighs in at 212 pounds of muscle. An intense player, he motors down the ice, using his density to fight his way through opponents. His hockey IQ is superb, and he’s very capable at two-way play.
Steen isn’t as consistent on goal-scoring as the Blues would like him to be. He also doesn’t have the most accurate of shots. Nonetheless, he’s very similar to O’Reilly in style of play.
So, how does Ryan O’Reilly stack up to other Central Division wings? Keep in mind O’Reilly is the youngest of the lot. O’Reilly’s still learning and is barely entering the prime of his career. He also spent a lot of his career playing for a bad team (which has changed, of course).
That said, O’Reilly is a player who’s been showing regular improvement. Looking at the basic statistic of points-per-game shows that O’Reilly is the only one of the players who improves every year. Image from Sporting Charts:
Ryan O’Reilly shows a constant progression forward in points-per-game. Photo from Sporting Charts.
Matters get intriguing when looking at a relatively new statistic, the turnovers plus/minus. O’Reilly is known for dominating this category, meaning he holds onto the puck much more than he turns it over. Image from Sporting Charts:
Ryan O’Reilly dominates in turnovers plus/minus ratio. Image from Sporting Charts
When it comes to Patrick Sharp and Alex Steen, O’Reilly has the potential to match them. When it comes to Jamie Benn, he might just. When it comes to matching Patrick Kane, it’s highly unlikely.
But then, that’s not O’Reilly’s role on the team. He’s not meant to be the premier goal scorer on the Avalanche — that’s for Duchene and wonder-rookie Nate MacKinnon. O’Reilly is a solid two-way forward, a top-six player who helps his team in a variety of ways. The Colorado Avalanche is lucky to have him.