It's the best time of year!
Sometimes it takes an up-and-coming prospect two or three games, weeks, or months to get a feel for the NHL and fit right in. Sometimes it can take two or three years. As far as the latter goes, meet Cal O’Reilly.
The 24-year-old Toronto native has always been known for his playmaking abilities. In fact, O’Reilly lit up the AHL in Milwaukee with 150 assists in the last three years combined (182 games). The problem for him has been breaking through at the NHL level.
He was given an opportunity in Nashville the last couple years, but was unable to stick with the team and was shuttled back to Milwaukee, either because of a numbers game or lack of production.
“It was tough,” he explained. “I try to think about what I can control and I can’t control whether they send me down or keep me. All I can control is how I play and work as hard I can and that’s what I try to focus on.”
In this young season, however, O’Reilly seems to finally be ‘getting it’. Although he has four points in three games, his effectiveness goes beyond the stat-sheet. He’s playing just defensively as he is offensively, along with winning one-on-one battles and faceoffs.
Most importantly, he has found a home on a line next to Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist – two of Nashville’s more reliable producers.
“That whole line has been pretty good,” said Coach Barry Trotz. “I think Sully’s really helped Cal; Cal sees the ice so well. They are both very intelligent players, and Horny is sort of the throwback, heading to the net and finding pucks. It really complements the three… they are playing really well right now.”
The chemistry displayed between the three has been vital in the team’s fast start. O’Reilly picked up three primary helpers in Thursday’s win over St. Louis, all setting up goals for Sullivan (twice) and Hornqvist.
“For Cal, he’s gonna make the plays,” said Sullivan. “As a player, you just have to work to get open. You gotta try to help him out and support him and make sure that you’re there to give him plays. With some players it just clicks… it’s there and it works. With our line right now, we’ve been lucky, and it seems to be going well right now.”
“Cal is playing pretty well now; he’s getting through that threshold,” said Trotz. “I think he’s a real cerebral player, he sees the ice extremely well. I think the pace of his game has gotten better.”
O’Reilly was a fifth-round pick in 2005, but obviously didn’t play like one in the AHL. His 253 points in less than four years with Milwaukee raised a lot of eyebrows. But compiling 16 points in 42 games and looking out of place at times in the last two seasons had people wondering if he’d ever be able to make the transition from the ‘A’ to the NHL.
Watching him in the first handful of games, I feel this could finally be the year he raises some eyebrows in the Music City.
“All you can ask for is an opportunity and they’re giving me one and then it’s up to me. That’s all I can ask for and every game I want to help and contribute.”
Photo credit: Getty Images
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