Hockey nicknames are famously uninventive. Alex Pietrangelo becomes Petro, Vince Dunn is Dunner, and Jaden Schwartz is Schwartzie.
Blues center Ryan O’Reilly invites variety.
“I’ve gotten Riles before,” he said. “O’Ry. I’ve got a bunch. I get Factor, from the old Bill O’Reilly show. Not Rhino. Nobody calls me that, but I’ve heard it before.”
For the Blues right now, you can call O’Reilly indispensable. Not a whole lot has gone right for the Blues in the early stages of the season, but the play of O’Reilly has been the unquestioned high point. He leads the team in scoring with seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points in 13 games, and currently has points in eight consecutive games, during which he has seven goals and eight assists. In four of the past seven games, he’s had two points or more and in three of them he’s had three, including Tuesday night’s hat trick. A factor indeed.
O’Reilly went into Wednesday’s games tied for seventh in the league in points, and his point streak was the second-longest active streak. His hat trick was the first in his 10-season NHL career.
“That’s surprising that’s his first hat trick,” said Blues backup goalie Chad Johnson, who has been a teammate of O’Reilly two of the previous three seasons in Buffalo. “He deserves it. He’s been through a lot over the course of the last few years. He’s been in some tough situations. It’s nice to see him get rewarded. He works so hard and he wants to win so bad.”
“This is what we were hoping for from him,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “For me, that was just a reward of consistent good play. When he’s on top of his game, he’s engaged in battles, he’s winning faceoffs, he’s a strong two-way center, he’s impacting the game defensively in our zone and all over the ice, and obviously he’s impacting the game offensively.
“I think we’ve seen his value, what he’s brought to the power play. We’ve seen his power, what he brought to us in depth of offense. I feel that’s been consistent all year long. He’s been giving those things. When you play consistent hockey, when you do the right thing, some nights the puck is going to bounce your way and some nights you might get three. Some nights you might not get anything. But you’re playing a real strong game, and you keep doing that over time, you’ll get rewarded.”
O’Reilly spent the past three seasons in Buffalo, which can take its toll on anyone. While the Blues dealt three players and two draft picks to get him, they so far have come out ahead on the deal with the players dealt, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson, combining for three goals and four assists.
His point streak matches his career high.
“Just kind of establishing our game, getting in on that forecheck and not worrying about the numbers,” he said. “Just kind of doing what I can do to win each battle and create. You don’t go out there thinking how many points I’m going to get in a night. It’s doing what I can to win the game, and when I do the right things, I feel like I get rewarded for it, and you can see our line, too: When we do the right things, we get that pressure and we’re a tough line to play against.”
O’Reilly has been the center of gravity for the Blues so far, and the team has used him to try to build strength by putting players in proximity to him. Schwartz is struggling offensively? Put him next to O’Reilly and let him pull him along.
“When a guy is on top of his game like that, then guys want to play with him,” Yeo said. “Obviously it helps their game, helps them get to their game, and I think Schwartzie and Vladi (Tarasenko), both guys playing with him, it’s a good opportunity for them.”
O’Reilly has been essential in the big steps taken by the team’s third-ranked power play. He has two goals and six assists when the team is up a man.
O’Reilly has been going strong all season. The Blues have played 13 games, and he has points in 10 of them. Tarasenko has assists on four of O’Reilly’s seven goals, and O’Reilly has assists on four of Tarasenko’s six goals. It’s become a mutual appreciation society.
“I think at the start of the year I wasn’t really myself and I think I’m slowly starting to find my game a bit. (Before I was) just kind of working and turning pucks over,” O’Reilly said. “From that, we’re finding each other. We’re playing quick, we’re being dangerous, and if we want to have success, we’ve got to be a line that’s leading that charge.”
The other thing that continues to stand out about O’Reilly is how much he works. Long after most Blues forwards have returned to the dressing room, O’Reilly and his linemates will still be on the ice, working on things. It could be 15 or 20 minutes or more of extra time for the group.
“He’s one of the first guys on the ice and he’s always one of the last guys,” said winger Zach Sanford, who played six games on O’Reilly’s left before Schwartz pulled in. “He’s one of the hardest working guys on our team and in the league, and I think that’s a big part of his success. All the little stick skills might take some time to get to his level — he’s pretty good there — but the hard work and the positioning and being in the right spot at the right time, that’s been working for him, and that’s what I’m trying to get working for me.”
“I want to always continue to grow my game,” O’Reilly said. “I always want to be a student of the game and find ways and challenge myself and get better. It’s nice here, you see the amount of guys that work after practice on different things. We’re all moving in the right direction.”
That’s what the Blues need most right now. Moving in the right direction. Forward progress.