By noon on July 1, the first day of the NHL free agency period, Blues coach Mike Yeo was content with the additions of center Tyler Bozak and winger David Perron.
“If we would’ve stopped there, we would’ve been very happy,” Yeo said. “We identified those two guys as guys we felt would help our team.”
Of course, general manager Doug Armstrong didn’t stop there.
As Yeo put it, adding Ryan O’Reilly several hours later via trade with Buffalo was like enjoying Christmas one week and then another Christmas a week later.
(Yet another Christmas came July 10 when the Blues added Patrick Maroon in free agency.)
“It kind of kept getting better and better,” Yeo said Sunday before the Blues’ IceBreaker event at Ballpark Village.
In the case of O’Reilly, not only were the Blues further strengthening their center position, they were getting one of the league’s best faceoff men and top power-play scorers.
“I’ve had ‘O’Ry’ twice at the World Championships now,” said Yeo, who was part of Team Canada’s coaching staff in May as well as in 2016. “One thing that I love as a coach is he’s gonna be one of the first guys on the ice, and one of the last guys — if not the last guy — off the ice every day.
“He’s a guy that works at his trade, works extremely hard on his skills, on being ready and being prepared. And that’s a great quality. That’s something that ends up being contagious to the rest of the group.”
Such qualities contribute to what Yeo calls the team’s leadership culture. But there’s obviously a lot to like about O’Reilly when it comes to the actual playing of the game.
“He’s dominant in the faceoff circle, and he’s a guy that’s extremely effective on all areas of the ice,” Yeo said. “Defensively you can match him up against any of the top players in the league. Offensively he can contribute and play with the top players in the league.
“And obviously, both sides of the special teams he’s gonna factor very heavily into as well. Adding a player like that is not an easy thing to do. Obviously hats off to ‘Army’ for doing that.”
So, yes, O’Reilly can fill multiple roles — and Yeo has had nearly two months to think about how to use that versatility.
“Yeah, I think that’s something I take pride in,” O’Reilly said. “I want to be that guy that’s used in all situations, wherever (Yeo) needs and whatever the game calls for. That’s the kind of player I want to be.
“Obviously knowing Mike for a bit now, having a relationship already with him (via the World Championships), makes this transition a lot easier. I think it’s something that helps when we start up the season — we can jump right into it. There’s not that feeling each other out. We know what we both are like and let’s go to work.”
Logic says that Yeo keeps Jaden Schwartz and Braden Schenn together on one line, which could lead to Vladimir Tarasenko joining O’Reilly on another line.
Yeo said he doesn’t want to name any line combinations just yet. He said there’s a good chance the combos will be different from the first day of camp to the second. The Blues have more depth and more flexibility up front, so there could be more mixing and matching during camp and once the regular season starts.
“We’re going to have a lot more moving parts,” Yeo said.
But if he does put O’Reilly on the same line as Tarasenko, you won’t hear any complaints from O’Reilly.
“Obviously, I hope to get the opportunity,” O’Reilly said. “He’s one of the most elite scorers in the game. Playing against him for years now, seeing what he does, the way he shoots the puck, his sense out there — just a dangerous hockey player. You’ve always got to be aware of what he’s doing on the ice at all times.
“And to be playing with him, on the same team as him ... I hope to be setting him up and working hand in hand with him.”
Beyond that, Yeo said it’s possible you could see O’Reilly and Schenn, who are both centers, on the No. 1 power play unit.
“We’ve discussed a lot of different scenarios, but yes, you certainly could,” Yeo said. “First off, both guys have had success in different positions. ‘O’Ry’ has played basically everywhere you can play on a power play.
“I’ve seen him mostly in a net-front position and he’s been outstanding there. And when you think about Schenner, the most success he’s ever had is when he was playing in the middle of the ice.”
No matter how O’Reilly is deployed, he’s re-energized by the chance to play on what figures to be a Western Conference contender, especially after the frustration of playing on the league’s worst team last season in Buffalo.
“Right when I got traded here, just looking at the roster, looking at who they just signed, it jumps out at you,” O’Reilly said. “I think they’re in that win-now mindset. ...
“You can feel it. You can feel that if I come in and I perform the best that I can, we could do something real special here.”
TKACZUK TO RAMPAGE
Daniel Tkaczuk, who spent last season as an assistant coach and skills coach with the Blues, will work as an assistant coach with the team’s new American Hockey League affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.
The Rampage announced Monday that Tkaczuk and J.J. Daigneault have been hired as assistants this season for head coach Drew Bannister. Ryan Ward has been named video assistant coach.
The Rampage also named Koryd Lavimoniere as head athletic trainer, Steven Passineau as head equipment manager, Jack Markwardt as assistant equipment manager and Abe Edson as strength and conditioning coach.