By now, you know the drill - promising young center, drafted by Nashville, makes the team but fails to stick. We've seen it with Rich Peverley, now one of Atlanta's key offensive pieces; and we just saw it again with Mike Santorelli, who has a chance to start the year centering Florida's 2nd line.
It's with a fair bit of trepidation, then, that we watch the development of Cal O'Reilly. The Predators have needed a 2nd scoring center ever since I can remember, and though Colin Wilson will grow into that role in time; the present sees the team without an offensive-minded player to work the line behind Matthew Lombardi and anchor a 2nd power play.
Barry Trotz has given O'Reilly a prime (and what I believe to be his last) opportunity to make an impact at the NHL level. In camp and the last several preseason games, he's centered Patric Hornqvist and Steve Sullivan on the 2nd line. Can he finally make the most of his chance, or will he be waived and lose his spot to a veteran like Jamie Lundmark?
All statistical information provided by hockeyreference.com.
Why He Can
- With slick moves, great vision, and good passing, O'Reilly is blessed with playmaking ability not found on the Nashville roster outside of J.P. Dumont and perhaps Colin Wilson. Cal scored 99 points in 65 games as a 19 year old for the Windsor Spitfires, including 81 assists. Ninety-nine. In 65 games. That's a 1 1/2 ppg average. Proving that it wasn't a product of playing in offense-dominant juniors, O'Reilly would go on to post 253 points in 265 AHL games over five years. You don't score at that kind of rate, in any league, without loads of talent. Is it AHL-only talent? Honestly, I don't know - but if he can't put it together in a 3rd year of NHL play, he probably never will.
- Quality linemates. It's apparent that Barry Trotz will provide O'Reilly with no excuses; starting him with last year's leading scorer Patric Hornqvist and Steve Sullivan. No longer is he weighed down with a bottom six role alongside Jerred Smithson or even Joel Ward. These are two of Nashville's best offensive players, and will put O'Reilly in a position to succeed. If he doesn't produce alongside Hornqvist and Sullivan, then he'll leave management with no choice but to move forward without him as his contract expires at the end of the year.
Why He Can't
- A combination of intangibles. Defense, hustle, strength - all the things that make up successful hockey players. In his career to date, I haven't seen these attributes too often. Nick Spaling, on the other hand, has them in spades. I'm not overly concerned with his slight build considering the success of players even smaller like Sullivan, but if O'Reilly fails to commit to the "Predator way", he'll find himself on the outside looking in even faster than he would without production.
- The depth chart. Even if O'Reilly were to post mediocre numbers (which he hasn't so far), there are quite a few other players who would surely like a spot on the big league roster. Colin Wilson will eventually be moved to center, which will leave Nashville with 4 NHL pivots, not including O'Reilly. Down the road, Blake Geoffrion and Zach Budish will be vying for places and it wouldn't make sense to keep O'Reilly on the books with younger, better, and cheaper players available.
In the end, I'm not very optimistic. Cal O'Reilly has played in 42 NHL contests and only scored 16 points. Marcel Goc put up over 30 last season centering predominantly Hornqvist and Sullivan; so why would Barry Trotz continue to put O'Reilly there when there's a better solution? I hope he succeeds - goodness knows we need offensive skill from our forwards, but it remains as I wrote in his season preview:
AHL success certainly doesn't always translate to NHL success, but for a player who has dominated that thoroughly, it's time to put up or shut up.
So what do you think? Will Cal O'Reilly finally break through as an NHLer, or are we witnessing his last days as a Nashville Predator? Vote in the poll and let us know your thoughts in the comments.