The Ryan O’Reilly trade had a real “deck chairs on the Titanic” vibe when it went down last offseason. O’Reilly, who was depressed after losing so many games up in Buffalo, went over to St. Louis in exchange for three replacement-level players and some draft picks, and as the Blues struggled to win in the first half of the season, it looked like the perennial 20-goal scorer had just swapped one bad team for another.
But we all know what happened after that. The Blues suddenly became one of the most unbeatable teams in the world, made a run through the postseason, and now, they’re just one win away from the Stanley Cup. In these last two wins, after scoring just one goal in his previous 17 games, O’Reilly has been St. Louis’s best skater not wearing black-and-white.
From afar, O’Reilly is a fascinating weirdo—the kind who obsessively and endlessly tries to tweak and perfect each aspect of his game with any trick or tool that could work. He’s got a singular type of stick—almost flat but with a wild curve at the toe—that nobody else in hockey appears to use. And when he trains, he’s bouncing balls off his stick while sitting on exercise balls and walking through obstacle courses.
Perhaps because of that idiosyncratic hard work or maybe just out of luck, O’Reilly’s three goals in the past two games have all been marvels of quick-thinking and perfect positioning. In Game 4, before anyone else had even settled in, O’Reilly went wraparound and beat Tuukka Rask, getting away from Torey Krug on one side of the net and moving to the other before anyone could meet him.
His reflexes seem even beyond what should be expected of a superhuman NHL player. His second goal of that game—to break a 2-2 tie—was probably his best of the series. The opportunity was created by Alex Pietrangelo and the rebound he forced Rask to give out, but it was O’Reilly whose stick seemed magnetized to that puck as it bounced freely into the slot. Somehow, he makes locating and smacking a moving object into a net in just a split-second look so easy.
Finally, O’Reilly scored the icebreaker in Game 5 of the Blues’ 2-1 win on Thursday. This was a goal of positioning and calm—of knowing exactly where to be when teammate Zach Sanford went behind the net, and then executing perfectly when he got the puck to put a nifty backhand above Rask. Between the puck arriving at Sanford’s stick and the goal horn sounding, O’Reilly doesn’t even break his stride.
O’Reilly anticipates so much about the game so well, he probably already knows who’s going to win this series, and who’ll get the Conn Smythe Trophy, and whether or not I’ll ever discover the secret to true happiness. I appreciate him keeping quiet about all those things as much as I appreciate how he’s used his clairvoyance when the Blues have needed it most.