SUNRISE, Fla. - There probably hasn’t been an NHL player involved in more trade rumors than Ryan O’Reilly has been for the past couple of years. So the fact that it finally happened on draft day shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
O’Reilly is a guy the Colorado Avalanche loved. On the ice. When it came to crossing swords with him over a contract, that’s an entirely different story. And like the Boston Bruins did with Dougie Hamilton, the Avalanche did not relish the idea of going through a difficult negotiation that might go sideways, so they dealt him.
And the Buffalo Sabres, with a load of picks and prospects in their system, were the beneficiary, acquiring a top possession player and former Lady Byng winner, along with Jamie McGinn, in exchange for defenseman Nikita Zadorov, underachieving center Mikhail Grigorenko, 20-year-old prospect J.T. Compher and the 31st overall pick in this year’s draft.
Along with the acquisition of David Legwand earlier in the day in a deal that got them goaltender Robin Lehner, we know that Sabres GM Tim Murray is not afraid to make a deal. And we know that getting two centers and drafting another in Jack Eichel almost certainly greases the skids for the Sabres to buy out Cody Hodgson this summer.
We also know the Sabres will be a much better team in 2015-16 than they were last season. Murray is desperate to get out of the first row of tables at the draft, which traditionally go to the worst teams, and he may very well get his wish. With a legitimate goaltender and suddenly a lot of strength down the middle, the Sabres are putting together a pretty decent roster here. With Evander Kane expected to recover from shoulder surgery, they suddenly have some real pop up front.
O’Reilly, meanwhile, provides the Sabres with a very good-two way center who will be able to take some of the pressure off Eichel and not force him into a role on the top line and the prospect of going nose-to-nose with the best checking centers in the Eastern Conference every night.
Going the other way is Zadorov, who showed in junior hockey at least that he can play a gritty, in-your-face game and doesn’t seem intimidated. The real key to the deal could be Grigorenko, who played to mostly negative reviews anytime he played for the Sabres. Earlier this season, former coach Ted Nolan publicly panned Grigorenko for the lack of urgency in his game. And with three years of being shuttled from Buffalo back to junior and to the AHL, Grigorenko could probably use a change of scenery.
The fact that he’ll get it in Colorado should bring out the best in him. Grigorenko played junior hockey for Patrick Roy and was a star for the Quebec Remparts. If there’s anyone who can hasten his development into an NHL regular, it’s probably Roy.