Cal O’Reilly caught my eye about four years ago when his first full season as a pro saw him garner 65 points. He had impressive junior numbers, but as a smaller player (he weighed closer to 160 pounds when he was drafted in the fifth round, 150th overall in 2005), it seemed as though his chances at full-time work in the NHL were slim.
Still, he was relentless in trying to earn a shot with Nashville and as a sophomore with Milwaukee he started posting a point per game. From that point on, the American League ceased to really be a challenge. Still, if you’re not a top 50 or 60 pick in the NHL, you don’t get as many chances. Nor do you get as many quality chances. Not when you’re in camp fighting for a job against a player who was selected 100 spots ahead of you. But O’Reilly played so well that Nashville was almost forced to call him up for some looks. And his 16 points in 42 NHL contests prior to this season were good enough to be taken seriously. But would it be serious enough to get a job on a scoring line?
His talent is wasted on a depth or checking line. He’s an adept passer. Actually, he’s more like an assist machine. His ability to find the open man and see a scoring opportunity several steps ahead of the play should be considered among the elite players in this league – but we would never know this if he were forced to line up with Jerrod Smithson and Wade Belak.
Fortunately, he has seen time with an energized Steve Sullivan, as well as Martin Erat (when healthy) or Patric Hornqvist. You’re not going to find better goal scorers on this team than those three, so O’Reilly is in the perfect position to succeed. It says here that Sullivan is playing and producing like he did pre-back-surgery because of O’Reilly’s presence – and not the other way around. Now with four points in three games (all of them assists, of course), the older brother of Colorado’s Ryan is off to a great start. Because Nashville plays such a defensive style, it is tough to see any player getting to 65 points this year. But Cal will be one of three or four guys who could top 55...
Another underrated player is Clarke MacArthur, the Toronto winger who was cast off by both the Sabres (for two draft picks) and the Thrashers (to save some money). But that could turn out to be a mistake and those teams perhaps should have seen this coming – this will be MacArthur’s fourth full NHL season and that is often the year offensive forwards take a big step.
For three consecutive seasons, MacArthur posted more than a point per game in the Western League and it took him just two years to get to that pace in the American League. Perhaps now we’ll get to see what kind of player he’ll be in the NHL. It’s funny that he has more career goals than assists in the NHL, given that he was more of a setup man at other levels, but he’s starting to discover that shooting the puck as opposed to passing it is working out much better for him. He is not getting placed on lines with 30-goal snipers like he was in the AHL and WHL so he needs to be that sniper. This is an example of why a player sometimes finds his way in the fourth season – it takes them that long to redefine themselves.
MacArthur will probably never be more than a 25-goal, 55-point player, especially playing with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin (both underrated players in their own right). But he does have that intriguing upside that makes you wonder if, in the right circumstances, he could get 35 goals and 70 points. This year will tell us a lot. In the meantime, he is off to a hot start with five goals and six points in four games. As long as the Leafs keep rolling, he will too...
Alexander Radulov, who is still Nashville’s property, is absolutely destroying the Kontinental League. Again. After finishing fourth in the league last year, he is leading it this year with 25 points in 14 games. This is probably bad news for Radulov owners. Even though his contract expires after this season, it’s hard to imagine he would return to the NHL given that he has one more year left at $800,000 with Nashville. The KHL will be offering their leading scorer millions of dollars to stay. Millions.
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