1. Ryan O’Reilly
There was only one other option to put in the top spot, but I don’t think many would have bought into my argument about Jake Allen leading from the bench. In all seriousness, there is no other option for the best Blues player in 2018-19 than Ryan O’Reilly.
Other publications have made a case that he should be considered for the Hart Trophy for most valuable player. There is a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening, but the logic is sound.
First, he ended up being the team’s leading scorer. That sounds simple given the guy’s talent, but it is not always easy to do. You come in to a new team and often look to defer, whether that be passes or shots or in the locker room.
We did see a little of that from O’Reilly. He seemed hesitant to really show himself on the ice at the start.
Even so, he was scoring right from the start for the Blues. Despite the team’s poor start, he had four points in his first two games and 14 in his first 10 as a Blue.
O’Reilly never really let up either. He had one cold spell of five pointless games in late February. Other than that, he never went more than three games without a point.
He finished the season with a team-high 77 points. That’s the most points by a member of the Blues since Pavol Demitra had 93 back in 2002-03.
In addition to the pure scoring, he made everyone around him better. The only linemate he had that didn’t really benefit was Pat Maroon.
The connection was slow, but he formed a great partnership with Tarasenko. Then, when the team needed to try other things, he was instrumental in kick-starting Perron’s surge up the goal chart. O’Reilly and Schenn also formed some very good chemistry that they kept rolling once Tarasenko got healthy from a brief illness.
Also, he found a way to lead this team by example. You could tell he was reluctant to lead in the locker room since so many guys had been here longer and there were clearly issues behind the scenes.
You cannot help but follow a guy that works as hard as he does. He’s the stereotypical first to the arena and last to leave kind of player.
He would stay after practice to help young guys like Robert Thomas with their faceoffs and would also do the same with youth players in the St. Louis area. While there were plenty of games where the entire team had no energy, there were very few, if any, that spring to mind where it looked like O’Reilly was taking the night off.
Going forward, there will be arguments about whether he should be given the C or not. That is for a different time.
For now, you need that kind of drive and work ethic to push other guys to be their best. In 2018-19, and hopefully for years to come, O’Reilly really was the rising tide that lifted all the ships.