Heading into the 2022-23 NHL offseason, the St. Louis Blues might still possess two big-name unrestricted free agents on their current roster. Both of them are superstars in their own right and cannot afford to be traded away.
Who are these key puzzle pieces for the Blues? Nobody special, just perennial Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko, who’s had several trade rumors erupt in the past month, and St. Louis’ own captain, Ryan O’Reilly.
Arguably the bigger of the two is O’Reilly, as he’s played in the league much longer than Vlad and with two other teams, Colorado and Buffalo. With 78 games played and 21 goals alongside 37 assists for 58 points in 2021-22, O’Reilly has already cemented himself as one of St. Louis’ best players by far.
He’s played almost a full season in all 4 years with the Blues, the only outlier being in 2020-21 where he played in 54 of 82 games. So what exactly makes him such a franchise player for the Blues, other than his outstanding stats?
O’Reilly’s Top-Tier Duality
It can undoubtedly be said that O’Reilly is within the league’s elite when it comes to two-way centers. He doesn’t rely solely on speed, which is a playing ability that deteriorates with age.
O’Reilly’s ability to use his stick in the defensive zone and win faceoffs are the two biggest reasons why his game ages well. Sure, he didn’t put up as stellar numbers in 2018-19, but St. Louis sees that isn’t the expectation for him anymore, and that’s totally fine. While O’Reilly doesn’t have the elite offensive talent that the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron and the Kings’ Anze Kopitar have, like them, he still makes a large impact on the game.
As long as he is centering a line with Brandon Saad and Jordan Kyrou on his wing, O’Reilly will have a huge impact on the future success of the Blues. He has been top five for Selke Trophy voting in all four of his seasons in St. Louis, which measures the impact of a two-way forward, winning the award in 2018-19.
O’Reilly Is A Captain the St. Louis Blues Can’t Afford to Lose
It’s worth bringing up that St. Louis have lost two captains in free agency over the past six seasons. That can’t continue to happen if the Blues want to keep being a good team. David Backes left for Boston in 2015-16 and Alex Piterangelo, who captained the Blues to their only Stanley Cup title in 2018-19 has since headed to Sin City and is now an alternate captain of the Vegas Golden Knights.
These are just two major reasons why St. Louis needs to hang on to Ryan O’Reilly for as long as possible. He’s one of their biggest playmakers, and if they were to lose him and go 3-for-3 on losing captains to free agency, this one would sting the most.