NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Ryan O’Reilly was ready to accept the Blues’ captaincy.
Now in his 12th NHL season, the 29-year-old forward has watched how captains he’s played under handled the role. Adam Foote knew the right time to speak up during O’Reilly’s first years in the league with the Avalanche. Gabriel Landeskog, despite his young age at the time, matured into the role and dealt with the responsibility like a veteran. Brian Gionta made sure to take care of everyone in the Sabres dressing room. Alex Pietrangelo’s leadership helped steer the Blues from cellar dwellers to champions.
As we grow, we take little pieces of those who influenced us. O’Reilly has been able to fill his locker of knowledge and experience as he takes on the leadership role in St. Louis.
“It’s very exciting,” O’Reilly said. “You think of all the guys that’ve worn the ‘C’ here and to be amongst that crew is pretty special — from the Hall Famers that are in there and guys that I grew up watching and pretending to be. To be amongst them was definitely an honor and also exciting, too. Just being named [captain], I feel like you automatically just feel certain responsibility for the organization and all the players now.”
There is pressure that comes to wearing the ‘C’ on your jersey. Some external, some internal. Everyone looks to you for answers and leadership, especially when things are bad. How one navigates those bumps along the way factors into team success. O’Reilly saw that first-hand during the Blues’ Stanley Cup winning season in 2018-19.
“You bring that weight on yourself if you want it,” he said. “I think it’s a very important role. You need everyone on your team and I think it’s the captain’s job is to get everyone in sync. If there’s one group or one player, [or] something’s going on with the coaching staff, if things aren’t seamless, it’s gonna be very tough to win. And I think that’s the goal of the captain is to be responsible for everyone and get the team moving the right way.”
O’Reilly’s goal is to follow Pietrangelo and lift the Stanley Cup as team captain. The Blues didn’t experience a championship hangover last season. When the NHL paused in March they were atop the Western Conference with 94 points and had the second-highest points percentage (.662) in the league. They stumbled in the Round Robin portion of the Return to Play going 0-2-1 and were eliminated in the First Round by the Canucks in six games.
The offseason saw Pietrangelo sign with Vegas, but GM Doug Armstrong brought in Torey Krug and Mike Hoffman to bolster both ends of the ice. Those additions have kept the Blues in the mix as Cup contenders and re-energized them for another run.
“Last year was very disappointing,” O’Reilly said. “I thought we had a very good team and we expected to go a lot farther and give ourselves another chance. To be knocked out in the First Round, it was hard. But we look at it now and we added some new pieces, our depth is incredible, it’s time to take it back. We feel we have the pieces here. It’s not gonna be easy, but that’s our goal.”
Opening night coverage begins with a special edition of NHL Live at 5:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN, leading into coverage of Penguins-Flyers. Kathryn Tappen anchors studio coverage throughout the evening with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp as well as NHL insider Bob McKenzie.