By Patrick King
Sporting a unique nickname and an uncanny desire to succeed, Ryan O’Reilly’s name isn’t one that garners the same intrigue and interest as some of the other notable draft-eligible players this season.
The Ontario Hockey League is once again looking like a National Hockey League scouts’ haven as this year’s list of eligible players is a virtual ‘who’s who’ of star-studded prospects. Names like John Tavares, Matt Duchene and Nazem Kadri top most lists but as one scout indicates, O’Reilly’s name could move up the charts this season.
“It’s all going to fringe on his performance this year,” said David Burstyn, chief correspondent for the hockey prospect web site, McKeen’s Hockey. “It’s up to him whether or not he’s going to be a household name and be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys.”
Ryan O’Reilly’s name is one that transformed in his childhood. While growing up in the small town of Varna, Ont., which borders Lake Huron an hour north of London, his home was where his name first began setting off confusion. The O’Reilly family opened up their home to foster kids throughout Ryan’s childhood, taking in excess of 30 children over the years, which ultimately led to his dad coining the nickname ‘Snook.’
“Our family used to take in a lot of foster kids and a lot of them were named Ryan so when (my dad) would call ‘Ryan,’ too many kids would come so he just decided to call me ‘Snook,’” O’Reilly said. “I think he heard it a lot when he was younger; he has Irish background. It’s some sort of Irish word for a mischievous kid.”
Since then, the name has caught on like wildfire. In fact, some of his teachers at school are among the few who still refer to him as Ryan. As he put it, “It’s pretty much my real name.”
Although his name has offered some confusion at school, there was no mistaking the kid named Snook’s talent and dedication to the sport from his teacher on the ice. Erie Otters head coach Robbie Ftorek, who has a well-decorated coaching career with stops in Los Angeles, New Jersey and Boston in the NHL, sometimes needs to harness in O’Reilly’s passion.
“He pushes himself too much sometimes but it’s all for good reasoning,” Ftorek said. “One of my hardest things with him is to get him to relax a little bit and to realize it takes 20 people to win and also 20 people to lose.
“He takes things quite hard. He’s very driven and he doesn’t like to lose.”
It’s clear from talking with him that his competitive spirit remains intact but the sophomore forward acknowledges he has been learning to look at disappointments in a different light.
“(Ftorek) has helped me learn how to let go of something that’s bugging me and move on,” O’Reilly said. “There’s another day and you just try to learn as much as you can each day and build off each day.”
It’s often said that some of the most uniquely-talented players possess a drive and love for the game that far exceeds that of their peers. As teammate Shane Owen says, truer words were never spoken as O’Reilly tends to arrive an hour or two earlier than his teammates to prepare himself for games.
“I’ve never seen someone so dedicated to the sport before,” Owen said. “He does everything he can just to make himself better.”
His playmaking ability and on-ice vision are widely considered to be his finest attributes which shouldn’t be too surprising considering older brother Cal dazzled as a member of the Windsor Spitfires. Despite being five years younger, Ryan often played recreationally with his brother and his friends, which in turn forced him to learn and adapt quicker.
“I think I developed vision, learning how to think faster and move the puck quicker,” Ryan said of the time spent playing with and against his brother. “A typical big brother; you look up to him and try to be like him.”
The biggest weakness to O’Reilly’s game is his speed and skating ability. Burstyn, however, doesn’t feel as though his skating will hamper him much given his strong anticipation and awareness.
“If people want to hold his skating against him, you need not look further than Joshua Bailey and Logan Couture who were both top 10 NHL picks,” Burstyn said. “They were criticized considerably for their skating in their draft years, too.
“He’s got such great hand-eye coordination. He’s able to make goalies look very foolish in tight spaces. If he can get down low he usually garners results.”
O’Reilly maintains the only goals he has set this season are team goals after the Otters had an abysmal season in his rookie year. However, it didn’t stop him from declaring what he would like to hear from scouts after this season is finished.
“Hopefully that he’s a fast player,” O’Reilly declared of himself. “That’s one thing I’d like to hear that I’ve really improved my speed and that I’m competitive and a winner. I want to be known as a winner.”
Coincidentally, in order for O’Reilly to place his name among the elite draft-eligible prospects, Burstyn shares the sentiment that team success will be vital for his draft stock.
“Erie’s success hinges on what he’s able to do,” Burstyn said. “If he can get them into the playoffs I think that will weigh heavily in his draft favour.
“I think by the end of the year this is going to be a guy that will warrant a legitimate first-round selection.”
And in the process, he’ll be making a name for himself as Ryan ‘Snook’ O’Reilly.