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O'Reilly quickly becomes 'heart and soul' of the Sabres

After an hourlong practice ended Wednesday, Ryan O’Reilly accepted hugs and pats on the helmet for being selected to represent Buffalo in the NHL All-Star Game. He sheepishly smiled, then went back to work.

For more than 30 minutes, O’Reilly created drills to sharpen his skills and those of his teammates (videos below). It showed why he’s quickly become the leader the Sabres desperately needed.

“He’s come in and really been the heart and soul of our team,” coach Dan Bylsma said in First Niagara Center. “He’s played that way, practiced that way, acted that way.”

The NHL recognized O’Reilly’s efforts by picking him as one of 11 members of the Atlantic Division All-Star team. He wanted to be a go-to guy in Buffalo after being acquired from Colorado, and he’s succeeded.

Not that he sees a success story yet.

“I wanted this,” O’Reilly said. “I wanted to prove that I can be a huge part of a team. I’m obviously still trying to do it, and obviously being an All-Star is a step in that, but there’s so many things going forward that if you don’t win hockey games or be a team that competes for a Cup, I don’t think it matters, you know?

“We want to be a real team, a competitive team, and we’re not that right now. That’s something we have to get back to.”

The Sabres, who’ve lost five straight heading into Friday’s game in Chicago, are 29th in the 30-team league at 15-21-4. It’s why O’Reilly knows he needs to be even better despite leading the team with 16 goals and 34 points.

“Losing five straight, I’ve got to find a way to help lead,” he said. “Obviously, leadership is plural and everyone has to do different things, but I have to be a main guy that gets us going and gets us back to where we need to be.”

Below is a look at some of the drills O’Reilly created. He says he learned many from his father, Brian, who trains Ryan and brother Cal.

“One thing he always taught me was be creative with it,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “For those drills, it’s doing stuff uncomfortably. Trying to stickhandle the puck in uncomfortable areas, that’s how you get better.

“Being able to train in discomfort is much more than being in a comfort zone. Those are just little things that I think help my game, and hopefully it’s helping other guys.”

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