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O'Reilly's career ascent continues at World Cup

TORONTO -- Jack Eichel talked during Team North America's camp how starkly his life changed in just 12 months. Fellow Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly had a good laugh when the story was related to him here this week.

In just 15 months, O'Reilly has gone from an unwanted piece in Colorado to the highest-paid player in Sabres history to a member of Team Canada in the highest level of international hockey of his career.

O'Reilly was named Tuesday as Tyler Seguin's injury replacement and immediately hit the road for Canada's exhibition win over Russia. The host nation opens tournament play at 8 Saturday night against Team Czech Republic in Air Canada Centre (ESPN2).

"It's amazing how quick things can change in this game. And for me, it's really been for the better," O'Reilly, 25, told The Buffalo News here this week. "I love where we're at in Buffalo. I love the city. It's been great for my career, a really excellent change. I was driving from Buffalo to Pittsburgh for the exhibition game, going down I-90 like I used to do to go to Erie when I played in junior, and now I was joining Team Canada. I couldn't really believe it."

O'Reilly centered the fourth line Wednesday with wingers Claude Giroux of Philadelphia and Joe Thornton of San Jose, a veteran whom O'Reilly calls one of his favorite players in the league while he was growing up.

"Ryan can really do a lot," said Thornton. "First game, he hasn't done anything with us yet and we take seven penalties and he's out there killing them all night. When he has the puck, he knows what to do with it. He sees the ice very well."

And don't tell Thornton that O'Reilly is the designated grinder on a team of stars. O'Reilly led the Sabres in scoring last year with 60 points, including a career-high 39 assists, and his seven-year, $52.5-million contract extension kicks in this season.

"You look at what he does for his team and Ryan is a star too," Thornton said. "He can play on the power play, score goals, kill penalties. He can do so much. It's cool to have a versatile player like that."

O'Reilly centered Thornton and Colorado's Matt Duchene during Friday's practice. Giroux will be the healthy scratch for Saturday's opener. O'Reilly joked that the Team Canada lineup is almost like building a video game and said he'll be interested to see what the experience is like playing for the red and white at home. He's won two gold medals overseas for Canada in the World Championships.

"It's an enjoyable pressure," he said. "Every time we put on a jersey in Canada, we're expected to win and be the best team in hockey. That's something we all take. It's our game. I remember growing up watching Canada and if they didn't win it was disappointing. It's pressure but it's wanted pressure. Really special."

O'Reilly knows the Sabres are likely looking at some pressure as well about making the playoffs for the first time since 2011. But he said he's thrilled with the acquisitions of Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov. No less an expert than coach Dan Bylsma pegged 95 points as a goal during the team's July development camp.

"I think it's very doable," O'Reilly said. "For us as players, we have to be smart with our youth. We have to have goals but we have to stay even-keeled. You have to find that maturity quickly and it's going to be tough but I'm really looking forward to the challenge."

O'Reilly said he's also looking forward to playing the season without legal proceedings hanging over his head. He was accused of DUI in July of 2015 after crashing his truck into a Tim Horton's near London, Ont., and the charges dragged on for 12 months until they were finally dropped over the summer.

"We had to be smart with it in terms of the season," he said. "I thought it might have been taken care of a long time ago but it's good to put it behind me. ... I knew it would be a long process. Once it got going, it was good to be taken care of."


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