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The O'Reilly factor: NHL could soon have two Ryan O'Reillys

Ryan O’Reilly, a rising freshman hockey player at the University of Denver, met Ryan O’Reilly, now a forward for the Buffalo Sabres, after an Avalanche game in Dallas when he was 10 years old. They smiled, joked around a bit and posed for a picture before they went their separate ways.

There is a chance they might be reconnected soon, as the younger O’Reilly is expected to be selected in next week's NHL Draft in his hometown of Dallas. O’Reilly is ranked No. 58 among North American skaters on the NHL Central Scouting final rankings. 

In just a few years, there could be two players named Ryan O’Reilly in the NHL. Wouldn't it be something if they ended up on the same team? 

The two O'Reillys met when the elder O’Reilly was playing for the Avalanche and had a game against the Stars in Dallas. Young O’Reilly had been following his career since he was drafted in 2009, and the opportunity to meet the NHL player of the same name was one that the youth hockey player didn’t want to miss.

Stu Barnes, a Stars assistant coach and the father of one of the O'Reilly teammates, was able to set up a time for the two of them to meet after the game. O’Reilly was there, clad in his Dallas Stars Elite jersey, the youth hockey team he played for at the time.

“I don’t think he really realized who he was meeting,” O’Reilly said of the encounter. “I think he just thought it was one of his big fans down in Dallas.”

The elder O’Reilly eventually realized that they have the same name, and the two joked around for a few minutes before it was time to go. The younger O’Reilly said people have talked for years about the possibility of the two playing against each other or being teammates one day.

“He probably wouldn’t remember, but I think that's a pretty funny experience for guys like that,” O’Reilly said. “An opportunity like that to play with or against someone having the same name, things would get confusing but it's comical at the same time.”

O’Reilly is a power forward who prides himself in his ability to find the net in tight situations. He played youth hockey for the Dallas Stars Elite and led the U12, U14 and U16 hockey teams to a USA Hockey Rocky Mountain District Championships.

He then was drafted fourth overall by the Madison Capitols of the United States Hockey League in May 2016, where he spent the past two years. After playing in just seven games during his first season, O’Reilly played in 42 his second year, tallying 21 goals and 13 assists. He ranked second in points among rookies and earned USHL All-Rookie second-team honors.

Next fall he plans to head to the University of Denver to continue his hockey career, a move he made so he could be mentored by the coaching staff there while obtaining his degree.

“They have a very rich history of winning national championships and sending kids to the NHL,” he said. “I feel like it was the best decision for me to make at the end of the day.”

Denver won the 2017 national championship and has been in the NCAA Tournament every year dating back to 2007. If he is drafted, an NHL team has the rights to him for up to 30 days after he leaves college, meaning he also has the option of playing for only part of his eligibility and signing early.

O’Reilly comes from a hockey family, as his two older brothers both played. He plans to have 30 to 40 people surrounding him during the draft next week, including family members, friends and former teammates.

“The hockey community is really tight down here and I’ve played with so many different age groups in this town,” he said. “There's going to be a lot of people supporting me and I just think it's going to be a really great experience.”

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