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Ryan O'Reilly: Sabres in good hands moving forward

Ryan O'Reilly is ramping things up for his first season as a member of the St. Louis Blues.

The former Sabres center joined several new St. Louis players, including former Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson, at the city's Ballpark Village on Sunday to join Blues legend Bob Plager in unveiling the club's vintage throwback jersey. Then he headed to Toronto for this week's elite player BioSteel camp.

"There's a lot of good things going on there. It's a great group of guys," O'Reilly said at camp on Tuesday. "It's very refreshing. Obviously in Buffalo there were a lot of good pieces but we couldn't seem to get it together. They have a new look now but it was tough not being close to making the playoffs. It just wears on you.

"Getting to St. Louis helps me perform. If we work, we're going to get rewarded. It's a recharge. It's shifted. All the training this summer, a Stanley Cup is possible. If we come together, we can do it. It's not going to be easy but it's definitely possible."

O'Reilly, who could be centering St. Louis sharpshooter Vladimir Tarasenko, is one of several newcomers for a retooled lineup that also includes former Toronto center Tyler Bozak and winger David Perron, who is returning to the Blues after one season in Vegas. The Blues finished last season with 94 points, getting knocked out of the playoffs on the last day of the regular season by a loss in Colorado. They had made six straight trips to the postseason, highlighted by a trip to the Western Conference final in 2016.

O'Reilly was traded to St. Louis on July 1 in a 5-for-1 deal that landed the Sabres Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson and two draft picks. The deal came in the wake of his infamous locker cleanout day comments that he had "lost the love" for the game because of three-year run on non-playoff seasons in Buffalo.

"When I talked about losing the love, I think it was over time, a few periods over the year, you know, that you are in a losing streak and you don’t feel great coming to the rink," he said. "It wasn’t over the whole year. This is the greatest job in the world. It is refreshing to going to St. Louis where that expectation and everyone kind of has that mindset of 'we’re doing this now.'

"The pieces are there that if we come together we are going to give ourselves a chance and that is something that is real cool to be a part of. In the back of my mind training there’s excitement there, like, 'I can have a good year and come in strong and make us stronger and help us win.' It is a shifted mindset that obviously is really exciting."

Speaking later Tuesday in an interview on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto, O'Reilly said he was surprised the Sabres got so much back for him but that he feels the team remains in good hands moving forward.

“The Sabres are in great hands. The GM, the coaching staff. There are a lot of good pieces there," he said, referring to Jason Botterill and Phil Housley. "The turnaround in this league is so quick with how young players develop. They are going to have a good team there. I know some of the guys personally and guys want to win. Once they get in a rhythm and that confidence comes, they are going to be a dangerous team.

"It may not be right away, it may take a little bit but still there’s a lot of good pieces there and the fans should be very optimistic. There is a bright future in Buffalo for sure."

One thing not in O'Reilly's future is the constant comparisons to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who added John Tavares to their burgeoning lineup over the summer.

"When I saw Tavares sign there, I was like 'I'm getting traded out of there,' " he said. "'That's nice. I don't have to see them as much now.'"

The Sabres don't see O'Reilly until they meet the Blues on Dec. 27 in St. Louis. The Blues come to KeyBank Center on March 17.

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