O'Reilly gets to the point of Predators' youth movement

Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 9:05pm

Cal O’Reilly is not one to keep track of how his points add up on a game-to-game basis. Then again, he doesn’t need to. 

“Friends and family are going to do that,” he said. “They’re going to text you and they’re going to call you when you’ve had a decent game or whatever. My focus is on team play and helping the team win.”

Although he’s more than 600 miles from his hometown of Varna, Ontario, it’s likely that the Nashville Predators’ center has not felt so close to his family in years. His goal in last Wednesday’s victory over Phoenix gave him at least one point in nearly half (11 of 23) of the Predators’ games up to that point of the season.

The cumulative effect of such consistent offense has been that the 24-year-old has been the team’s leading scorer throughout the majority of this season, which is now more than a quarter complete.

It’s a notable development given the offseason decision by management to place a greater burden for leadership on the youthful core of the team. Shea Weber, at 25 years old, was made captain and Ryan Suter, also 25, was named an alternate captain.

Now they have a young player as their leading scorer as well.

“I’m not even thinking about that,” O’Reilly said. “All I’m thinking about is playing as hard as I can and helping this team win. That’s the main thing — two points every night for this team. That’s the only thing I’m trying to do.”

Unwittingly, therefore, he’s also trying to buck history. 

Much more often than not, Nashville’s leading scorer (or scorers) has been someone in his 30s. Cliff Ronning had that distinction for four straight seasons beginning when he was 34. In fact, David Legwand — 22 years old in 2002-03 — is the only one under 30 to lead the Predators in scoring outright with 48 points.

Last season, 23-year-old Patric Hornqvist shared high-point honors with 36-year-old Steve Sullivan. Coincidentally, O’Reilly has spent much of this season as the center of a line with Sullivan on his left and Hornqvist on his right.

“[O’Reilly is] a great guy to play with,” Sullivan said. “You know he sees you. He doesn’t always get you the puck, but you know he sees the play and he sees the ice. … He can thread the needle on passes, and he’s really creative.”

That creativity has manifested in the form of many more assists than goals. In his final season of junior hockey at Windsor (of the Ontario Hockey League), after the Predators drafted him in the fifth round in 2005, O’Reilly had 81 assists and just 18 goals. Then, in nearly three full seasons and part of a fourth at Milwaukee, he had 56 goals and 197 assists.

Now the Predators want him to become a little more selfish.

“Something I’m trying to work on is to shoot the puck a little more, give myself another weapon,” O’Reilly said. “My thing is to always look to pass. I love passing; I love distributing the puck. But you have to score, too, and you have to make it tough on defenders.”

O’Reilly’s goal against Phoenix was his fifth of the season, which gave him as many as he had in 42 career NHL games prior to this season. He also had nine assists, which matched his total in 31 appearances for the Predators last season. 

“His game has matured more than anything, and that’s part of a player’s evolution,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re ready when they’re ready, not when we want them ready.”

As young as he is, O’Reilly might just be ready to lead the Predators in scoring for an entire season.