Penguins: Life of center Cal O'Reilly takes big turn
Share with others:
Circumstances dictated that it was time to make a move.
The general manager had watched his team, studied his depth chart, and concluded he had no choice but to bring in a center. Especially because he had no way of knowing when the gifted young player considered a major piece of the franchise's foundation would make it into the lineup.
So, he went out and got Cal O'Reilly -- about three months before the Penguins did the same thing.
The Penguins claimed O'Reilly on re-entry waivers Wednesday from Phoenix, which had acquired him from Nashville in late October. The Coyotes surrendered a fourth-round draft choice for him, and general manager Don Maloney wasn't complaining about the price.
In a news release announcing the deal, he called O'Reilly "a young, highly skilled player who will help us at the center position."
Which sounds a lot like what Penguins officials have been saying since O'Reilly joined the organization.
They surely hope his impact is greater than the one he had with the Coyotes; O'Reilly had two goals and three assists in 22 appearances with Phoenix, and spent five games with its American Hockey League affiliate in Portland after passing through conventional waivers unclaimed.
"Obviously, I wanted to go there and contribute and help, and it didn't work out," O'Reilly said. "It's up to me to go perform. I can't make excuses. ... They didn't think it was a good fit, so they wanted to get me out of there, I guess."
The Coyotes had traded for him because they were unable to reach a contract agreement with Kyle Turris, who eventually was traded to Ottawa. The Penguins brought in O'Reilly because of the hole created by the absence of Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal.
"With our situation at center ice, with a couple of guys out, [we will] give him an opportunity and see how he does," general manager Ray Shero said.
The investment in O'Reilly, who will be a restricted free agent after this season, is appreciably smaller than the one Phoenix made. They are responsible only for a prorated portion of 50 percent of his $1,050,000 salary, a sum Shero placed at about $190,000.
"It's one of those low-risk things that, hopefully, we can get some benefit out of," he said, adding that grabbing O'Reilly on "re-entry waivers made sense for us where it probably didn't a few weeks ago at full price."
Finding room for O'Reilly on the payroll wasn't tough; it's too early to say whether figuring out precisely where to play him will be more of a challenge.
Because the Penguins had an unscheduled day off Thursday, O'Reilly won't skate with his new team until today.
And while there's no word yet on precisely where he will be used, it seems likely that he'll get at least some work alongside winger Steve Sullivan, a linemate in Nashville with whom he meshed well during the first half of last season.
"We had good chemistry," O'Reilly said. "We both had good starts to that year, then we both ended up getting hurt, and that was the end of that."
O'Reilly broke a leg last Jan. 2, and did not get into a game again until fall. And there are some who suspect the effects of that fracture on his game lingered long after the bone healed.
"He's trying to get his game back," Shero said.
O'Reilly, 25, was Nashville's fifth-round draft choice in 2005, when Shero was the Predators assistant general manager.
Their time together with the Predators was brief, because Shero succeeded Craig Patrick as general manager here the next year. Nonetheless, O'Reilly said, "it's good to have someone in the organization who does know me."
The Penguins seem to believe they have a pretty good book on O'Reilly. That doesn't mean he'll live up to the promise they feel he has, but Shero and his scouts clearly believe he's capable of contributing at this level.
"Cal is a real skilled player," Shero said. "Real good vision, very good hockey sense. A year ago, year-and-a-half ago, he was a pretty promising player. We'll see how he does."
First Published February 3, 2012 12:00 am