Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Blues name O'Reilly 23rd captain in franchise history

Tarasenko, Schenn, Parayko named assistant captains 
in new leadership group heading into 2020-21 season

ST. LOUIS -- One of the worst kept secrets was unveiled by the Blues on Wednesday when they named Ryan O'Reilly as the 23rd captain in franchise history.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly was named 23rd captain in Blues
history on Wednesday.
O'Reilly, 29, replaces Alex Pietrangelo, who was captain since 2016. Pietrangelo left the Blues as an unrestricted free agent when he signed with the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12.

O'Reilly seemed like a shoe-in for the honor with his infectious work ethic both at practice, after practice, before, during and after games.

"Obviously it's very different for sure, but I'm excited for it," O'Reilly said. "It's definitely an honor to be seen in this light from the organization and the players as well. To hear from them and get their support, it's pretty amazing. I know my parents and family are very excited too. It's something that will take a little while to get used to, but it's an exciting challenge for it."

Along with O'Reilly, the Blues also named Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Colton Parayko as assistant captains. 

"We are pleased to announce Ryan as the Captain of the St. Louis Blues,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said in a statement. "Ryan, along with Vladimir, Brayden and Colton will have our full support as we move forward."

Parayko has been dubbed to replace the role and minutes vacated by former captain Alex Pietrangelo, who held the role since 2016 after taking over for David Backes when Backes signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins.

Pietrangelo left the Blues via free agency when he signed a seven-year, $61.6 million contract.

"He's already an amazing leader and probably one of the nicest guys on the planet. He truly is an amazing guy that really cares about every single person. His game too, the way he performs, he's a guy that just takes it over sometimes, which is very impressive to see. He has a ton of respect from everyone in this room. It's not necessarily me teaching him, it's him constantly doing what he does. He just has a presence and I think with Petro being gone, his role enhances for sure, which I think he will do a great job of elevating to it. He's a huge piece to this team and it's exciting to see he'll be getting more opportunities."

O'Reilly moves into the role Pietrangelo held the past four seasons and got his blessings from the former captain.

"It was very nice of him," O'Reilly said. "He reached out and we just sent a few messages back and forth and such, but he's very supportive of it, which was very nice to hear from him. We're definitely going to miss him, but he kind of sent an olive branch too if there's anything I ever need, don't hesitate to call him. I probably wouldn't want to reveal too much since he's now the enemy. To have that support from him and he's been here for so long and built this culture. It's great to have the support from him and to reach out of I need to."

O'Reilly will begin his third season with the Blues and his 12th in the NHL; he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres July 1, 2018 for forwards Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick.

"Ryan’s work ethic on and off the ice and his commitment day in and day out is second to none,” Blues coach Craig Berube said in a statement. "He leads by example with how hard he works during practices and our games and he relays the right message from our coaching staff to our entire team."

O'Reilly, who has played in 804 NHL games (153 with the Blues) went from losing his love for the game in what turned out to be his last season with the Sabres in 2017-18 to winning a Stanley Cup in 2019, a Conn Smythe Trophy and Selke Award with the Blues.

"I haven't had really much time to really look back," O'Reilly said. "I'm too busy trying to prepare as best as we can for the season and stuff that's going on here, but it's amazing. It's amazing how things change. To go from one thing to winning and then to now this being a captain, it's something I never thought would happen. It's pretty amazing, but obviously there's a lot of work that comes with it that will be very challenging and fun."

O'Reilly was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft and learned under then-Avs captain, defenseman Adam Foote, once he dabbled in wearing the captaincy as a junior.

"Gosh, I can't even remember the last time I wore a 'C' but it might have been an under-18 team with Team Canada," O'Reilly said. "When I was young, I wore it a few times. It was definitely a cool experience then and such. 

"Over my career, I think as I've kind of gotten older and such, you kind of pay attention to the way guys lead more and more and when I first came into the league, I had Adam Foote as a captain and remember what he did and just the relationships that he had with the staff and everyone. It was pretty amazing to see and it's definitely something that you admired and looked up to and eventually wanted to be that kind of guy. I know coming here and being part of this group and the veteran groups, I was blown away seeing what it takes to lead and seeing Petro and seeing how he handles himself and the other veterans here. I think I learned a lot in these past two years of what it takes and how hard it is but also how rewarding it can be."

Ryan O'Reilly talks after the Blues won Game 7 of the 
Stanley Cup Final in 2019.
With O'Reilly, Tarasenko, Schenn and Parayko, it ushers in a new wave of leadership that isn't so new. These players were all leaders without always wearing a letter (aside from Tarasenko) on a regular basis but were considered part of the close bond the Blues considered themselves having that helped them persevere when they made their Cup run.

But replacing the likes of Alexander Steen, who called it a career last week, Jay Bouwmeester, who is likely to retire after suffering a cardiac episode last season, Pietrangelo and Jake Allen, who was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in the off-season, will be hard to replace.

"What those guys built here is something special," O'Reilly said. "They were really responsible for each other and made sure they competed at everything they did. Coming in here two years ago, I really took notice of it and saw how important it was. Our leadership group has talked about it. That's something we want to maintain. We want to play like Steener, the way every time he touched the ice, he played so hard and did whatever he could to win. That's why I think we are the team we are now and we have to improve on as well. It's definitely carry on what these guys have built. There's going to be little things that we have to find our own way, but with the staples of what's kind of been built here are definitely very important for us."

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