BUFFALO – Their paths had never crossed until five months ago, when Team Canada chose Sabres winger Tyler Ennis and center Ryan O’Reilly to represent its world championship squad in the Czech Republic.
For three weeks, as the Canadians roared to a gold medal, O’Reilly’s many talents, the little details in his game, wowed Ennis. By the end of the tournament, they had become good friends.
When Ennis got home, he spoke to Tim Murray. As a young veteran assuming a bigger role, Ennis felt comfortable giving his general manager an honest take on O’Reilly. Ennis knew O’Reilly was on the outs with the Colorado Avalanche.
“I just said, ‘Maybe this guy’s underrated,’” Ennis said Tuesday. “‘If what I’m hearing is true with Colorado, he might be moved at some point. We should maybe try to get him somehow.’ He agreed.”
On June 26, shortly after they spoke, Murray acquired O’Reilly in a blockbuster deal. Tonight, 89 days later, Ennis and O’Reilly will skate with Evander Kane in the preseason home opener against the Ottawa Senators inside the First Niagara Center, the first game for the Sabres’ new No. 1 line.
“Tim’s been very receptive,” Ennis said. “I think that’s a good quality.”
Hearing Ennis, who spent 33 seconds Tuesday rattling off O’Reilly’s qualities, lobbied his GM to acquire him was special.
“To be wanted like that and be seen like that from a guy I respect, who I think is a fantastic player, I think it’s a good start of things to come,” O’Reilly said.
On paper at least, the trio could possess enough talent to become a top scoring line. The speedy Ennis, 25, has scored 20 goals in all three of his full NHL seasons, including the last two. O’Reilly, 24, has hit the 55-point mark three times and had 28 goals and 64 points two seasons ago. Kane, 24, scored 30 goals four years ago. Tonight will be Kane’s Sabres debut and first game since Feb. 2.
“There’s two guys there, you give them the puck, they’re going to make something happen,” O’Reilly said. “For me … I think if I’m a responsible center and do good in my own end, if I get the puck up to those guys, we’re going to create a lot. There’s also going to be things we figure out. It’s still so early.”
Putting the slick Ennis beside the playmaking O’Reilly was a no-brainer.
“I view him as our best puck-distributing guy,” new Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said about O’Reilly. “I think he’s a guy who needs and thrives off … having somebody (talented) to play with, and I think Tyler fits that extremely well. I’ve seen it in the first four days of them being on the ice together reading off each other, playing off each other. I’m pretty excited about seeing it in a game.”
Ennis added: “We got some chemistry. (O’Reilly and I are) similar players in how we think offensively. He makes a lot of little plays.”
Bylsma noticed one of Ennis’ little plays when training camp opened Friday.
“We’re in Day One of training camp and we’re in a scrimmage, and he’s the guy blocking a shot,” Bylsma said.
That tenacity, the want Ennis showcases, mixes well with his slick skill. Bylsma knows Ennis from his days coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I think Tyler’s one of the guys that you look at being a dynamic guy, and you see that in the highlights, you see that in a (scouting report), you see that from Tyler,” he said. “I’ve been thoroughly impressed with how much skill and passion this guy plays the game with, and that’s been evident. …
“He can dance, he can make a play and he’s got some real hockey sense. I don’t look at a lot of heights and weights, because you can be 6-4 and play like you’re 5-10 and you can be 5-2 like Tyler is (he’s listed at 5-9) and play like you’re 6-foot-2, and that’s impressed me a lot.”
Ennis appreciates Bylsma’s respect and wants to earn more.
“It’s time to take charge, be a leader,” he said. “But Dan, so far, from what I’ve gathered, he’s been great. He’s been implementing structure, implementing pace in practice and combining the two, so we have to think while we work, which is great. Guys like all the coaches. So it’s early, but the optimism and the excitement is building, for sure.”