The Toronto Maple Leafs have activated forward Ryan O’Reilly off of long-term injured reserve, as first tweeted by CapFriendly and then confirmed by Toronto’s official lineup announcement. In order to create the necessary cap space for the move, they have assigned forwards Nick Abruzzese and Wayne Simmonds to their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
O’Reilly, 32, hasn’t played in a little over a month due to a finger injury. He last played in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on March 4th, a contest that marked his fifth-straight without a point. It’s been an up-and-down season for the former Blues captain, as he has scored just 24 points in 48 games.
O’Reilly’s inconsistent offensive production shouldn’t be referenced to understate the potential impact he can have on the Maple Leafs, though, as the 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has the potential to be a game-changer for Toronto.
Now on a roster starved for playoff success, O’Reilly brings the type of Stanley Cup experience the squad has in the past been perceived as lacking.
Moreover, O’Reilly’s hat-trick performance on February 21st against the Buffalo Sabres shows that there’s still some gas left in O’Reilly’s offensive tank, and the versatility he brings to the Maple Leafs’ lineup gives head coach Sheldon Keefe a wide variety of options for how to deploy his forwards.
O’Reilly could be used as a third-line center, giving the Maple Leafs possibly the best set of four centers in the entire NHL. He could also be played on a top-six line, allowing someone like John Tavares to shift to the wing and focus more wholly on creating offense, leaving the defensive responsibilities assigned to the center to O’Reilly.
O’Reilly is playing tonight on the Maple Leafs’ third line between Alexander Kerfoot and Noel Acciari. That trio, combined with a fourth line of Zach Aston-Reese, David Kampf, and Sam Lafferty gives Toronto a bottom-six forward group that is arguably far better equipped to handle the rigors of playoff hockey than the bottom-six groups they have brought into past first-rounds.
It’s definitely true that for the Maple Leafs to finally earn the playoff success they’ve craved over the past half-decade, their stars will need to lead the way. If they want to be the first Eastern Conference team to eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning in this decade, they’ll need to do it on the back of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Tavares, and William Nylander.
Getting a player like O’Reilly back to full health and integrated into their lineup with a few games to spare before that all-important playoff series is a significant, positive development for Toronto. How quickly he can get back to full speed will be one of the chief storylines to monitor during tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images