Meet Sam O’Reilly, the Edmonton Oilers’ latest first-round pick

Edmonton Oilers Sam O'Reilly
Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
19 days ago
Well, the stroll into the long weekend took a startling, but exciting turn when the Edmonton Oilers got busy.
The Oilers swapped a future first-round pick in 2025 or 2026 to the Philadelphia Flyers for their 32nd overall pick in the 2024 draft. The Oilers used the pick to select London Knights centre Sam O’Reilly. O’Reilly had a solid draft-eligible year registering 20-36—56 in 68 games in a supporting role with the Knights.
So what do the Edmonton Oilers get in the 6’1″ right-shot centre? Let’s have a look at the tape.

Defensive Dynamo

I mentioned O’Reilly spent most of the year in a support role and this was by design.
O’Reilly is a very smart defensive player who understands his defensive zone quite well. He knows how to take away sticks and body position from opponents, and will step in front of pucks on a routine basis. Because of all of this, the Knights had O’Reilly in a shutdown role containing other teams’ top-scoring forwards. O’Reilly ended the season at a +32 which was good for ninth-best amongst all OHL forwards. Small plays like these here dotted every game I saw O’Reilly play this year.

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Here is an example of him defending up ice.
He attempts to score the empty netter which is foiled. Watch him stop on the puck and make sure he forces a play. Then he sees a chance at a 50/50 and attacks the opposition player again. He gets his stick on the puck, retrieves it and makes a nice set-up for the empty net goal.

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It is this type of play that ensures O’Reilly plays a bottom-six role on an NHL team. His understanding of the defensive game and his ability to eliminate opponents in one-on-one battles make him easy to project in a defensive center role.

The Wallwork

O’Reilly compliments that defensive game with a strong capability to win battles along the wall. Whether he is trying to force transition plays in the defensive zone or the offensive zone, he has a unique ability to win the puck and bide his time allowing teammates to get into positions to take advantage of these wall wins.
Here is an example in the offensive zone. O’Reilly gets into a 1v2 battle along the boards. He uses his body to shield the defenders from attacking the puck directly. He’s strong enough to keep moving and spin off the check getting the puck to a teammate who moves it along.

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Here is another clip of his work on the boards.
He has an uncanny ability to get into outmanned situations and come out with the puck. Here he wins the puck from two defenders, makes a very quick read and executes a great pass net front for a goal.

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Is He Really Scott Laughton?

I had someone drop into my mentions and use Scott Laughton as a comparable. It was an interesting notion, but I really think Scott Laughton is the base case of what Sam O’Reilly can be.
As I mentioned earlier, O’Reilly was slotted with a shut-down role this year that didn’t give him as many offensive opportunities as his draft-eligible competition. That said, there are complexities to O’Reilly’s game that could lead to a breakout season in 2024/25 much like his teammate Easton Cowan had this year. O’Reilly makes very quick reads offensively and he gets the puck to players in good spots a lot. The above clip illustrates that well.
Here is another clip. Watch the read he makes before receiving the pass behind the net and then look at how quickly he gets the puck to his teammate through a very small window.

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That is a high-skill play by O’Reilly.
He also has a good understanding of how to space himself away from checkers. This is another skill that doesn’t come easy to defensive oriented forwards. Take a look at this play here and watch him flow into open space always working to keep himself in an open lane for a pass. He gets the pass and he buries the puck.

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Finally, I want to show more clip that is a teaser for what I think is coming. This came from a game in the round-robin portion of the Memorial Cup. His close-quarter puck skills are sublime and then his quick release to surprise the goalie is even more impressive.

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O’Reilly’s offensive game really came on in the second half of the season. He went from averaging about .65 points per game in the first half to .82 points per game in the second half despite a more defensive role. As the Knights lose players to professional roles, O’Reilly should step into a more prominent role and this should translate into increased scoring totals.
So while I think it is a great compliment to suggest Sam O’Reilly is the next Scott Laughton, I think that is the base case and not the ceiling.

What About The Skating?

Those who have seen my work know that I place a high priority on skating. If you cannot get yourself into the battle, there is a high chance you will not win it. To me, skating is something that needs to be there without question.
O’Reilly isn’t the most dynamic skater, but he isn’t below average. His stride is nice and long. It has good flex in the ankles and the knees are over the toes. He’s a little upright above the waist, but it isn’t trouble. What needs a little tweaking is the stance as right now, it’s pretty narrow. He does widen it out when the play slows, but at tempo, it’s narrow and that causes him to get a little off balance. Here are a couple of clips that illustrate all of this.

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Again, the skating is not poor or even below average. His pace is really good and the stride is technically good, but for the stance. I think this is not difficult to enhance and I suspect his skating will be quite improved at the start of this coming OHL season.

The Final Verdict

I like this pick and I think O’Reilly jumps to the top of the depth chart for Oilers forward prospects. I think with this player, the context of his role in London, and the team he played on needs to be taken into consideration. This is a young man who was playing defence until a few years ago and in his draft-eligible year scored at the same pace as Easton Cowan did his draft year. He’s at a low risk of not playing NHL games and his ceiling is still being quantified because of the limitations his role in London forced on him.

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