Oilers trade for pick #32, select London Knights forward Sam O’Reilly

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Published Jun 28, 2024  •  Last updated 6 hours ago  •  5 minute read

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Sam O'ReillyEdmonton Oilers first round pick Sam O’Reilly Photo by Matt Hiscox Photography/Gameday London

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The first round of the 2024 NHL Draft at The Sphere in Las Vegas was a relaxing show for followers of the Edmonton Oilers. The local squad had long since traded away its first-round pick, with a long wait until pick #64 on Saturday morning and an even longer one to #160 and a few more after that.

It all changed at the very end of the annual extravaganza when the pick that originally belonged to the Stanley Cup champion Florida Panthers found its way to Edmonton. It came via Philadelphia Flyers who had snagged it and other assets in the trade of Claude Giroux to Florida at the 2022 trade deadline. On Friday night it went to the Oilers in exchange for their first round pick in either 2025 or 2026, with conditions as follows:

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The 2025 pick is top 12 protected. If it goes to the 2026 pick that one is unprotected. If the Oilers trade the ‘26 pick, then the Flyers automatically get the ‘25 pick https://t.co/jiIEsGLkoI

— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 29, 2024

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Just like that the Oilers were on the clock, and their brass (CEOHO Jeff Jackson, coach Kris Knoblauch, scouting director Rick Pracey) were on the stage. The club announced the selection of Sam O’Reilly, a forward who played for the OHL champion London Knights.

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A fairly recent convert from defence to forward, the right-shot O’Reilly can reportedly play centre or wing, making him a pretty darn versatile hockey player. Decent size at 6’1, 186. Turned 18 on Mar 30 placing him in the middle of the class by age. Oh yeah, comes from the same program that produced previous Edmonton first-rounders Sam Gagner and Evan Bocuhard.

As an OHL rookie in 2023-24, O’Reilly put up decent numbers in the full 68 games with 20-36-56, +32. He then added 5-7-12, +2 in 16 playoff games, followed by 1-3-4, +2 in 4 games at the Memorial Cup. The Knights made the final but fell 4-3 to Saginaw Spirit on a 60th minute goal.

Elite Prospects provides the following thumbnail scouting report:

O'Reilly scouting report

The same source lists the following rankings of the player via various scouting services:

O'Reilly rankingsHe generally ranked in the second round, topping out in the late first where he was actually selected. The highest ranking of #24 by NHL Central Scouting refers specifically to North American skaters; he was in fact the 24th player selected from a North America-based program, with 8 other first-rounders having played in Europe.

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Worth noting that the go-to ranking of many folks, the consensus rankings of TSN‘s Bob McKenzie, nailed him right at #32. This from that source:

O'Reilly scouting report Button

“Relentless shutdown defensive centre” with an “endless work rate” and decent numbers whose all-ice game is compared to Philip Danault is not the worst starting point.

Other insights

Brock Otten, long-time OHL prospects expert and Director of Scouting for McKeen’s Hockey:

  • What are Oilers getting in Sam O’Reilly? A throwback kind of two-way center. One of the better defensive forwards in the draft. Low end ceiling is Scott Laughton. But the offensive ceiling is higher if he can keep improving his feet. Deserved to be a first rounder.

Steven Ellis, prospect analyst for Daily Faceoff:

  • Sam O’Reilly is a hell of a pick for the Oilers. Big riser. Good winger who I think has top six potential and still has a chance to get even better.

Bruce Curlock of Oilers Nation offered effusive praise of his own:

  • I love this pick. It is also going to end up firing up the [London co-owner, President and head coach Dale] Hunter to EDM rumours as well. O’Reilly is already a pro player. He works hard in all three zones. Is very physical. Smart player with a heavy, heavy shot. He’s likely a winger at the pro level. He’s a very strong middle six NHL forward prospect. He jumps ahead of every other forward in the organization instantly. He’s already a great defensive forward and I think his offense really will come as he gains more confidence. He was a defenceman in his younger days.

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David St-Louis of Elite Prospects suggests:

  • Every year, there’s a player on London who is stuck behind older top prospects and who doesn’t receive as much opportunities to score. This year, it’s Sam O’Reilly. He’s going to break out next year. It’s almost a guarantee.

Jonathan Willis, long-time hockey writer and former Cult of Hockey colleague, elaborates:

  • The reports on O’Reilly are easy to like in that he brings a lot beyond the top-line offensive numbers. Those numbers are the question, but his 5v5/SH totals were really good and he clearly didn’t get PP time. And just for good measure, here’s O’Reilly’s non-special teams scoring compared to Easton Cowan’s in London last year.
    Cowan, 22-23: 68GP, 14-26-40
    O’Reilly, 23-24: 68GP, 14-28-42
    Hard to ignore that recent precedent!

To clarify, those are Cowan’s numbers from 2022-23 compared to O’Reilly’s in 2023-24. Both made the OHL’s second all-rookie team in the respective years. Selected at #28 by Toronto last year, Cowan went on to a spectacular Draft +1 season in which he won the Red Tilson Trophy as league MVP and the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the league’s playoff MVP, leading London to the league title.

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No surprise that O’Reilly would be playing second or even third fiddle behind Cowan and London’s usual deep team; that he scored as much as he did as a rookie in a defence-first role is promising indeed.

For his part, Jackson, Edmonton’s CEO of Hockey Operations, explained the Oilers’ reasoning in an interview with Sportsnet‘s Elliotte Friedman.

“Our staff had him rated quite a bit higher than where he went. Rick [Pracey] felt very strongly that we were getting a player that would fit our mold. We gotta start getting our pipeline going. We felt very comfortable making the move today.”

In a follow-up question, Jackson addressed Edmonton’s internal UFA situation: “Nothing imminent. We’re talking to them. Obviously because we played so late we’re we’re a bit behind the eight-ball. We’ve had good discussions with all the guys who are our own UFAs and we’re optimistic we’re going to bring all of them back, and that’s our hope.”

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