Trade moves O’Reilly to center stage with Sabres

The Sabres’ rebuild timeline changed radically Friday night with a blockbuster trade. Buffalo acquired budding star center Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche as part of a multiplayer package that had folks at the NHL Draft buzzing and Sabres fans looking toward rapid improvement.

O’Reilly is carving a reputation as one of the better two-way centers in the NHL. The 24-year-old already has six years of experience, putting up 90 goals and 246 points in 427 games with the Avalanche. He had 17 goals and 55 points in 82 games last season. He won the Lady Byng Award as most gentlemanly player in 2013-14, when he had 28 goals, 64 points and just two penalty minutes.

“I’m thrilled to be welcomed into the Buffalo Sabres,” O’Reilly wrote on Twitter. “I’ve heard nothing but great things and I’m extremely excited to get started!”

Though young and talented, O’Reilly was long-rumored to be on the trade block because of contract issues. He held out at the start of the 2013 lockout-shortened season and signed an offer sheet with Calgary that Colorado matched. He followed up by signing a two-year, $12 million deal that expires after next season. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but Sabres General Manager Tim Murray has no plans to let that happen.

Murray talked with O’Reilly’s agent after the trade.

“I walked over and introduced myself around the fifth pick or sixth pick,” Murray said in BB&T Center. “They got him on the phone and I spoke to him. I told them that I hoped we could start talking contract extension whenever we’re able to, and that’s July 1.”

The Denver Post reported Friday night that O’Reilly asked the Avs for an eight-year, $64 million extension.

“You know going in when you make a trade like this that negotiations are going to be starting a high number,” Murray said. “We’re fully prepared for that.”

The 6-foot, 210-pounder joins a center corps that includes Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart. O’Reilly won 53.4 percent of his faceoffs last season and will give a boost to the Sabres, who finished last in the category at 44.9 percent.

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