The NHL trade deadline has come and gone and inaction on the part of the Buffalo Sabres’ front office has left fans disappointed. In a season that has failed to meet expectations, the trade deadline followed suit, truly capturing the zeitgeist of the 2017-18 campaign.
Leading up to the deadline, speculation swirled regarding what the team would acquire in return for Evander Kane. To the dismay of the Sabre faithful, in the dying hours of the day, it was announced that the team had dealt the soon-to-be UFA winger to the San Jose Sharks for a conditional 2019 first-round pick, fourth-round pick and 24-year-old forward, Daniel O’Regan.
In the weeks leading up to the deadline, it was rumoured that Jason Botterill would look to acquire a first-round pick, a roster player, and a prospect for Kane’s rental services. With that price tag in mind, the actual return leaves a lot to be desired.
O’Regan is neither a roster player or a top-end prospect, but his inclusion is intriguing. The Sabres now have both of Jack Eichel’s linemates from his time at Boston University in O’Regan and Evan Rodrigues who was brought in as a free agent in 2015.
During their time in Boston, the line of O’Regan, Eichel and Rodrigues was arguably the best in the NCAA. During the 2014-15 season, the trio combined for 176 points, each of them averaging over a point-per-game.
While O’Regan and Rodrigues experienced decent production prior to Eichel’s arrival, their point output exploded while flanking the eventual Hobey Baker winner. As the season wore on, their chemistry grew to fascinating heights, a connection that was on full display during the 2015 Beanpot Tournament (which they would go on to win).
After snapping Boston College’s five-year Beanpot winning streak, the Terriers had their sights set on an NCAA Frozen Four title. As a one-seed, they cruised to the final on the shoulders of their top line. Fresh off of a convincing 5-3 victory over collegiate hockey powerhouse, North Dakota in the semi-final, only Providence, a four-seed heading into the tournament, stood in their way.
In a shocking upset, the Cinderella story Friars dealt Eichel and the boys a shocking 4-3 upset to secure the school’s first-ever national title.
Though the juggernaut trio was unable to carry their team to a championship, they still went down as one of the most dominant lines in NCAA history. After the Sabres signed Rodrigues and drafted Eichel second overall in 2015, O’Regan stayed behind to finish his senior year. Surprisingly enough, he was able to produce 44 points in 39 games with new linemates in 2015-16.
With Jack Eichel likely sidelined for the remainder of the season after suffering a high-ankle sprain, the three Terrier terrors won’t play together this year. It remains to be seen how O’Regan and Rodrigues slot into the lineup next season, but it sure would be something if they could recapture some of the magic from their college days. The Sabres sure could use it.
O’Regan’s Time with the Sharks
The San Jose Sharks selected O’Regan with the 138th overall pick in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft. In 2011-12, he was a member of the Team USA squad that took home gold at the under-18 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Following his graduation from BU, O’Regan made the increasingly rare decision to sign an entry-level contract with the club that drafted him. Though he only appeared in three games for the Sharks in 2016-17, he tallied 58 points in 63 games for their AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda. His performance would earn him the AHL’s Dudley Garrett award for most outstanding rookie.
Given his incredible inaugural season as a pro, the Sharks wasted little time calling O’Regan up to the big squad in 2017-18. After posting assists in his first two games this season, he cooled off significantly, only notching a total of four helpers in 19 contests. Despite his struggles at the NHL level, he has remained productive during his time with the Barracuda, producing 25 points in 31 games this season, good for fourth on the team.
While it remains to be seen whether or not he can become a consistent fixture in the NHL, at 24 years old, O’Regan’s clock is ticking. It is likely that he will have a chance to prove himself with the Sabres before the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Though he will start in Rochester with the Amerks, according to Botterill, it’s only a matter of time until he makes his blue-and-gold debut.
“We are very impressed with his skill level, certainly his hockey sense,” Botterill said. “You look at last year, the success he had at the American Hockey League, we think he’s ready to make the jump here.”
Key Piece to Amerks’ Calder Cup Run
While the Sabres have re-upped their lease in the NHL basement, the Amerks look to break a three-year playoff drought. With a 2-3-4-1 record over their last 10 games, Botterill immediately assigned O’Regan to Rochester to try and reignite a squad that went from the top of the North Division to clawing for a playoff spot over the past six weeks.
Amerks’ netminder, Linus Ullmark has remained sturdy between the pipes, however as his team struggles to produce on offence, the one-goal losses have started to pile up. O’Regan will provide immediate reinforcement to the top-six, especially with scoring threat Nic Baptiste currently on a call-up with the Sabres.
When the NHL season comes to a close, Baptiste will be sent back down to Rochester along with O’Regan’s college linemate, Rodrigues who has spent the past 34 games in Buffalo since being recalled in December.
The Amerks’ performance has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disastrous season for the Sabres organization. As the culture in Buffalo has become increasingly toxic, Botterill has done his best to instil a winning atmosphere in Rochester. In less than a year, the effect of success from the ground up is already evident.
Players recalled to the Sabres lineup from the AHL have skated with an intensity the team has been missing since Ted Nolan’s departure. It’s part of the reason why players like Rodrigues and defenseman, Casey Nelson have remained entrenched in the starting lineup.
Though the trade deadline left a lot to be desired in terms of upheaving a roster in desperate need of a facelift, O’Regan’s addition to the organizational depth chart has the potential to pay dividends in both the short and long-term. However small, the Sabres franchise took a step in the right direction today. Next stop is a Calder Cup bid.