Ryan O'Reilly ready to get past 'ups and downs' of big contract, offseason arrest

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As training camp begins for the Buffalo Sabres, Ryan O'Reilly has much to prove after an offseason that included signing a monster contract and an arrest on drunken-driving charges.

"This summer's just been a lot of ups and downs, that's for sure," O'Reilly told ESPN on Thursday as training camps opened around the National Hockey League.

"It's a relief coming to camp. It's just nice to kind of get on the ice and kind of focus on hockey, which is the most important thing for me. Obviously, the stuff off ice, it'll be nice to have that behind me. It's still ongoing, but at least I'm a little more occupied. I'm doing something constantly, which helps takes the mind off it."

The 24-year-old O'Reilly was traded from Colorado to Buffalo in a blockbuster deal in late June and shortly thereafter signed a seven-year contract extension worth $52.5 million -- the biggest contract in Sabres history.

On the same day, the team signed Cal O'Reilly, his older brother, to a two-year deal.

But the euphoria was short-lived. Less than two weeks later, Ryan O'Reilly was arrested and charged with impaired driving and leaving the scene of an accident after allegedly driving his vintage pickup truck into the side of a Tim Hortons coffee shop near London, Ontario.

No injuries were reported in connection with the incident. The case is still before the courts, and he will not face any supplementary discipline from the league.

O'Reilly acknowledged that his conversation with GM Tim Murray after the arrest was difficult, especially after Murray and team owners Terry and Kim Pegula had made such a commitment to him.

"Just apologizing. I was embarrassed mainly," O'Reilly said. "Just to have the Pegula family and Tim invest in me like this and just to be surrounded by that negativity. It wasn't good, and I was embarrassed.

"You go from the security of the contract, having that stability and just can focus on playing hockey, and then getting into this situation and looking at that. I feel like I kind of screwed up this thing."

The expectations for O'Reilly are a key part of the Sabres' rebuilding effort, and new coach Dan Bylsma is counting on him to take on a leadership role. The Sabres' roster includes second overall draft pick Jack Eichel, who is considered to be one of the finest U.S.-born prospects ever to hit the NHL.

"He made a mistake, and that's not a good thing," Bylsma told ESPN on Thursday. "But I do know what he's said. And what he's said he feels about the situation and what he needs to do about it is encouraging to me."

O'Reilly said he hopes to be the role model the Sabres were expecting when they signed him.

"I think I have to prove myself to this organization, the fans, that I can be that good example," O'Reilly said. "It's one of things that I'm going to have to do, which I'm looking forward to doing and I'll be happy to do.

"[I'll] definitely have to handle myself a lot better. It won't happen again. And hopefully something I can teach the other guys."