Ryan O’Reilly is among the last of a dying breed.
The Conn Smythe Trophy winner became the face of the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup victory last season – in part because he’s one of the few players remaining in the NHL whose face isn’t protected by a visor.
“There’s not many guys left that don’t wear them,” O’Reilly said this week.
Six seasons after the NHL and NHLPA made the use of face shields mandatory for every player entering the league, more than 97 per cent wear one, according to a study of rosters conducted by TSN.
Only 19 of the 672 skaters to appear in an NHL game this season are skating sans visor. Down from 34 at the start of the 2017-18 campaign, the number has nearly been cut in half over the last two seasons.
In other words, the race is on to see who will be the visor’s version of Craig MacTavish, famously the last man to skate in an NHL game without a helmet.?
“I got a lot of cuts [from] my visors in battles, the visor is always coming down on top of my lips and stuff like that,” said O’Reilly, who wore one for his first season and a half in Colorado, but took it off when he got more comfortable in the NHL. “I think it’s just easiest for seeing. You don’t have to worry about something getting in the way, especially with all of the sweat off my face and my beard. I think, visually, it just gives me the biggest advantage."
More than half of the NHL’s teams (16) have all 20-plus skaters wearing visors, including four of the seven Canadian squads, meaning that it’s not unusual anymore to see a game contested between two teams with every player partially protected facially.