There is always a level of expectation that comes with being a first-round pick, and Jay O’Brien is no exception.
Selected No. 19 overall in the 2018 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, O’Brien went to Providence for a year, before multiple injuries derailed his season. He played in only 25 games in which he tallied five points.
After the season, he headed to Penticton in the BCHL for a season, and is currently committed to Boston University for the 2020-21 season.
Taking the Chance
He acknowledged in an interview in February on the BTS Hockey Podcast that things in the NCAA his first time around did not go at all the way he had planned.
“I had a tough year. I wanted to take a step back and wanted to get back to playing the way that I knew that I could play. There was no hard feelings with Providence. It was more me wanting to take a step back, and wanting a fresh start. It was a rocky year at Providence, and it has been a great year here (in Penticton.)
Transferring his talents to the BCHL proved effective for O’Brien and saw him become more productive in his ice time, scoring 66 points in 44 games. He said he felt more comfortable in his time in British Columbia and he has been able to be true to who he is as a player.
“It’s been great out in Penticton. It’s been seamless. I came here in the summer for a visit. The transition has been easy. I have a great billet family here and there are a lot of great people here in Penticton. I feel much better now. It’s not that I didn’t feel good at Providence, I was unlucky with injuries. The player in me hasn’t changed. Whether it’s been in high school, Providence or the US team, I’ve always been the same player. I feel good. I think my game is going well right now.”
The hype around O’Brien started in the 2016-17 season at Thayer Academy, where he scored 65 points in 30 games. O’Brien said that season at Thayer and his brief time in the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms was when he thought he had a chance of being drafted.
“I was having a really good year and went out to play in the USHL over spring break for a bit. I thought for a young kid, I really played well. That’s when I thought maybe I could get drafted. Never mind being a high pick. My mind was never focused on that at that age. I still had a couple years before the draft. I never thought about it. I just wanted to keep playing, keep growing as a player. I’m a really competitive kid and always wanted to be the best player on the ice and I think that’s what’s made me so successful.”
O’Brien said going into the draft, he didn’t really have any sense of where he would be picked, but he did know that he had good meetings with the team that ended up selecting him.
“Going into the draft, I had no idea where I was going to go. I was hoping it would be the top couple rounds or so. I had some really good meetings with Philly and had some really good conversations, both at the combine and before the draft. Maybe a little bit surprised, but not really. We had some really good dialogue and I thought I had a good connection with them.”
A Philly Face
After being drafted by Philadelphia and having his tough year with the Friars, O’Brien’s journey to Penticton included a connection to the Flyers that proved extremely valuable for his development as a player. That connection was Brett Hextall. (From ‘Flyers prospect watch: Jay O’Brien getting help from a Hextall’, Courier Post Online– 11/24/19)
“Hexy and I have built a great relationship. He actually played for the Vees and won a championship here, was a captain here. He’s helped me to work on the mental side of the game, not just talking about hockey. Talking about life, how I’m feeling and how things are going. I can’t thank him enough. He’s been great throughout this whole thing.”
O’Brien has said that since he has taken the chance and headed west, he has gotten back to what makes him, him.
“They’re letting me get back to playing, and playing the way that they drafted me to play. Things have been going really well.”
Changing His Mentality
The biggest change that he said he has noticed is the way that he approaches his life off the ice, from a mental standpoint.
“At this point, I take things day-by-day. I don’t worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow. That’s been a change in my mindset over the last year or so. I’ve always been hard on myself. I would always look at the future, and where I wanted to be. I realized that I would get too worked up about the little things. I wanted to shift my focus on the now and what I can control, as opposed to what I cannot.”
As for his improvements on the ice, his time in Penticton allowed him to be able to make those improvements and become the player he knows he can be: an effective one in all facets of the game.
“Especially in today’s game, if you can’t defend, you’re not going to be out there. I’m a guy who wants to be out there in all different situations. You want to be the guy that a coach can rely on to win that 50-50 battle against the wall, and chip it out. Things like that that might go unnoticed by people. Hockey people seem to know when those little things happen. A lot of that is big for making me a future NHLer. Little things like that make a huge difference in tight games.”
A Hingham, MA native, O’Brien’s connection to the game of hockey isn’t unfamiliar for those from the area. The game means so much to him, as it does for many other players from his hometown.
O’Brien spoke about how he grew up and what the game meant to him, and what it would mean to succeed.
“We always had a rink in our backyard, still do. It’s a great little hockey town. Massachusetts is a great hockey area of course. Growing up in Hingham, I had a lot of friends who went on to play college hockey. I had a lot of mentors and hockey families in Hingham. (The game of hockey) means everything to me. I’ve grown up playing it my whole life. I’ve built relationships that will last a lifetime. I couldn’t imagine my life without it to be honest.”
O’Brien is getting his chances, and he is doing his best to make an impact in the best way that he can. In the end, that’s all any of us can do, put in 100 percent effort into becoming the best person and player we can be.
O’Brien is doing just that.