Currently, we live in a world where instant gratification is a part of our everyday lives. If we are in search of unknown information, we simply reach for a device, plug some text into a search bar, and receive our answer. When we need to get in touch with someone, we can immediately do so through text messaging or phone calls. Typically, if we need something, we can get it with a reasonable amount of ease.
That same “instant gratification” mentality also bleeds into the sports world. When a team signs or trades for a player, many people expect that person to make an immediate impact. If a player gets drafted in the first round, people want to see a fast track to stardom.
Of course, this train of thought isn’t always realistic. Sometimes, things take time to progress and develop. It’s not simple but patience and a level head are the best way to approach these types of circumstances. The Philadelphia Flyers are learning to do this with one of their 2018 first-round picks, Jay O’Brien.
Flyers Surprise with O’Brien Pick
Former Philadelphia general manager, Ron Hextall, earned a reputation as a bit of a genius when it came to drafting young players. Regardless of the team’s draft position, he always managed to pick up a prospect with a great deal of intrigue and upside. However, when he took O’Brien 19th overall in 2018, even the Flyers faithful were left a bit puzzled.
Though the young center recorded an astonishing 43 goals and 37 assists in just 30 games, it was while playing high school hockey for Thayer Academy. Now that’s no knock on the Thayer Academy hockey program. It has produced quality NHL players such as Jeremy Roenick and Ryan Whitney in the past. Still, 80 points during your draft year in high school is not the same thing as doing it in a major junior league.
Even with being named USHS All-USA Hockey Player of the Year, it can be argued that it was a stretch for Hextall to take O’Brien when he did in the draft. Just a quick look at who was selected after him, Ryan Merkley and K’Andre Miller, and it’s clear to see that Philadelphia’s “draft guru” might have gotten a little too confident in his ability.
Regardless if O’Brien was the right pick for the Flyers to make, there was an immediate buzz surrounding Philadelphia’s mostly unknown new prospect. A lot of eyes would be drawn towards his freshman season with the Providence Friars.
Freshman Failures with Providence
Looking back at O’Brien’s freshman year in the NCAA, it’s safe to say that it went far from what people expected. Going from high school to college hockey was going to be a challenging learning curve regardless of his true skill level. Still, fighting for ice time and only managing 5 points in 25 games just was not going to cut it.
O’Brien just never got comfortable playing in Providence. Whether you’re an athlete or not, being a freshman in college is all about getting acclimated to your new surroundings. For O’Brien, it seemed that whenever he was able to get into any sort of rhythm, he’d be sidelined with an injury. Immediately, people were ready to label the young forward a bust. The reality was that there was just so much disrupting his development and it was starting to take a toll on his confidence.
Off to the Penticton Vees
Whether it was the correct move to make or not, O’Brien decided that Providence was not the right place for him to continue to develop as a player. Before the 2019-20 season got underway, news broke that he would be taking his talents to the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and play for the Penticton Vees.
There was a lot of scrutiny surrounding O’Brien’s decision to play in the BCHL. Many felt like it was a step in the wrong direction and that playing against “lower-level” competition would do little to assist in his progression. A narrative was created, depicting O’Brien as a soft player unable to endure the trials and tribulations necessary to make it to the NHL. However, his decision to join Penticton turned out to be a very well-thought-out one as it maintained his college eligibility for the following season.
To this point, O’Brien’s Penticton experiment is working out in his favor. He’s missed some games due to injury but is a truly impactful member of the Vees when he is on the ice. Through 38 games, the 20-year-old has 20 goals and 35 assists. Even with missing 12 games, O’Brien still leads his team in scoring.
Obviously, producing points is a major piece for O’Brien to get back on track. However, the most important thing he is receiving in the BCHL this season is a restoration of his confidence. Getting down on yourself and your abilities can sometimes prove to be detrimental. The inspirational storyline of turning things around doesn’t always happen. Sometimes players can’t pick themselves up from their failures and their once-promising career falters. Luckily, O’Brien is seeing that he is a talented young player with NHL potential. The key for him is to now take the confidence he is receiving in the BCHL and transfer that to Boston University next season.
What Do the Flyers Really Have in O’Brien?
Thinking back to that idea of instant gratification, it is clear that the Flyers and their fans are not going to receive that with 19th-overall selection in 2018. However, that does not mean that all is lost with O’Brien. Some players need more time to develop than others. Believe it or not, that is perfectly fine.
O’Brien’s return to the NCAA will be a crucial point in his young hockey career. His time in Providence didn’t work out and that’s fine. People will be willing to place that year in the rearview mirror if he looks like a different player with Boston University. On the other hand, if O’Brien struggles to solidify himself as a difference-maker with his new team, the “draft bust” talk will become more justified.
Unless O’Brien shockingly lights the college hockey world on fire next season, he will likely spend two years in Boston. At that time, we will find out who he really is as a hockey player and be able to better assess Hextall’s decision to draft him.
John Gove is an elementary school educator who writes about hockey in his spare team. Over the past five years, John has covered the game at various levels. Now, he exclusively focuses his coverage on prospects and the developmental leagues.