Another day, another low-risk acquisition by Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman. On the heels of Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers, Yzerman flipped depth forward Jacob de la Rose to the St. Louis Blues for center Robby Fabbri.
Fabbri, the 21st-overall pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, shares some situational similarities with another recently acquired forward, Brendan Perlini. Both players were receiving limited ice time, showed flashes of offensive upside in the past, and seemed to reach a boiling point with their respective organizations.
Fabbri will now get a chance to prove he is deserving of meaningful minutes on a team that is desperate for any resemblance of offensive consistency. Let us take a closer look at Fabbri’s career and set some expectations for the 23-year-old.
A Remarkable Rookie
Fabbri put up 171 points in 147 games with the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) alongside fellow Red Wing Tyler Bertuzzi. Fabbri then burst onto the scene with the Blues in the 2015-16 season. He immediately proved that he was deserving of the opportunity, scoring the game-winning goal in his first career NHL game. Unfortunately, a concussion two days later derailed his early momentum.
Nevertheless, once Fabbri returned, he continued to make an impact for the remainder of the season, tallying 18 goals and 37 points while averaging 13:19 in ice time per game. He finished 10th in rookie scoring, buoyed by a 19-point performance in the last 26 games of the season.
While Fabbri’s regular-season exploits were impressive, he saved his best for the postseason. He produced 4 goals and 11 assists in 20 games, including a three-point outing during a 6-1 win over the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Blues succumbed to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals, but Fabbri proved that he was an integral part of the team’s future.
Injury Woes and Inconsistencies
Unlike many young players, Fabbri did not fall victim to the sophomore slump in his second season. While some growing pains were apparent, he potted 29 points in his first 51 games as his role continued to expand.
Alas, during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 4, Fabbri injured the ACL in his left knee. He was forced to miss the remainder of the regular season and playoffs after undergoing surgery. Woefully, brighter days were not on the horizon for the young forward.
After tirelessly working to get back to full health, Fabbri was cleared to return to hockey on July 31, 2017. He participated in Blues’ training camp, but things took a turn for the worse during a preseason game against the Washington Capitals. Team officials announced that Fabbri’s surgically repaired knee never fully healed, and he would miss the entire 2017-18 season.
While this was a massive disappointment for Fabbri, it was also detrimental to his development. Not only did he have to deal with the physical effects of two substantial injuries, but he also went upwards of 20 months without playing in an NHL game.
During an interview with Sportsnet before the 2018-19 season, Fabbri tried to look at the brighter side of things. He mentioned, “I’m a relatively happy guy. You look at [the injury] as a positive. No one gets 20 months to train for one season.”
His resolve and determination were on full display, as Fabbri returned to the ice on Nov. 1, 2018. He scored his first goal of the season five days later, much to the delight of the hockey world.
While it was heartwarming to see Fabbri’s persistence pay off, the rest of the 2018-19 season was strenuous. He finished the year with 6 points in 32 games, and it was evident that Fabbri’s role with the team had severely diminished.
He was a healthy scratch 30 times throughout the campaign, generally playing fourth-line minutes whenever he got into the lineup. Players like Sammy Blais, Ivan Barbashev, and Zach Sanford had all passed Fabbri on the depth chart. Furthermore, playing on a checking line was not well suited for his skillset.
Fabbri was also a healthy scratch multiple times to start the 2019-20 season. Perhaps a fresh start and increased opportunity in the Motor City will help Fabbri rediscover his prior form.
Realistic Expectations for Fabbri
Now, while the previous paragraphs may suggest that Fabbri suffered an unfair fate with the Blues, it is hard to argue that he deserved more than what he received. While one can feel apologetic for the injuries he sustained, his play rarely forced the Blues to put him in the lineup.
On the flip side of that, it is difficult for a player to find their rhythm when they spend a third of the season in the press box. Likewise, upon returning from his second knee injury, Fabbri was rarely put into situations that would allow him to thrive offensively. Lower-body injuries generally inhibit the explosiveness of athletes, but it seems like deployment also had an impact on Fabbri’s struggles.
With that in mind, opportunities for Fabbri to prove himself will be plentiful with the Red Wings. He was averaging 9:42 in ice time per game with the Blues, and that number will rise exponentially.
The Red Wings can expect to see a motivated player out on the ice that is determined to get his career back to the lofty standards he set for himself. He will not solve their scoring woes single-handedly, but the team acquired a talented young player in a trade that carries practically zero risks.
Fabbri is the equivalent of a lottery ticket you get in your stocking at Christmas. You did not have to give up anything to acquire it, it is a fun experience at the moment, and there is the possibility that a sizable reward is waiting at the end.
Yzerman has become a master at acquiring players with possible potential for minimal cost, and adding young talent to a rebuilding team is always beneficial. Whether or not this move pays off in the long run, it was a worthwhile gamble to make.