Currently second in the QMJHL scoring race behind Victoriaville Tigres’ Yanni Gourde with 47 goals and 45 assists for 92 points in only 53 games, O’Brien is a late bloomer after joining the Q as an overage player in 2010-11 when he was 18 years old. During his final year with the St. John’s Fog Devils, of the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey League in 2009-2010, he recorded 176 points in a mere 49 games, including an astounding 110 goals. That production includes eleven goals and six assists for 17 points in seven games at the 2010 Telus Cup, where he led his team to a surprise third place finish at the National Midget AAA Championship in Levis, Quebec, and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Here, you can find a recap of the championship that I wrote in April 2010 since the tournament was held in my hometown and I had the chance to see O’Brien several times.
The fact that O’Brien decided to play an extra year in Newfoundland and Labrador with his friends certainly hurt his value and his chances of being drafted by an NHL team at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Originally drafted into junior hockey by the Moncton Wildcats in 2009, he was dealt to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan near the season’s midway mark. As a rookie with the Titan last year, the 18 year-old led all first year players in the QMJHL with 29 goals and 65 points in 58 games. While this would be considered a great achievement by many, it was not enough for an NHL team to draft him in June 2011, but the San Jose Sharks invited him to their rookie camp in 2010 to have a closer look.
The Sharks are not the only team that has shown interest in the St. John’s native as the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning have all inquired about the natural sniper. O’Brien usually trains with Ryane Clowe, also a native of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Interview with Zach O’Brien.
This season, he’s already surpassed his rookie numbers by a mile and has been near the top of the QMJHL scoring race since the puck dropped in September, playing alongside Sebastien Trudeau and Matthew Bissonnette to form the league’s top offensive trio in 2011-12.
On January 21, 2012, O’Brien even scored four goals in a six-minute, 10-second span of the first period in a 7-4 Titan win over the Moncton Wildcats. His second and third goals came only four seconds apart, which tied the league record for the fastest two goals by the same player.
“We are good at finding each other. The three of us are unselfish players and we move the puck around which makes it hard for the defenders,” said O’Brien, of the trio’s success. “We just move our feet, move the puck and get into open spaces to make it easy for each other. Me and Trudeau played together most of last year. Bissonnette (who was picked up by Acadie-Bathurst in a dispersal draft after the Lewiston MAINEiacs folded in the off-season) came in and he just gelled with is right away.”
Titan head coach Eric Dubois said that O’Brien is also a leader on and off the ice, especially with the younger guys. “He likes to get to the dirty areas and he doesn’t play on the perimeter, that’s for sure,” added Dubois.
O’Brien has amazing hands, a great vision, and an incredible hockey sense. However, many consider him slow and very soft as shown by his 0 penalty minutes in 111 career games in the Q. Quite a feat to accomplish. Even Kyle Wellwood would be jealous!
Currently out with a broken nose, O’Brien could certainly make a name for himself with a great playoff run to show scouts and fans that he can also contribute during important games
If O’Brien can strengthen an already potent frame and improve drastically his skating during next summer like John Tavares did last off-season, there is no reason to think he could not at least get an invitation to participate in an NHL rookie camp prior to the 2012-13 campaign. However, O’Brien will have to work hard to accomplish this and not turn into the next Corey Locke, a career AHLer who was promised a bright future.
NHL Potential: 2nd line goal-scoring forward
NHL Comparable: Matt Moulson
NHL ETA: 2013
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