After a tough freshman season, O’Brien is back in the NCAA and picking up steam.
No. 23: Jay O’Brien
2020-21 League/Team(s): Boston University (Hockey East, NCAA)
2020-21 Statistics: 8 G, 8 A, 16 P in 16 GP
Acquired In: 2018 (drafted)
Ranking in Spring 2020 25 Under 25: 24th
How did O’Brien’s 2020-21 hockey season go? Is his stock trending up or down from where it was entering the year?
It’s been a bit of a strange road for O’Brien, but after a rough freshman season with Providence College and then a season in Pentiction of the BCHL before transferring to Boston University, he’s finally looking to be getting himself back on track. He was the Terriers’ most productive forward this season—tied with defenseman David Farrance with 16 points—and was given a significant role, playing big minutes in all situations, from the jump. He was one of the primary offensive drivers for the team, and he was something of their go-to when they needed a bit of a spark. The elements that make his game flash—strong forechecking, good bit of physicality and speed, on top of that scoring touch—were coming together well for him, and it made him really effective. There’s still a bit of work that needs to go into getting himself a bit stronger and polishing his game before he’s ready to move to the next level, but he’s already done a lot to get himself back on track, and to get his stock trending back in the right direction.
What are we expecting from O’Brien this season? What should we be looking for from him?
Last season was a really solid one for O’Brien, and he has a great foundation to work with as he heads into his junior year, but there’s definitely something to be said for wanting to see him dominate at the college level before he turns pro. He’s already one of the best players on his team, and if he’s given a similar role as he had last season, he’ll have a lot of runway to try to keep his momentum rolling.
There’s a conversation to be had about how that might be limited by what the team is able to do—on most of my viewings last season, BU was getting pretty well caved in by shots, but managed to score and put together wins in spite of that, and while that worked out in a shortened season, that doesn’t feel like a recipe for success over a normal full season. So team effects might stifle him a bit if regression swings around, but there’s still room for him to take another step forward, all the same.
How does O’Brien fit into the Flyers’ long-term plans? Where does he stand in the Flyers’ organizational depth?
O’Brien has certainly seen himself shuffled down the depth chart a good bit since he was drafted, in part due to that roundabout developmental arc we mentioned earlier, but also in part due to the fact that he’s still in college and there’s a good handful of center prospects that have already turned pro added on top of the veterans that the Flyers have signed. It’s not a terribly thin position at the moment, but O’Brien’s still a few years away from reasonably getting a sniff at an NHL job, so a lot can chance between now and then. The sense is that he’s very much still in the plans for the future, and will be in the mix for an NHL job once he’s ready for it, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush there.
What do we think O’Brien’s ultimate NHL upside is, and how likely is it that he gets to something approaching that?
Like we mentioned in our last section, he’s still a ways away from this point, but there’s certainly NHL upside here with O’Brien. He’s not someone we can project as putting up massive scoring numbers at the professional level, but he does still have a nice scoring touch, and otherwise brings quite a well rounded game. If he hits his ceiling, we’re looking at a good utility player at the NHL level, probably best suited to a bottom-six role. He brings good energy and can be quite a disruptive player, and his finishing ability makes him a nice offensive threat as well. There’s a lot to like about that package, and it’s easy to envision him being able to carve out a role for himself as a useful NHLer, it will just be a question of him continuing to put in work to make sure that his game matures and translates to the professional level, once he gets there. But that does seem a manageable expectation.
It’s probably time for my annual reminder that O’Brien’s a prospect we have to manage our expectations with (through no fault of his own). The Flyers picking him in the first round was almost certainly a reach, so to keep measuring his development in relation to other recent first round picks probably isn’t all that fair or productive. He’s a good prospect with some good upside, and that’s enough to be excited about on its own.