Flyers

What Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien 'can't wait to prove' has him charging ahead

What Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien 'can't wait to prove' has him charging ahead

Jay O'Brien sat at his locker stall and talked about adversity.

He is only 19 years old and growing up faster than he anticipated.

He wasn't gushing over highlights from his freshman year or discussing a burgeoning career at Providence. He went from scoring 43 goals and 80 points in high school during 2017-18 to just two goals and five points at the Division I level last season.

His plans have changed and so has his hockey career.

"Stepping in from high school into the college level, it's a challenge," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said in June. "It's not easy. It doesn't matter how good you are. I think he learned that. It's probably the first time in his career that he went through any adversity at any level. Obviously, he's not happy."

O'Brien is not happy but he's doing something about it. In a way, he's becoming a pro without actually being one just yet. "Adversity" is said often in sports but it's real and O'Brien is facing it as a teenager.

He's starting to embrace it.

"Work on learning from this and how to battle adversity," O'Brien said in June at Flyers development camp. "I think that's one of the biggest things in life is how you come back from adversity and I can't wait to prove that."

One of the Flyers' two first-round picks from 2018, O'Brien is no longer at Providence, the school in which he committed to when he was 15 years old. With the Friars, he had setbacks because of upper-body injuries and then never found his scoring touch. O'Brien and his camp decided it was best for the prospect to join the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, a junior A league, in 2019-20.

I'm happy this adversity is happening right now and not too later in my career. You never want a year like that, but in a way, it was helpful for me to light the fire even more. 


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

O'Brien is a nifty playmaker with innate scoring ability. Two of his former coaches — Nate Leaman at Providence and Tony Amonte at Thayer Academy — raved about his skill set. Leaman called O'Brien's hands elite, while Amonte extolled the center's knack for creating and finishing — all reasons why the Flyers' previous regime drafted him 19th overall.

Why didn't those traits translate with the Friars? Injuries played a factor, but O'Brien's size did, too. He's now 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, and still adding muscle, which can improve more than simply being strong on the puck — it can enhance O'Brien's quickness and speed, as well.

"I've gained 13 pounds of weight since the season ended," O'Brien said. "I've put the pedal to the metal and I've been really trying to improve my game.

"Just keep getting stronger off the ice because I learned being an 18-year-old in college, you're playing against 24-year-olds and guys like that. If I want to take my game to the next level, I've got to work even harder off ice — get back to training right, eating right, little things like that that make you a pro and to have success."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

During this transitional phase, O'Brien has had plenty of people in his corner. From a hockey standpoint, the former Flyer Amonte and agent Matt Keator offer daily support.

"Tony was just saying how it happens to everyone, it's just a bump in the road and it's how you rebound from it," O'Brien said. "My agent, too, was great throughout the whole thing."

But O'Brien also looked within — the year molded him.

"I kind of relied on myself more than anything," he said. "Just try to get mentally stronger."

While O'Brien is vowing to be a different player strength-wise, the ultimate goal is to rediscover his goal-scoring swagger in the BCHL.

"I'm just going to try to get back to the way I was playing, why Philly drafted me," O'Brien said. "Use my speed and my skill and create plays over the ice. Be more creative — I think that was great about Tony, he let me play and be creative and use my skill set, but he harped on the D-zone and things like that. 

"I've always taken pride in playing hard in the D-zone and playing a 200-foot game, I think that's something I've done my whole life. Just continue to play a 200-foot game, use my speed. I think I've got to shoot the puck more. Your chances are limited as you climb the ranks, so maybe be a little more selfish, shoot more and capitalize on opportunities."

The plan is for O'Brien to return to college in 2020-21 and play for Boston University after a season with Penticton. Flyers prospect Joel Farabee, who was drafted five spots ahead of O'Brien, took off with the Terriers in 2018-19, winning national Rookie of the Year and eventually signing his entry-level contract in March.

"I've talked to Joel, we've gotten really close over the last couple of years," O'Brien said. "He had nothing but great things to say, I know a lot of guys at B.U. I went in a couple of times, you want to make sure you're making the right decision this time, right? You don't want to mess around with it, you want to do your due diligence. Talking to guys like Joel and other draft picks that they have, they had nothing but good things to say about it."

O'Brien is from Hingham, Massachusetts, which is right outside of Boston. He is good friends with Amonte's son Ty Amonte, who is a junior on the Terriers and also played for Penticton. On top of that, the play-with-pace O'Brien loved the stylistic fit under head coach Albie O'Connell.

"I wanted to be in Boston, I'm 30 minutes away from Boston — that's a dream, to play for a Boston school," O'Brien said. "I just know so many guys there and they love it, they love the way they play, how Albie lets them play, but they take care of the D-zone. I couldn't be more excited."


(Christina Daly/NBC Sports Philadelphia)

The Flyers believe in O'Brien and have no problem exercising patience with the teenage prospect. General manager Chuck Fletcher and Flahr didn't draft O'Brien, but the Thayer Academy product made believers out of the Flyers' scouting staff.

"He's always been a competitor," Flahr said. "He's got quick hands, he can really shoot it. His skating is going to be good. … In order for him to play against bigger bodies in the NHL, he's going to have to be quick. That's going to be a work in progress.

"He has been training with a group in Boston and from what I saw from the beginning of the year to now, he's made significant strides strength-wise.

"He's a lot more confident, stronger and ready to go."

The adversity has helped.

"I don't think there's any doubt in my mind, I know what I can do, I know why Philly drafted me — they drafted me for a reason, especially in that spot," he said. "Talking to them, there's a little bump in the road — that's life, that's hockey. I'm just happy, I'm looking forward, I'm pumped for next year. 

"Continue to work on my game and go into next season charging."

A different player, taking a different path — and equipped for any roadblocks along the way.

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2019-20 Flyers season grades: Travis Konecny

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Travis Konecny

The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the next time the puck drops will officially kick off the race to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October. 

In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall will be grading players based on individual performances. 

Today we will be looking at Travis Konecny. 

Destra

The Flyers would have been a fraction of the team it was this season without Konecny. You can’t say enough good things about the player he’s becoming. Now, at the end of his fourth season with the Flyers, he’s finally found exactly where he belongs on this roster. 

No. 11 has always been the kind of player to get under the opposing team’s skin — luckily, he’s on the Flyers' side. There was a distinct shift in confidence throughout the 2019-20 season and it was noticeable in all aspects of his game. While it could have something to do with his shiny new six-year contract, he also had a fresh start with the new additions behind the bench. 

Konecny dressed for 66 games this season and posted a team best in points with 61 (24 goals, 37 assists). This is the third straight season he’s ended with 24 goals, but had play not been suspended because of the growing COVID-19 concerns, he would have most likely found himself with a new career high. 

A+ for Konecny — and expectations are most definitely going to be raised moving forward.  

Emmer

This one is an easy grade.

The 2019-20 season was hands down Konecny’s best of his career. He was showing a more confident style that we hadn’t seen before, making more risky plays with the puck, taking more chances and capitalizing — all of which was portrayed in his 61 points in 66 games, which led the team.

He also stepped up on the Flyers’ improved power play this season, recording five goals and 18 assists on the man advantage. He was a spark plug — he consistently brought energy to the bench and to the game, especially when he made it on the score sheet.

His confident play landed him his first All-Star selection and his improved shooting percentage was a major key to the Flyers' offense.

A for Konecny.

Fordyce 

Konecny is an easy grade for me — it’s an obvious A. When Konecny is playing well, it’s infectious and has an effect on the entire team. The energy and spark that No. 11 plays with on a nightly basis is one of the most valuable parts of T.K.'s game.

This was a big growth season for Konecny, too, as he played a more disciplined game and shed some of the bad habits which had cost him and the Flyers in previous seasons with penalties and so forth. That can’t be understated. 

Now let's look at the numbers. In 66 games this season, Konecny equaled his career high in goals and if it were a normal season, it’s a virtual lock that he would have a new career high. Konecny’s 61 points were a career high and while he maintained his status as a scoring threat, he became more of a playmaker, dishing out a career-high 37 assists, 12 more than his previous high. 

This is certainly a player the Flyers will rely on in the future and this season was a huge leap. 

A for Konecny. 

Hall

On the heels of signing a new six-year, $33 million deal, Konecny had six three-point performances in 2019-20 after having a combined two over his first three NHL seasons.

That's big-time growth from a 23-year-old foundation piece.

Konecny led the Flyers in goals (24) and points (61) through 66 games. His 37 assists were a career high and he was one marker away from a new personal best.

The Flyers went 31-9-2 when he recorded at least a point and 10-9-5 when he had gone scoreless.

Konecny deserves an A for taking huge strides and backing up his contract.

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2019-20 Flyers season grades: Kevin Hayes

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Kevin Hayes

The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the next time the puck drops will officially kick off the race to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October.

In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall will be grading players based on individual performances.

Today we will be looking at Kevin Hayes. 

Destra

Man oh man am I thrilled to be giving Hayes the grade he’s getting today. This time last year, Flyers fans were beyond the point of disappointment at the signing of the center — it’s safe to say things have taken a turn for the best. The Hayes signing was instantly justified before the 2019-20 season was even in full swing because of the news about Nolan Patrick and his migraine disorder. Had he not been brought in, the lines down the middle would have been very weak. 

Hayes didn’t miss a single one of the 69 games the Flyers played this season. During that time, he racked up an impressive 41 points (23 goals, 18 assists). He also had a career best in shorthanded goals (four) and game-winning goals (five). 

On top of the player he has been on the ice, Hayes has also helped the Flyers in many other ways. He’s a big personality and jumped into a leadership role almost instantly. I’d say he exceeded expectations on the first year of his contract. 

A+ … not bad for a former ref

Emmer

Kevin “I used to ref” Hayes brought a lot of excitement in his first year with the orange and black.

Because of the shortened season, Hayes recorded 23 goals in under 70 games, just two markers short of his career high. His 200-foot style that was anticipated in the preseason thrived in many ways throughout the year, especially on the penalty kill.

Last season, the Flyers' PK ranked 26th in the league, operating at 78.5 percent. This season, the PK ranked 11th at 81.8 percent — Hayes had a lot to do with it. He also led the team with four shorthanded goals — the most in his career.

Offensively, you could argue his consistency could have been stronger. He had a stretch in early November during which he went 10 games without a point and another six-game drought in early February, but when he did end up making it on the score sheet, he was a game-changer. The Flyers were 19-0-1 when Hayes scored a goal during the regular season; he was a spark plug out there. He loved big-game situations, as well — five game-winning goals can attest to that.

Away from his skill, Hayes brought energy, fun off the ice and extremely creative nicknames (very important). 

A- for Hayes.

Fordyce 

Hayes began his Flyers tenure with a big contract and big expectations. Last offseason, Hayes signed a seven-year, $50 million deal, which raised some eyebrows. At that time, Hayes had eclipsed the 20-goal plateau only one time in his career. However, through 69 games this season he had 23 goals, just two short of his career high, and he almost certainly would have bested that if the Flyers had played a full 82 games. 

Hayes delivered the full package to a team that desperately needed that when it signed him after trading for his contractual rights ahead of free agency. His two-way game is his most valuable asset and this season we’ve seen Hayes single-handedly kill penalties by keeping possession of the puck. It’s one thing to sign a big-time deal, it’s another to deliver on the expectations set forth by said deal. Additionally, Hayes is an invaluable member of the team in terms of locker room chemistry.

Hayes gets an A.

Hall

During his first regular season with the Flyers, Hayes more than lived up to the hype and pressure of signing a seven-year, $50 million deal in this city.

While we tend to fixate on offensive production in this game, especially for higher-paid players, Hayes had an immeasurable impact on the Flyers in the locker room, which can be just as important as any statistic.

But statistically speaking, he also did plenty of good things. Not only did the 28-year-old center make the Flyers tougher to play against, but he was also on pace to break his career high of 25 goals (he finished with 23 in 69 games) and did wonders for the team's penalty kill. In fact, Hayes scored four shorthanded goals, the same number the Flyers put up as a team in 2018-19 over a full 82-game season.

An A- for Hayes because his impact has already been felt in a multitude of ways.

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More Flyers grades