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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Worried about Alain Vigneault coaching Flyers' youth? There's evidence to ease concerns

Worried about Alain Vigneault coaching Flyers' youth? There's evidence to ease concerns

Kevin Hayes and some Flyers hit the ice Tuesday morning at Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.

The team tweeted out pictures of its new seven-year, $50 million man in Flyers orange, giving us the first glimpse of Hayes rocking his new threads.

In 2019-20, Hayes will be tasked with great responsibility as the Flyers look to rebound from one of their most trying, tumultuous and disappointing seasons in 12 years. As Hayes signed with the Flyers, he set up a reunion with head coach Alain Vigneault. From 2014-18, the two were together in New York, where Vigneault came under the microscope near the end of his tenure for not developing younger players.

From 22 to 25 years old, Hayes played his first four NHL seasons under Vigneault and scored a career-high 25 goals during the coach's final year with the Rangers.

"It's always tough when you go to a new team and you don't know how you're going to fit in with the coach, you don't know how you're going to fit in with the players," the 27-year-old Hayes said in June. "But playing under A.V. for four years, we had a great relationship, on and off the ice. He demands hard work. If you play the correct way, he kind of lets you play freely offensively. That was a huge factor in the decision — being comfortable with him made the decision a lot easier."

At his introductory press conference during April, Vigneault was asked about being maligned for not utilizing young players enough while in New York. It was a fair question because it was a tactile criticism of Vigneault as the Rangers parted ways.

But just how fair?

"Everybody has their opinion, I respect that," Vigneault said. "I don't necessarily agree with that, but for me, that's just part of the coaching job that you have to do. Some people are going to like some of the things [general manager Chuck Fletcher] and I do, and I do with my staff, and some other people aren't going to like it as much. At the end of the day, you know what we have to do? We have to win."

There are some interesting facts from Vigneault's time in New York, where he went 226-147-37 with three straight 100-plus-point seasons and a Stanley Cup Final appearance. (For some context, the Flyers haven't earned 100 or more points in a season since 2011-12, when they last won a playoff series.)

When the Rangers won the Eastern Conference in 2014, the team's second-leading scorer was 23-year-old Derek Stepan, who experienced a career year over 82 games. Ryan McDonagh was the team's best defenseman at only 24 years old. And Chris Kreider was a team-best plus-14 at 22 years old.

The following season, New York put up 53 wins and 113 points. Hayes had an excellent rookie year (17 goals, 45 points) and the Rangers' youth took strides.

In 2016-17, when New York experienced a 102-point season, the team's second-leading scorer was 23-year-old J.T. Miller and one of its best defensemen was 22-year-old rookie Brady Skjei, who scored 39 points over 80 games.

So there is evidence of Vigneault getting the best out of older and younger players.

At our level, there's not one coach that will not play a player that will permit him to win. I firmly believe that talent has no age. If a guy who's 19 can step in and help the Flyers win and be competitive, he's going to play. Talent has no age.

- Vigneault

The Flyers were not the most disciplined team with the puck during 2018-19. Fletcher talked about bad on-ice habits at his end-of-the-season press conference. But he knows the talent — both young and old — is in place.

The belief is that an experienced coach like Vigneault, along with experienced assistants, can create better habits and smarter decisions from everybody on the ice.

"There weren't a ton of young players during my time with the Rangers that came up in the system because of where that organization was at the time," Vigneault said. "Was I perfect with all of them? No, and I don't think anybody is. I think my record is pretty good with younger players, it's pretty good with core players as far as them coming into a season and having strong performances. It's also good with older players."

The Flyers, once again, have a blend of veterans and youngsters. It gives Vigneault a prime opportunity to reinforce his track record and prove he can win with all ages.

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Which Shayne Gostisbehere should Flyers fans expect in 2019-20 season?

Which Shayne Gostisbehere should Flyers fans expect in 2019-20 season?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jordan Hall and Brooke Destra

The topic: Predictions for Shayne Gostisbehere's 2019-20 season.

Hall

Some reporter (it was me) was bullish on Gostisbehere entering the 2018-19 season. 

He was super impressed by Gostisbehere's skill and mobility during the preseason, especially with the defenseman fresh off a career-high 65 points, the fourth most among NHL blueliners in 2017-18.

He foresaw big things for Gostisbehere. And that reporter (it was me) was way off.

There are a handful of important factors to note when analyzing the outlook for Gostisbehere in 2019-20.

Firstly, Gostisbehere will be playing under a new coaching staff. Coaches and their philosophies are crucial to a player like Gostisbehere.

Secondly, during his exit interview, Gostisbehere admitted to dealing with a banged-up knee from early on through the midseason. He didn't use it as an excuse, but for a guy that relies heavily on his slipperiness and mobility, a knee problem can be a significant hindrance.

And thirdly, Gostisbehere should feel a lighter burden on his shoulders with the additions of Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. Both bring different elements to the table but understand goal prevention and can play minutes. One would think those acquisitions will allow Gostisbehere to play a bit more freely without the 26-year-old trying to do too much, overthinking every decision.

How all of the above impacts Gostisbehere's production and usefulness will be one of the more fascinating storylines to watch in 2019-20.

I don't see why Gostisbehere can't get back into the 50-point range or 40-assist territory — although, that will depend on a lot.

Destra

I'll be very upfront with my views of Gostisbehere's performance last season — it was no indication of the direction he is heading in as a player and it truly isn't a big concern (at the moment). He was one of many players who underperformed on the Flyers and when his lower-body injury surfaced at the season's end, it validated a lot.

He's about to have a bounce-back year — and it's going to be a good one.

Heading into this season, this is probably the most balanced the defense has looked in well over a decade. He will be able to play on his true side as a LHD and will have the opportunity to be a leader to whoever the other half of his pairing is.

Even though he wasn't at the top of his game in 2018-19, he was still able to put up nine goals — this tied him for the lead in most goals scored by a defenseman on the Flyers (along with Travis Sanheim).

Gostisbehere also has the ability to make or break his respective power-play unit. Not many players stationed up at the blue line have the kind of sniper shot he can produce. Even if he doesn't pot one, he is capable of getting the puck in deep and setting up high-danger scoring opportunities.

It'll be tough to top the numbers he put up in 2017-18 (65 points — 13 goals, 52 assists), but there's a chance he comes close to it. By the nature of his game, he is an offensive defenseman — his instincts are strong and he tries to contribute to his team in any way that he can.

It's very possible to see him at 55-plus points for 2019-20.

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