It can be difficult to measure a player like Jay O’Brien against some of the other top-level prospects in the NHL Draft because rather than playing all season against competition in leagues such as the USHL, CHL, or a top European league, O’Brien dominated competition at the US High School level.
Now, plenty of players have been chosen out of high school in the past. Jeremy Roenick was the eighth overall pick in the 1988 draft out of the same Thayer Academy O’Brien plays for. Current Calgary Flames centre Mark Jankowski was drafted out of Canadian high school with the idea it would take him time to develop at Providence College — the same team O’Brien will be joining in 2018-19. So while he didn’t face the same level of play some others did all season, he’s taken a path others have in the past and is on track as a worthwhile prospect to take a shot on.
Here’s a closer look at O’Brien.
Team: Thayer Academy (US High School)
Weight: 176 pounds
All-USA Player of the Year
O’Brien had a great 2016-17, finishing with 65 points in 30 games for Thayer Academy and had the second-best points-per-game average among US high school players.
This season he returned even better and was the highest scoring player overall with 43 goals and 80 points in just 30 games. The performance led to him being named the All-USA boys hockey player of the year.
O’Brien had the option to join the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms in 2017-18 but decided instead to stay in the high school league close to home. He did, however, play one game for the Phantoms this season and even joined the US under-18 team for seven exhibition games against college teams, in which he scored two points.
He told the Patriot Ledger that it was good experience to get a taste of the next level, but that the focus other teams put on him in high school has prepared him for the next step.
“Going against Michigan State, and then playing against Exeter, I really felt like I had more time and space against the college team than I did against a prep school team,” he said. “They’re on me the whole game. I’m getting banged, getting whacked, getting chirped, all that stuff.
“I’m a competitive kid. I like to push myself. If I’m doing that out here – having the puck on my stick, getting every team’s best game, having everyone want to come after me – I think it’s getting me more prepared for college hockey. I feel like it’s backed up my decision.”
WORK ETHIC, CONDITIONING RECEIVE HIGH PRAISE
O’Brien had a strong showing at the NHL Scouting Combine, finishing top 10 in both the pull-up and bench press drills.
“It’s difficult to scout such an elite player against lesser competition, but the returns are skill and work ethic are top notch, so too is his physical conditioning,” wrote Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino, who had O’Brien going 26th overall to the New York Rangers in his mock draft.
“He can skate and he’s got a motor,” said Tony Amonte, head coach of Thayer Academy. “It’s tough to play against him. If you take the puck away from him, he’s going to chop your leg off to get it back.”