Zach O’Brien was passed over in his first year of NHL draft eligibility, but he wasn’t overlooked.
After the late-round selections were made, O’Brien was invited to the San Jose Sharks’ rookie camp.
“When I was at camp last year, they said they would watch how I progress in junior,” says O’Brien.
Heading into Friday night’s Entry Draft in Minneapolis, the 18-year-old O’Brien, who will turn 19 Wednesday, says his agent, Alain Roy, has been once again been contacted by Sharks’ management.
But training partner Ryane Clowe’s team isn’t the only one chatting with Roy — the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning have all inquired about the natural sniper from St. John’s.
So while it’s rare to see a 19-year-old go in the draft, there’s a chance O’Brien could see his name selected at some point today when rounds two to seven are conducted.
“These just asking questions and said they would keep in touch,” O’Brien says. “It doesn’t matter who picks me, I’ll go anywhere.”
Ironically enough, O’Brien might be in a better position if he remains undrafted. That’s because he’d be an undrafted free agent, and able to field offers from different teams.
Drafted, and his rights belong to one NHL organization which calls the shots.
“Still, I’d love to get drafted, but I’m not worrying about it,” he said. “It’s my second year of eligibility and it’s the draft year for the year younger than me.
“I’d be happy to get drafted, but if I don’t hopefully I’ll get an invite somewhere.”
O’Brien enjoyed a banner year with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan last season, leading all rookies with 29 goals and 36 assists with a plus-27 rating. It was good enough to earn him first team all-rookie honours and nominations for three Golden Puck awards — rookie of the year, offensive rookie of the year and and the sportsman of the year award, as O’Brien wasn’t penalized once in 58 games.
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. He played a few games in New Brunswick, but spent the bulk of the season at home, tearing up the major midget circuit with the St. John’s Fog Devils where he was top scorer and MVP. He was named top forward at the national major midget championship, where he helped the Fod Devils to a bronze medal.
O’Brien, who will watch the draft from home, is training with Bob Thompson again this summer. Their focus during the off-season will be putting some more muscle on O’Brien’s 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame and increasing his foot speed.
“We’re looking at getting physically stronger so I can win some more battles,” he said. “And you can always work on increasing speed because you can never be too fast.”