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ECHL playoff MVP looking to earn a spot in Marlies' lineup
Zach O’Brien of St. John’s is one of the 75 players attending the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp in Paradise, and the Newfoundland Growlers star didn’t look out of place over the weekend, scoring a pair of goals in his first intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at the Paradise Double Ice Complex.
It’s O’Brien’s fourth NHL training camp, and he hopes to raise a few eyebrows in the Leafs’ organization after signing a free-agent American Hockey League contract over the summer.
O’Brien won’t be cracking the Leafs’ roster, but hopes to play this season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “Obviously, I want to play at the highest level.”
O’Brien had a great 2018-19 season, leading the Growlers to the ECHL Kelly Cup championship in their first year of operation.
He was the playoffs’ MVP with 16 goals and 29 points in 23 games, and earned second-team ECHL all-star status with a team-high 28 goals and 68 points in 53 games.
O’Brien actually attended five NHL camps, if you include the San Jose Sharks rookie camp when he was 17, and coming off a 65-point rookie season with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
He attended the St. Louis Blues’ camp in 2015, after winning the Calder Cup AHL championship with the Manchester Monarchs the previous spring, the Edmonton Oilers’ camp in 2017 after signing with the organization, and the Leafs’ camp last year and this past weekend.
“Anybody who plays wants to play at the highest level possible,” he repeated. “There’s a lot of talent in this camp, and we know the Leafs, Marlies and Growlers are all going to have great teams. So everyone is going to be in a good position to succeed.
“The Growlers will have another great year, for sure, and if it comes to the point where I’m back with them, I’ll still be happy.
“But even now,” said O’Brien, 27, “I’m still trying to get better every day, and trying to play at the next level.”
O’Brien is officially at that level today after being assigned to the Marlies Sunday in the first round of cuts from the Leafs’ camp.
A total of 22 players were involved, with seven players returned to their junior teams and 15 more, almost all of them on AHL contracts, sent to the Marlies.
Six of the latter are players were regulars on the Growlers last season — O’Brien, fellow Newfoundlander Marcus Power, Matt Bradley, Giorgio Estephan, Alex Gudbranson and Scott Pooley.
Fifty-four players remain with the big team’s contingent. That number includes defenceman Kristians Rubins and forward Hudson Elynuik, two members of the champion Growlers who will also eventually be reassigned to the Marlies since they, too, are on AHL deals.