Zach O’Brien is back in the American Hockey League.
The 26-year-old forward from St. John’s, the leading scorer for the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers, was called up to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies on Tuesday along with fellow Growlers forward Hudson Elynuik.
O’Brien is no stranger to the ‘A.’
In fact, if O’Brien plays for the Marlies against the Manitoba Moose this morning in Toronto (it’s one of a number of “school-day” games on the Marlies’ home schedule), it will make six consecutive seasons in which he has appeared in at least one American league contest.
In all, O’Brien has skated in 218 AHL games with the St. John’s IceCaps, Manchester Monarchs, Chicago Wolves, Binghamton Senators and Bakersfield Condors. That includes a single game with the IceCaps in 2011-12 before his junior career concluded, and one with Binghamton in 2016-17, his only AHL contest that season.
Overall, O’Brien has 104 points (on 39 goals and 65 assists) during his time in the AHL and was also part of Manchester’s Calder Cup championship team in 2015.
However, O’Brien’s best offensive season as a pro is his current one. With 48 points (20 G, 28A) in 40 games, he is in the top 15 of ECHL scoring, this despite missing 10 games with a broken finger.
The 21-year-old Elynuik, who has spent his entire rookie pro season with the Growlers has 27 points (8G, 19A) in 32 games, and the lanky (6-5, 195 pounds) Calgary native has also played some of his best hockey of late for Newfoundland (34-14-4), which is unbeaten in regulation its last six games, and owns a comfortable first-place lead in the ECHL ’s North Division.
The defending Calder Cup champion Marlies (27-18-8) are battling to maintain a playoff position this season and will be looking to see if O’Brien and Elynuik can help add some fuel to an offensive engine that has been damaged by an injury to veteran Chris Mueller, Toronto’s leading scorer before this week, and the loss of Sam Gagner, another key forward.
Gagner had been loaned to the Marlies by the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, but was dealt by the Canucks last week to Edmonton and is now in the NHL with the Oilers.
As well, forward Mason Marchment is also hurt and the team has also been looking to adrees the vacuum created by the loss of winger Carl Grundstrom, who was sent to the Los Angeles Kings in the trade that brought defenceman Jake Muzzin to the parent Maple Leafs earlier this month.
This, and the fact the Marlies are playing four games in five days (they defeated the Syracuse Crunch 5-3 Monday in Toronto and travel to Syracuse for Games Friday and Saturday), certainly contributed to a call-up of four players from the Growlers to the Marlies in the last four days; forward Brady Ferguson and defenceman Sam Jardine were promoted over the weekend.
Still, you could also expect to see some players soon reassigned to the Growlers, who just happen to be in Toronto practising in preparation for games against the nearby Brampton Beast Saturday and Sunday. Those contests will wrap up a five-game road trip to the southern U.S. and southern Ontario, connected by a two-day, 1,400-kilometre bus ride that concluded Tuesday.