Why patience is key for potential ‘game-breaker' Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien


Providence hockey and the Flyers are on the same page.

Both believe in Jay O'Brien. The two see eye to eye on the shiftiness and burst, the hands that can make the puck go all sorts of ways, the innate goal-scoring ability.

It's why the Friars and Flyers plucked O'Brien out of Thayer Academy, a prep school in Braintree, Massachusetts.

It's also why they're just fine with being patient.

"I think Jay, if he continues to progress, can be a game-breaker for us," Providence head coach Nate Leaman said Monday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "And that's what we're kind of looking for. We want him to continue to grow with the speed and the understanding of the game, but I think with his skill set and his ability, he can be a game-breaker. 

"These guys that come right from high school, it takes time and I know Philly has told us that they understand that also. So it's just for him continuing to grow."

O'Brien, an offensively gifted forward the Flyers selected 19th overall in the 2018 NHL draft, hasn't had the dream start to his collegiate career — and that's OK. He missed six games over the course of October and November because of upper-body injuries and went scoreless in his first eight contests.

Early adversity can derail a freshman season, but that's when O'Brien's background comes into play. Tony Amonte, the former Flyer and current head coach at Thayer Academy, commended O'Brien for his "grit to go along with goal scoring."

The mindset and work ethic were right on par with the skill.

The blend of those characteristics caught Leaman's attention on the recruiting trail.

First impression is that here's a guy that works and he has the skill set. That's what really drew us to him. Jay's skill set is pretty elite, but you see guys out there with real good skill sets but you don't see them work. The one thing that can make Jay special is that he competes and he works.

He's a positive kid. He's a very positive individual and I think he's having a year of learning. I think this is very healthy for everything Jay is going through. He has a great skill set, he's got very good vision, he's got very good hands around the net and in tight situations. His hands in tight situations, in tight around the net, are really elite. 

He's coming from high school hockey. Usually the normal freshman in college hockey, it takes them a good two months to really settle in and unfortunately, Jay missed some of that time with the injuries.

It's clear why Leaman was a major selling point for O'Brien choosing Providence.

"Coach Leaman is unbelievable, I think he's one of the best coaches in college hockey," O'Brien said last summer. "His compete and his want to win and his details are huge. It's a place I wanted to go as soon as I toured there."

Already, the tide is starting to turn for O'Brien, who has two goals and two assists in his last six outings following the eight-game scoreless stretch. Leaman has moved him from center to winger, with the purpose of freeing up O'Brien.

"He's been doing a good job with that," Leaman said. "He plays on the power play and he plays on one of our top lines on the wing.

"It takes time to learn to play at the speed, to play with the lack of space."

Flyers player development coach John Riley and amateur scout Nick Pryor have been at a number of Providence's games.

"I communicate with them regularly also," Leaman said, "and I know they're communicating with Jay."

They're all being patient. O'Brien is, as well. There's too much potential to not believe in the process.

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