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Should Flyers Sign Jay O’Brien?

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Jay O'Brien, Boston University, Philadelphia Flyers

Should the Philadelphia Flyers sign Jay O’Brien?

That’s a question general manager Chuck Fletcher will have to answer.

O’Brien, 23, a center who has picked up his play recently at Boston University, has had a long and winding road since being drafted by the Flyers in 2018.

The Flyers selected him with the 19th overall pick that year. He was the first of two first-round picks the Flyers had in that draft. They chose Joel Farabee with the 14th overall pick, and he always seemed like a no-brainer to play in the NHL. They then selected O’Brien who had lots of tools but needed more time to develop.

That has held true.

He was a star at Thayer Academy in 2017-18. The prep school point totals are irrelevant. Many players can score close to two points a game there. Or more. O’Brien’s gifts were his passing and his vision, and you can never have enough centers.

Slow start

O’Brien started out his NCAA career with Providence. He struggled there — collecting just five points in 25 games — and entered the transfer portal. It happens, but his plan to join the Penticton Vees in the BCHL was a good decision.

In 2019-20, O’Brien scored 25 goals adding 41 assists in 46 BCHL games. The center starred in the playoffs, collecting five goals and five assists in 10 games.

O’Brien, a Hingham, Mass., native, then went to Boston University. It was close to home, but presented other challenges during the pandemic. It’s nice to be 45 minutes from home, but joining a great hockey school with a deep prospect pool isn’t a cakewalk.

O’Brien, however, had a fine first season at BU — 16 points (8-8) in 16 games in 2020-21.

The next season, the 6-foot, 185-pound O’Brien was the top-line center, and he had 10 goals and 12 assists in 24 games.

During that summer did the Flyers try to sign him? I heard nothing. Maybe they wanted to wait for the results of his hip surgery and see how he looked in 2022-23.

This season, O’Brien had gotten hot lately. He has moved around the lineup, playing wing as well. Flyers prospect Devin Kaplan, 19, has played on different BU lines as well.

O’Brien has 16 points — but just two goals — in 20 games. His strength has been his skilled playmaking, and other areas of his game have improved. O’Brien’s skating, passing, and vision are all looking good. His all-around game has gotten better, and he has won 52 percent of his faceoffs.

His physicality has improved, and his speed getting to lose pucks has returned. The upside is back.

If he still wants to play in Philadelphia, they must sign him. Otherwise, he becomes a free agent in August.

Getting a second-round compensatory pick in 2024 isn’t good because O’Brien is almost developed. He has the upside to be a third-line center in the NHL someday — and he’s not far away.

Russ Cohen is a prospects expert for sportsology.com and .www.eprinkside.com, and he can be heard on SiriusXM NHL Radio.

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