With Capitals training camp getting underway today, there are numerous forward prospects and camp invitees that are hoping to fill one of the empty spots in the team’s Opening Night lineup. While the top forward prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, and Nathan Walker have gotten most of the attention, there is one player whose name has not been brought up in conversation: left wing Liam O’Brien.
Originally signed by the Capitals as an undrafted free agent three seasons ago O’Brien is one of a few forward prospects with prior NHL experience. The 23-year old Halifax, Nova Scotia native played thirteen games with the Capitals in 2014-15, after making the team’s Opening Night roster out of training camp, scoring one goal and recording one assist. He was recalled for one game last season, finishing the game with no points and averaging 6:08 of ice time. While his numbers or experience is not exactly eye-popping, the fact he does have experience alone, could give him an advantage. While he doesn’t bring much in terms of offense (something the Caps lost a lot of this offseason), he has shown offensive potential in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears.
In 64 games played last season with the Bears, O’Brien scored 10 goals and finished with 20 assists for 30 points, with a plus-2 rating. His 30 points was good enough for ninth on the team, while his 20 assists ranked seventh. In 2015-16, he finished with 16 points in 59 games played. O’Brien is a very hard-nosed player, and plays every game with an edge, always ready to stand in and defend his teammates if the need arises. Defensively, O’Brien has been particularly impressive at the NHL level, granted, with only a small sample size (98.1 minutes played). In the 13 games he played in 2014-15, he finished with a Corsi rating of 54.0, and Capitals goaltenders finished with a save percentage of 1.000 when he was on the ice, while the Caps started play in the offensive zone 61.3% of the time he was on the ice.
O’Brien signed a new one-year, two-way contract with the Caps this offseason, In 168 career games played in the AHL, O’Brien has recorded 54 points (21 goals, 33 assists) and while the Caps lost a lot of firepower this summer, O’Brien is the type of player who could chip in offensively every so often. While there are other prospects who grab most of the attention when it comes to making the Caps’ Opening Night roster, O’Brien’s prior NHL experience (while not substantial) could potentially make him a darkhorse contender to grab a spot in the Capitals’ bottom-six.
By Michael Fleetwood