We continue breaking-down the last 12 months for each of the Washington Capitals prospects with a review and forecast for right winger, Liam O’Brien. (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page right here.)
O’Brien is a 24-year-old winger who has primarily played in the AHL with the Hershey Bears. The Halifax, Nova Scotia native was undrafted and signed a contract with the Capitals after their training camp for the 2014-15 season.
O’Brien played this season on his second consecutive one-year, two-way contract and is a free agent.
O’Brien has spent five seasons with the Hershey Bears, playing in a total of 311 games. He’s scored 53 goals and had 55 assists for 108 points overall. He was -18 and had 555 penalty minutes.
He has played in 17 games for the Washington Capitals during that time frame, with one goal and one assist.
2018-2019 SEASON SUMMARY
O’Brien finished the regular season with 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points overall while playing in 74 games for the Hershey Bears. He was -12 and had 118 penalty minutes. He usually played on the first line with Riley Barber and Mike Sgarbossa.
During the Bears playoff run, he played in 8 games and scored 1 goal.
2018-2019 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following month-by-month breakdown is an aggregation of our monthly prospect reports prepared during the 2018-2019 season. You can find all of our monthly prospect reports on our “Prospects” page in the top menu.
O’Brien had a solid training camp with the Capitals and pushed to make the Opening Night roster. He came back to Hershey and has continued his strong play. O’Brien set a career-high in goals last season with 17 and is on his way to setting another career-high. He leads the Bears in goals with six and in points with seven. Those six goals have him tied for fifth in the AHL. He has two of the team’s three game-winning goals (Hershey’s other win came in a shootout) and is tied for second in the league in that category. O’Brien is the longest-tenured player in Hershey and he has been everything the Bears have needed him to be. He has a letter on his sweater for the first time and he has taken to the leadership role. He plays in all situations, seeing time on both the penalty kill and power play units. If O’Brien continues to play like he is, he will become a fourth-line option for the Capitals.
O’Brien has cooled off after a hot start to the season. He has one goal in November and has not tallied since November 2. He is mired in a nine-game goalless drought. His only other points for the month are two assists in a 6-1 Hershey win over Cleveland on November 16. He is scoreless in the other eight games he has played this month. The Bears need more consistency out of O’Brien. The team has relied heavily on the trio of Mike Sgarbossa, Riley Barber and O’Brien. Those three have accounted for nearly half of Hershey’s goals on a team that has struggled to find secondary goal scoring. When one of those three slows down, it hurts the team’s offensive production. O’Brien needs to get back to the way he was playing in October. Defensively, he has continued to be a contributor on the penalty, but has struggled at even-strength, posting a minus-5 rating for the month.
With Sgarbossa and Barber, O’Brien is one of Hershey’s big three on offense. After entering December on a nine-game goalless drought, O’Brien broke through with two goals against Binghamton on December 2. He ended the month with five goals and an assist. He leads the Bears with four game-winning goals and is second on the team with 12 goals. His 16 points is fourth on the team. O’Brien has suited up in all 34 of the Bears games, one of only three players to do so this season.
December was a quiet month for O’Brien. In a month in which many of his teammates upped their offensive game, O’Brien’s production decreased. He netted one goal in January after scoring five in December. That one goal came on 19 shots, which is a shooting percentage of just .05. He was scoreless in seven of the 10 games in the month and has one goal in his last 18 games. O’Brien is also a team worst minus-14. The rugged winger needs to find more consistency in his game. He has proven to be a very streaky player this season. He has been in the lineup for all 44 games this season and more consistent offensive productivity would benefit the Bears.
O’Brien got off to a fast start in February, recording a goal and two assists in his first three games in the month. He was unable to keep that start going. He was then scoreless in his next five games before picking up two assists in a win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on February 22. He then closed out the month with three scoreless games. Since scoring two goals on December 8, O’Brien has netted just three goals. He recently lost his spot on the top-line with Sgarbossa and Barber due to his inconsistency offensively. The Halifax, Nova Scotia does contribute in other ways. He sees a lot of time on the penalty kill and also brings a physical presence. He saved a goal against Rockford on February 23 when he back-checked on a Rockford player.
As Hershey’s play has turned around in 2019, O’Brien has gone in the opposite direction, as he continues to struggle offensively. He had 12 goals at the end of December, and with one goal in March (which came on March 1), his season total is now 15 (three goals in three months). He is in the midst of a 12-game goalless drought and has one goal in his last 22 games; overall, O’Brien had a total of three points in March. O’Brien has gone from one of the few players scoring goals to a non-factor offensively. He still brings a physical element and contributes on the penalty kill. However, the Halifax, Nova Scotia native could find himself falling down the depth chart if he does not find his offensive game.
For the last five games of the regular season for the Bears, O’Brien was held pointless on the score sheet. He was ejected from the Bears’ last game of the regular season and was suspended for the first game of the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. He scored 1 goal during the 8 games that he did play.
O’Brien’s contract with the Caps and Bears expires after the 2018-19 season, making him a restricted free agent. The decision to continue with the Capitals will be one with significant input from both player and team.
Given that his productivity for the second half of the season was very low, there is a good chance he may not be back in the Capitals’ organization, however, a perennial fan favorite in Chocolate Town, O’Brien could return. This one is a “wait and see”.
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Bears Brothers: Liam O’Brien & Riley Barber Find Lifelong Friendship with Hershey Bears (Part 1)
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By Diane Doyle