Just a few weeks after experiencing the sting of not being drafted, Liam O’Brien is getting a taste of the NHL.
The Halifax native is on the ice this week with the Pittsburgh Penguins at a development camp at the club’s two-year-old Consol Energy Centre and is hoping to turn heads among a group of signed prospects, draft picks and free agents.
“Obviously, it was a little bit of a disappointment when I didn’t get drafted — I was hoping to,” said O’Brien, a Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward in his second QMJHL season.
“But I feel like (development camp) is a good experience for me and it’s something to build on.”
O’Brien was selected 10th overall in the 2010 QMJHL draft by the Rimouski Oceanic but was traded to Rouyn-Noranda midway through last season. He finished with 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points in 67 games and was ranked 169th among North Americans for the draft by Central Scouting.
When the Penguins — a perennial contender led by another Nova Scotian, Sidney Crosby — came calling after the draft, the 17-year-old O’Brien was ecstatic and happily accepted.
The six-day camp is jam-packed with on-ice practices and scrimmages along with off-ice workouts and team-building evening activities such as bowling and paintball. It wraps up Saturday with a scrimmage that drew 5,000 fans last year.
“They’re working us hard, it’s a great camp, it’s obviously a good experience for me,” O’Brien said. “There are a lot of older guys. I’m one of the younger guys here, the execution, the speed of the game’s faster, but I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Another Nova Scotian, Birch Hill’s Zach Sill, is also at the camp. The former Cole Harbour major midget captain was never drafted, but worked his way through the ranks in the same way O’Brien will have to and earned a two-year contract with the Penguins.
“I’ve talked to him quite a bit — he’s a great guy,” O’Brien said. “He’s a good, hard-working player, and he’s definitely a guy I look up to. He’s a good example for me.”
If things go well, O’Brien could earn an invitation to an NHL training camp.
“I’m obviously hoping for that,” O’Brien said. “If it isn’t Pittsburgh, hopefully another team invites me. I’m just focused on having fun, experiencing this, and hopefully everything works out.”
BURKE SEEING STARS
Another Halifax native, Taylor Burke, is also getting an NHL chance after being passed over in last month’s draft. The Gatineau Olympiques forward is at a development camp with the Dallas Stars in Fresno, Tex. It concludes Thursday.