STONE HARBOR, N.J. -- Jay O'Brien felt he needed to be far from home to get his hockey career back on track, which is why he'll play for Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League this season.
O'Brien, selected by the Philadelphia Flyers with the No. 19 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, had an injury-plagued freshman season at Providence College that by its conclusion left him wanting to be elsewhere.
"I just wanted to get away," said the 19-year-old forward, who was born about 50 miles north of the college in Hingham, Massachusetts. "I just wanted to have fun playing hockey again. That's the biggest thing and that's what the (Penticton) Vees preach, just having fun again, getting back to how I was playing before that … just getting back to that mindset."
O'Brien's sustained a concussion early last season and was never able to get back on track. He did not have a point and averaged 4:25 of ice time in seven games for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.
He sustained another injury, to his neck and shoulder, in Providence's regular-season finale on March 7 and had to watch Providence reach the Frozen Four. O'Brien finished with five points (two goals, three assists) in 25 games.
"Couple games into the year, I just got clocked pretty good," O'Brien said. "Then another one was later in the year with my shoulder and my neck. Obviously [stinks]. You don't want that to happen ever."
O'Brien committed to Providence as a 15-year-old. But the longer he stayed on campus, the more he felt out of place.
"I never felt like myself there," he said. "People in Philly realized that, my [adviser] realized that, some of my teammates realized that too. It was unfortunate. Live and learn from it. You take the positives from it. I'm grateful for what they did for me."
Penticton became an option after it was recommended by Flyers development coach Brett Hextall, who played there for two seasons (2006-08). O'Brien said his first visit sealed his decision.
"It was beautiful," he said. "The facilities, support from the fans and the town is unbelievable."
His plan is to play one season with Penticton, then try college hockey again in 2020-21, this time at Boston University.
"My old coach (at Thayer Academy) Tony Amonte went there, I know a bunch of people there, Joel (Farabee, Flyers forward prospect), everybody loves how they play, how much fun they have playing hockey and going to school," he said. "I toured a few times, felt right at home. It's going to be a good fit."
O'Brien's offseason has been about continuing to put his past behind him and focus on the future. He said he was healthy during Providence's NCAA tournament run and since leaving school has gotten even stronger.
"I've gained 14 pounds since the end of the year, of strength," O'Brien (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) said. "I've never felt this fast or strong. I feel like myself again."
The Flyers were encouraged by what they saw during development camp in June.
"Stepping from high school into the college level, it's a challenge," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "It's not easy. It doesn't matter how good you are. I think he learned that. … He battled through some injuries but hopefully that's behind him. He can put his best foot forward here.
"He's got quick hands, he can really shoot it. His skating is going to be good. He's quick probably more than fast right now, but that's strength-related. In order for him to play against bigger bodies in the NHL, he's going to have to be quick. That's going to be a work in progress."