He hasn’t missed a repetition in the workout room, hasn’t skipped a shift or a drill on the ice.
Already, Jim O’Brien is miles again of the game in this, his second go round at Ottawa Senators development camp. Then again, the mere fact he’s been a full participant this week is progress alone.
A year ago, after the Senators made him their first-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, O’Brien arrived in Ottawa nursing a left shoulder injury that eventually required surgery during the summer. He was basically here in name only.
“I was able to go (to development camp) but I really couldn’t participate in anything,” said the 19-year-old native of Maplewood, Minn. “All I could really do was my therapy. I couldn’t skate or really lift a lot.”
It was pretty much the same drill in main training camp last September.
“I was injured for the first couple of weeks, so I wasn’t really able to do much,” said O’Brien. “I was still ‘no contact’ out on the ice. In the last week (of camp) or so, I was able to participate in most everything.”
What a difference a year has made, though. O’Brien, who left the University of Minnesota after his freshman season to join the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, said the shoulder is 100 per cent now.
“Everything’s fine,” he said. “It felt good (last season). Every kid coming back from surgery is nervous at first but once you get back playing and get back on the ice…. It felt good once I got playing (again) and got back into the swing of things.”
There was also the matter of making the adjustment from NCAA hockey to the WHL. But O’Brien played 70-of-72 games for the Thunderbirds, collecting 55 points (including 21 goals) along the way.
“It was a good year,” said O’Brien, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound centre. “I had just come off shoulder surgery, so it was rough going at the start, being in a new league, not really knowing the ins and outs of it.
“But I thought the second half went really well and I got better as the year went on, so I’m really happy about that.”
He also believes heading west was a positive step in his overall development.
“What’s best for my development is that I play a lot of games and play good minutes,” said O’Brien. “Last year, I thought that was fantastic for me in terms of my development. I got to play a lot of games, I got used to the travel. That league’s really pro style and you’ve got to learn that pro game at some point, especially coming from college.
“It’s very different, so I’m really happy that I went out there and got a year under my belt and I think that’ll make me better off next year.”
Senators general manager Bryan Murray has noticed improvement in O’Brien’s game.
“He looks like he’s really gotten stronger and looks better,” said Murray.
O’Brien is likely headed back to Seattle for a second season of junior hockey, but he’s willing to be patient on the road to what he hopes will be a long career in Ottawa.
“I still have a lot of work to do on my game,” he said. “Gain some weight, get faster. As far as time goes (to reach the NHL), I’m not really sure. Hopefully, sooner rather than later but I know it’s a work in progress, so I’m just going to keep working at my game.
“I’m just looking this summer to get bigger, stronger and faster so that I can come in next year and have a good year and just get better.” Visit Sens TV online every day for exclusive video from development camp.