The Toronto Maple Leafs’ ECHL affiliate, the Newfoundland Growlers, have had a stellar season in the ECHL and with it have found playoff success, too. Leading the way is Zach O’Brien, the Growlers goalscoring machine.
At 26-years-old, ECHL standout player for the Newfoundland Growlers Zach O’Brien is hardly a budding young prospect with the eyes of minor hockey upon him. Instead, O’Brien is more of a journeyman who has used his experience to maximize his style of play.
In this, the Growlers second ever season in the ECHL as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ affiliate team, the team won the North division with 94 points, good enough for the fourth best record in the league. Now off to the Eastern finals, the Growlers have relied on O’Brien to act as a veteran, while also blazing a trail on the stat sheet, too.
In the regular season, O’Brien has the 7th most points in the league (68), with 28 goals and 48 assists. Outside of his QMJHL days, this is by far O’Brien’s best season of his career.
The road to the NHL is getting more and more predictable, especially for top draft picks. For depth draftees and even undrafted players, however, there are many different roads, including the ECHL.
The NHL currently has 66 former ECHL graduates playing. This list includes Michael Ferland (Carolina), Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus), Mike Hoffman (Florida), Yanni Gourde (Tampa Bay), and Ryan Reeves (Vegas).
They aren’t superstars, but Ferland and Reeves have found an important balance between physical and effective, while Dubinsky provides leadership, and Hoffman and Gourde bring scoring ability. O’Brien wouldn’t be blazing a trail graduating through the ECHL, but rather taking the path less traveled.
Do I believe O’Brien will break camp next season with a position on the Toronto Maple Leafs? No, I don’t. But, there is a very real chance that the Toronto Marlies see O’Brien as an opening day player who can chip in offensively as he’s done over his previous AHL experiences. His versatility at center and right-wing also makes him a more attractive player.
Should O’Brien take the next step and carve out a place in one of the most consistently successful AHL teams in recent years, his path should be embraced in Leafs Nation. Not only would it exemplify perseverance, but it would also show the Leafs mentality of relying on their minor league depth to support the big club.
Keep an eye out for Zach O’Brien come pre-season and training camp in September. He is a scoring forward who will use the undrafted chip on his shoulder to feed the fire that keeps him motivated.