Top 25 under 25. no 17: Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien leapfrogs over the competition, much like he did on our list. - Mike Stobe

The evolution of James O'Brien: from on-ice draft dud to off-ice daft dude.

Let 2013 be remembered as the year Ottawa Senators fans met the real Jim O'Brien. In February 2012, the fine folks of this website named O'Brien the 25th best Senator under 25. In January of this year, despite not having played a single game since our last rankings, O'Brien was pegged at number 21. After spending half of a shortened season as a healthy scratch, JOB was able to leapfrog Wikstrand, Claesson, and Petersson to land at number 17 on our prospects list (Silfverberg is gone if you're trying to do the math).

If the trend continues, expect Jim O'Brien to be the number one Senators prospect by the time you finish reading this article. But before we look ahead to the future, let's take a quick stroll down memory lane.

2007 NHL Entry Draft

When Bryan Murray's Anaheim Ducks defeated Bryan Murray's Ottawa Senators in the 2007 Stanley Cup final, Bryan Murray's status as draft wizard was established in the record books forever. After having drafted the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as the manager of the Mighty Ducks, it was apparent Murray's true expertise as a manager came in the month of June.

True to form, Bryan Murray made one of his world famous draft picks when he selected Jim O'Brien from the University of Minnesota 29th overall in the 2007 draft. After having reached the cup finals, the Ottawa Senators had no need for players like P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, and Jamie Benn; all of whom were passed over in the draft to select Jim "The HAMR of Justice" O'Brien.

Here's what Sens scout Bob Janecyk had to say about O'Brien on the day they drafted him (Ottawa Citizen):

"We got lucky in this draft to be able to get Jim O'Brien," he said. "He played regularly at Minnesota as a true freshman on a strong calibre team. He has got size, he has got grit, he has got character and he has got a good head on his shoulders...

We feel fortunate he was still there. That team was such an elite one in Minnesota, for him to come in there as a true freshman and play every game on the third or fourth line at the college level, I believe he's going to develop to be a solid second-line centre in time."

What was even more promising about the young O'Brien is that he was versatile enough of a player to be compared to the second best all-time Senator born in Germany:

Janecyk said the Senators didn't take into consideration that he may play forward and defence at Minnesota. O'Brien played defence until his freshman year in high school, then switched. With Minnesota losing a number of forwards, the coaches told him he might be shifting back and forth, much like the Senators' Christoph Schubert.

From that same Citizen article, Bryan Murray believed that Jim O'Brien would bring a combination of skill and size that was necessary to succeed in "today's NHL", but that he may not be NHL-ready for at least three years, so let's hop ahead to 2010.

2010

I dug up this video feature (warning: auto-play) on Jim O'Brien by Sean Leathong at the Hockey News filmed just before his second full season with Binghamton. Kurt Kleinendorst, the head coach of the Binghamton Senators at the time, had these words on O'Brien (source: Hockey News):

"He might just be the raw version of Mike Fisher. It might be a little bit of a stretch...

Don't see how that could be. Carry on Kurt. I'm sure you're right and your future with the Sens organization is totally secure.

...but if somebody's asking me to draw some comparisons to somebody who's in the organization, I think they're both honest players. They're both going to give you everything they have every shift. They both have tremendous character."

Ah, the c-word. Mostly likely heeding the advice of Senators management, it was at this point in O'Brien's career that he decided to change his game from a skilled top-6 forward with size to an unskilled bottom-6 forward with size and character. Despite shifting his attention to his defensive game, O'Brien managed to put up 24 goals and 32 assists in his second season with the B-Sens; a huge jump from his previous season of 17 points.

His play earned him a few call-ups to the big squad that year. On December 31st, 2010, Jim O'Brien became the only player in franchise history to have made his NHL debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That's listed as the only major career note of his on the Sens' website, but I'm sure that's a mistake.

Summer 2012

Ian Mendes-approved writer Amelia L penned this off-season dossier looking for some contract comparables to JOB after his first half-season with the club. 60% of Silver Seven readers believed O'Brien had earned a one-way deal, and Bryan Murray agreed, signing JOB to a two year one-way deal at $625k per season. Finally, JOB was going to be given the chance to prove his worth as a first round pick.

Pre-season 2013

Fast forward past the lockout. Our former dear leader Peter provides an excellent summary on Jim O'Brien's established role with the team:

O'Brien earned and has kept the trust of MacLean by playing the proverbial "200-foot game" and doing exactly what the coach asks him to do. He's become a defensively responsible energy guy who's a vital component of Ottawa's penalty kill; he's tops among forwards in SH TOI/GP this season, was seventh during last year's playoffs, and very quickly climbed to fifth during the 2011-12 season. His production was on the low side last season, but that's not really what he's asked to provide; as long as he plays the defensive side of the game, MacLean will use the team's more offensively gifted forwards to score the goals.

The most eye-catching part of Peter's article is the assertion that O'Brien's spot on the depth chart as the 4th line center was essentially a lock for the season. Although I would have slotted him somewhere between Spezza and Turris given the prospect reports I've read to write this article, it seems that not everyone agrees with me. With Derek Grant and Peter Regin seen as his only competition, who could blame Peter (Raaymakers, not Regin) for being so wrong?

2013 Season

Despite leading the team in goals with a whopping 5 after 21 games, and registering an impressive 6 points -- on pace with offensive defenceman Eric Gryba and 1 more than first line center Jason Spezza -- O'Brien only dressed for 29 games (which is more than I got fully dressed for). Unfortunately for the fan base, they missed out on brilliant highlight reel goals and memorable quotes like the following:

JOB TALK (via goober11)

What was supposed to be Jimmy O's coming out party on the ice turned into his coming out party off of it. With the acquisition of face-puncher Matt Kassian, the team's insistence on dressing the human china doll, Peter Regin, and the surprise emergence of playoff legend Jean-Gabriel Pageau, O'Brien was knocked off his mighty 4th line center pedestal.

With more free time on his hands, O'Brien was able to establish his role as class clown (Ottawa Senators):

"Yeah, it definitely feels good. It's good to show your personality and show that, I mean, we're just like everyone else. We like to goof around, have fun, especially when you're not on the ice. When you're on the ice or at the rink it's work and you're so focused and dialed in on everything that when you're away from the rink you just want to relax and goof off just to take your mind off stuff."

On the fateful day of April 30th, 2013, an extremely conspicuous-looking account claiming to be Jim O'Brien popped up on the Twittersphere.

The account seemed innocent enough, until this string of tweets was unleashed.:

So the account was as fake as the blank cheque offered to Alfie... Or was it?

This tweet along with a photo of his locker room stall gave fans evidence to believe that if the account wasn't JOB, it was at the very least a teammate. O'Brien spoke exclusively in the third person, referring to himself as the HAMR...

...and displayed the impressive ability to take selfies while asleep:

Eventually,after a full month, JOB, along with the rest of Twitter, pulled the mask off of @HAMRofjustice to discover it was Matt Kassian and Marc Methot the whole time! (Note J-Cow's awkward cameo)

O'Brien saw Kassian mention the account on Craig Anderson's phone, proving that Craig Anderson is in fact humanly capable of letting things slip by him. Matt Kassian turned the account over to the real JOB, and we all believed things would go back to normal.

But, as it stood, Jim O'Brien used this opportunity to show the world he does possess all the qualities the Sens were looking for back when Murray drafted him in 2007. If we revisit the quote from Ottawa scouting, we'll see JOB ticks off all the boxes.

"He has got size...

...he has got grit...

...he has got character...

...and he has got a good head on his shoulders."

There you have it Bryan. You wanted character, you got a character!

The Present and Future

Jim O'Brien is 45th in games played in his draft class and 46th in points. To be fair to JOB, the 2007 draft was a tough one to judge: 11 players selected in the first round have played less NHL games than O'Brien, including former future-first-overall-pick Angelo Esposito. According to Garrioch, Ottawa has been trying to trade Jim O'Brien, but has been unsuccessful so far. With several young prospects chomping at the bit to make the roster, it looks like JOB's days with the club are numbered.

Despite his shortcomings and apparent worthlessness to other NHL GMs, we experts here at Silver Seven decided for some reason that he ranked ahead of many of the team's prospects. Therefore, like his Tweeting scouting report suggests, his value to the team must be provided off the ice.

As a final sendoff to Jim O'Brien, I took to Twitter to get fan reactions to his position on our Top 25 list. Clearly JOB has won the hearts of Sens fans off the ice as well as he performed on the ice.

Thanks for reading over 2000 words about Jim O'Brien,

Bonk's Mullet
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