On April 2, 2013, Jim O’ Brien played just five minutes and eighteen seconds in a game against the Boston Bruins. He had one shot on goal and took two minor penalties. He hasn’t played a regular season or playoff shift since.
O'Brien being glued to the bench throughout the rest of the season and the playoffs is puzzling. To that point, he'd been a useful role player. His five goals were more than Milan Michalek, Chris Neil, Zack Smith, and Erik Condra would muster all season. His 2:01 shorthanded time-on-ice per game was third behind only Erik Condra and the later waived Kaspars Daugavins. Nothing seemed to have changed on the ice for O'Brien, except for the fact that he wasn't welcome on it any longer.
To understand Jim O’Brien’s time with the Senators, you really have to start at the beginning. O’Brien was drafted 29th overall and was greeted – or burdened – with the expectations that accompany being a first round pick in a Canadian hockey market, particularly in an organization that was bereft of prospects at the time. To call O’Brien a bust might seem accurate to some – he was a first round draft pick in 2007 and has only 12 points in 63 NHL games to his name – but the book is still out on O’Brien.
For a long time, it seemed as though he certainly would be a bust. His one year of NCAA Hockey produced just 15 points in 43 games, and while his two seasons in the WHL were respectable, they weren't particularly eye-catching. In his first full season with the Binghamton Senators, he recorded just 17 points. O’Brien’s time with the organization had just about come to a close, and he was told as much in his exit interview.
Then, things changed. Something clicked for O’Brien that summer, returning to the AHL a completely different player. He more than tripled his production with an impressive 56 points in 74 games, spent a brief stint in the NHL, and when he was returned to Binghamton he helped lead the B-Sens to their first ever Calder Cup title. He split the next season in Binghamton and Ottawa, and was trusted enough by coach Paul MacLean to be on the ice in overtime in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when he assisted on Kyle Turris' infamous OT winner. He was rewarded with a two-year, one-way contract, and it appeared that Jim O’ Brien had finally made the NHL, as was written in stone since time immemorial.
Except he hadn't, and it wasn't. At the end the day on April 2, 2013, O'Brien had played in 29 of 36 games that season. He would be a healthy scratch for the remaining twelve regular season and ten playoff games that followed with nary a word from the coach or organization as to why. Unfortunately, it does not look like things are going to get better for Jim any time soon. For the first two preseason games, while Paul MacLean has been shuffling lines to find chemistry for the start of the season, O'Brien has shared the ice with the likes of Darren Kramer and Wacey Hamilton, players that nobody expects to be with the big club come October.
At this point, O'Brien's fate appears to be sealed, likely sentenced to a lengthy stay as a healthy scratch or placed on waivers at the start of the season in hopes that some other team picks him up. At this point, it might be the best for both parties: the Senators free up a spot to see what one of their many prospects can do with it, and O'Brien gets a fresh start in a market where he wasn't, for a brief, spectacular time, that first round pick who never looked like he'd make it.