Yale Bulldogs defenseman Rob O’Gara is prepared for his final NCAA season and what awaits him afterwards as he will likely begin his pro hockey career after he plays his final game in the blue and white next spring.
The senior is an alternate captain and is coming off of his finest collegiate season to date, not only earning top defensive defenseman honors in the ECAC for 2014-15, but also posting the best offensive numbers of his career- 6 goals, 21 points in 33 games, tied for second on Yale in scoring and leading all Bulldogs backliners.
O’Gara, who led the Milton Mustangs of the ISL to the 2011 New England Prep Championship, was the final selection of the fifth round, taken by the Boston Bruins just 10 days after they won the Stanley Cup. He was also the second defenseman drafted after Dougie Hamilton went ninth overall, but ever since the team took a chance on the raw but game prep standout, O’Gara has demonstrated that the B’s scouts knew what they were doing by continuing to develop his game while gradually adding strength and mass to his 6-foot-4 frame. A lean 190 pounds when the Bruins drafted him, the Long Island native is now tipping the scales at a little over 220 pounds.
The Scouting Post had a chance to touch base with O’Gara on a Friday morning- he has no classes as a senior on Fridays- and had a chance to get up to date on how his offseason went, what he’s most looking forward to this season and what eventually might lie in store for a defenseman who has all the NHL tools plus the maturity to play in the big show right away.
Rob O’Gara scouting report then (Red Line Report- June 2011 draft guide): 73rd- ranked skater by Red Line, drafted 151st overall by Boston. “Has really grown on us this season as his play steadily improved, and we believe his developmental curve is headed straight upward. Great size and is a strong and physical defender. Had to play a conservative game given his high-risk defence partner (Pat McNally), but we see puck movement skills and a heavy shot that indicate some untapped offensive upside. A heady defender who does a great job of keeping the play in front of him and challenging opponents. Uses size to advantage and engages physically in the corners. Good stickhandler and confident with the puck. Has a missile from the point and usually gets it on net. Very good skater for his size, but needs to remember to keep his feet moving defensively, particularly down low in 1-on-1 coverage.” Projection: Physical #5 d-man and strong penalty killer. Style compares to: Shaone Morrisonn.
Rob O’Gara scouting report now (Kirk Luedeke, Red Line Report exclusive to the Scouting Post): Superb blend of size (6-4, 220), skating and smarts. Very good skater; possesses speed in the open ice, smooth acceleration and fluid footwork in his transitions and pivots. Moves well laterally and can stay with a jitterbugging forward trying to create a skating lane for himself. Tremendous reach and defensive instincts; recognizes and reads plays as they develop and keeps the play in front of him. Can make the crisp and effective first pass; underrated puck mover who doesn’t jump out at you with dynamic speed coming out of his own end, but has enough quickness to carry it himself or make the on-target feed to kickstart his team’s transition game. Smart, industrious player…not an intimidating crusher, but uses his size effectively to finish checks and pin opponents agains the boards during puck battles. Needs to play within himself- will sometimes get out of position trying to do too much. Effective in puck retrieval. Character player who has gotten better every season since the B’s drafted him and has won championships at both the prep and NCAA levels. Will have to work his way up, but could be a rock solid No 3-4 at the NHL level one day who can play in all situations and play top minutes against the opposition’s most skilled lines.
O’Gara Q & A 10/09/2015:
The Scouting Post: Senior year at Yale- how is this one different from the previous years given the experience you have and the expectations you are putting on yourself and the team going into the 2015-16 season?
Rob O’Gara: Every time someone says this is your last this, or your last that- we finished minicamp on Wednesday and someone said ‘Hey- you made it through your last minicamp,’ and that’s the last thing we seniors want to hear because you never want this time to end. But, the first practice is tomorrow and the excitement and the fact that there are eight of us in our senior class and we’ve done it before- obviously our goal is to win the national championship again- everyone is firing on all cylinders and it’s a very exciting time. To have the senior knowledge and experience of our senior class, I think this is the most exciting part of our team as a whole because everyone knows what it takes and everyone’s working to achieve that same goal and I think we just spread that same mindset throughout the team and it’s going to be pretty helpful moving forward.
TSP: You are the ECAC’s best defensive defenseman- you obviously derive a lot of pride from that honor. Talk about what about your game that was instrumental to you receiving that recognition and what is it that you do well and how that has come together for you?
ROG: I think I will always be a solid stay-at-home sort of guy- I can play a bunch of minutes against top lines. I think that’s where it starts- freshman year, playing with (San Jose Sharks prospect) Gus Young– underrated- and to be put into those roles right away and being able to have that experience and not really mixing in the offensive side of the game yet. And then being able to say over the summer (after that first year)- I need to work on this, I need to work on that- gaining that offensive side of the game and getting more comfortable joining plays or being on the power play and I think where my game has kind of come since then and that’s been the biggest part of the rounding at what I had before and continuing to get better on both sides of the puck. And it’s always going to be getting bigger, faster, stronger- it’s been like that since I was 15 but I would say it’s the rounding out of the game and the confidence that comes with knowing that I’m putting in the work, I know that I’ve done this before and I’ve played the highest level of game there could be in college hockey and I know I can do it. Having that mentality when the puck drops is a huge tool to me be able to just relax and play my game.
TSP: Coach Keith Allain and the Yale coaching staff have obviously developed you during your time in New Haven but talk about what the Bruins development camps and the experiences you’ve had with your fellow Boston prospects have done for you. You’ve been to five camps since you were drafted and you’ve seen some guys who were there with you at those camps go on to be successful in the NHL if not with Boston (Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, David Pastrnak) then with other teams (Josh Jooris– Calgary). Can you talk about what those experiences have done for your development?
ROG: Sure. Like you said- seeing guys like Torey Krug, who was my roommate in my second summer there and seeing the success he’s had and him coming back to talk to us at camp (this last July) about what he had to do to get to that level of becoming a top-4 defenseman at the NHL level those weeks- however short they are compared to a college season or summer at home- they’re so instrumental in showing what you need to do, where you have to be. Obviously there’s a step between the prospects and the pros but you see guys that are close like Torey the first couple years and Pastrnak a year ago, the guys who were right there and were able to translate that to the max level. Just being able to see where they were at and put that into your own repertoire is the biggest thing and then of course being around the coaches and staff and getting their feedback, it such a valuable week that you really have to take advantage of every year.
TSP: Bruins fans got a little glimpse of (strength and conditioning coach) John Whitesides in the Behind the B shows over the past three years. Has he been kind of the consistent presence in terms of how he approaches it with the physical/conditioning aspects, the testing and the fitness standards he demands in the five camps with him?
ROG: Oh yeah. He is definitely the model of consistency. We joke- Ryan Fitzgerald, Ryan Donato– those guys and others like to say- every camp we come back to, it’s the same routine. He’s not going to change- it’s the same philosophy and it works. You certainly can’t argue with that and we all know what to expect coming in- there aren’t any surprises. That’s what we say about development camp- it’s for the guys who end up going to rookie camp or end up going to main camp- having the test right in front of them, you gotta be strong, you gotta be in the best shape, and I don’t foresee that ever changing because it’s so big in the game of hockey.
TSP: Probably not lost on you in terms of the start of rookie camp here in September was the public knowledge of the three first-rounders and their failed fitness test. It’s tough without context- people might not understand how challenging that first day test/shuttle run is in terms of the distance back and forth and how maybe the weather and turf conditions might contribute to them coming up short. When you found out about it, were you surprised at all or was it more of an understanding because you had seen that more than a few times before yourself?
ROG: I think you can make excuses about anything, but having said that- you see responses on Twitter for example, and looking at that because that’s how I found out. I feel bad for those guys because that becoming public in the media and especially those guys in the spotlight like that, but it’s 25 yards out and 25 yards back (for 300 total yards), so it’s a ton of stops. On turf its much harder- when I heard that, I was a little bit surprised because it’s a lot easier to be honest, to do that on the track or where we run it outside the rink there. And we only two at development camp and it’s not easy at two compared to the three iterations they ran at main camp, and if you’re not focusing on it, it’s tough to run that third even if you’re comfortable with the two. But it’s tough on them, but it’s a wakeup call and I’m no stranger to wakeup calls throughout my last five, six years in terms of getting in shape and learning what I have to do moving forward. It’s just a matter of taking that and applying it and making sure it doesn’t happen again. I know those guys- not super well- but they love the game- that’s what I got from them in the week I was around them first and foremost and I know it’s a lesson they’ll all take to heart.
We also talked about the Yale-Harvard rivalry and O’Gara’s own growing individual rivalry with Harvard star and 2015 Hobey Baker finalist Jimmy Vesey. Both appear on the covers of the New York and New England Hockey Journal magazines and are the most visible faces of their respective teams.
O’Gara also made it clear that though he would be eligible (like Vesey) to decline to sign with Boston and become a free agent on 1 August, 2016, he does not anticipate that happening. He is grateful for the faith the B’s showed in him by drafting him and the patience they’ve showed in developing him gradually and assisting with his growth. My own supposition is that given the potential struggles this Bruins team could have on defense, O’Gara realizes that there is opportunity in Boston even with a glut of numerous young and talented defenders on paper. And, even though O’Gara maintains he’s expecting to turn pro and join the Bruins organization sometime in April if all goes well for Yale, we’ll just have to see what happens between now and then.
In the meantime, O’Gara is solidly inside the top-10 (in my view) of Boston’s prospects depth chart as an all-around defenseman who will probably help the team sooner rather than later. He doesn’t project as a super star, but with his size, hockey sense, work ethic and winning pedigree, he could push for a top-4 NHL job one day.