(Video courtesy of Seer Video posted on YouTube)
As we inch closer to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, taking place in Buffalo on June 24-25, one name hockey fans (and draftniks in particular) are hearing a lot these days is that of Dante Fabbro.
The Vancouver-area native just wrapped up a stellar season in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees, where he was named that league’s top defender. The two-way threat posted 14 goals and 67 points in just 45 games, more than doubling his production from a season ago. Fabbro, who turns 18 in a few days, carried that success over to the 2016 World Under-18 Championship tournament in April, posting eight helpers in seven games and earning recognition as arguably the top defenseman in that high-level competition in Grand Forks, N.D.
“Obviously, the U-18 tournament wasn’t what we expected from the outcome,” the Boston University-bound Fabbro told the Scouting Post from his British Columbia home this week. “I think going into that tournament, I definitely wanted to prove myself from a player standpoint just to play against those CHL guys to see how they compared, so I thought the experience was pretty cool- playing against the top players there and then moving out- it’s the summer here, and I haven’t skated all that much- on the ice a couple of times, but I’ve been working out a lot and obviously, my focus was on the (NHL) combine to excel in that.”
Fabbro participated in the NHL’s formal “get to know you” event, held in Buffalo, where the higher-ranked draft prospects on Central Scouting’s rankings congregate to conduct interviews with teams over multiple days and then do fitness testing to measure just about every aspect of their athletic ability to include a medical evaluation.
“I talked to quite a few teams there,” he said. “It was pretty crazy but I think it was a unique experience in a sense that not a lot of kids get to enjoy that experience and see that kind of thing. It was good to go through that with and be around other guys I know and have played with and will be playing with or against next year made things a lot easier for sure.”
It was an eye-opening experience for him, meeting up with the various NHL staffs and seeing how the teams operate, his first taste of what could come for him. Ultimately, Fabbro doesn’t feel like there are all that many differences in the style and methods each club employ as part of the combine interview process, but was impressed at the level of professionalism and preparation he witnessed from the staffs he interacted with.
“The biggest thing I learned going through those interviews is that you just have to be yourself because they can see right through you and they know if you’re not being yourself,” he said. “You are who you are and they’re either going to like you or they’re not going to like you, so at the end of the day you gotta keep a cool head and be humble about the whole experience and learn from it. If they have advice, you should take it to heart and use it to get better, obviously continue from there.”
He continues to forge a close bond with Vees teammate and University of North Dakota recruit Tyson Jost, who like Fabbro, had an outstanding U-18 tourney and has likely parlayed that strong performance and a 100+-point season in the BCHL into top-10 draft billing.
“We had something to prove and that was our mindset going into the thing,” Fabbro said, hinting at his awareness of talk on the Internet mostly that because he and Jost are coming out of the BCHL, they somehow should be graded lower than other major junior or NCAA prospects in the draft. “Pretty much we were on a mission not only to prove ourselves but to show the BCHL isn’t just a league for players not to develop or who can’t play in the CHL, but they can develop anywhere because you have good coaches and players around you.”
That drive has caught the notice of observers around hockey and the NHL, regardless of where he’s played over the past several years.
“His compete is so impressive,” said a Western Conference team NHL scout recently when asked about Fabbro. “Set the talent and hockey sense aside for a second…some players talk about working hard and being consistent, he goes out and proves it every night.”
Fabbro is not exactly what you would call “big” by modern NHL standards- he’s hovering around 6-foot and perhaps a more generous 6-foot-1, but with an athletic build that has room to pack on more muscle as he physically matures. He’s not undersized, but that fact sometimes can get lost in the sauce a bit as the NHL is starting to trend up towards bigger, more mobile defenders along the likes of last year’s second-round B’s pick Brandon Carlo, or 2016 prospect Jakob Chychrun, both of whom stand about 6-5 but move extremely well.
“Fabbro’s not small by any stretch,” said one NHL scout who is based in B.C. and has followed the former eighth overall WHL bantam draft pick of the Seattle Thunderbirds closely for several years. “I would say he has more of a compact build, so while he’s not got that height and long reach and the natural physical strength that goes with, he compensates nicely because he’s such a phenomenally smart player. The way he processes the game is remarkable; he’s easily one of the most intelligent and decisive players I’ve seen at any level, and that poise and calm, especially in the face of a ferocious forecheck, is something you just can’t coach in a player. They either have that knack and the ability to see the ice and make the instinctive plays or they don’t. When it comes to escapability and just being able to transition the puck up the ice effortlessly, there aren’t many players who can do it better than he does it.”
For his part, Fabbro is pretty self-aware of what he does better than anything when it comes to hockey.
“The biggest thing for me is definitely my hockey IQ and the ability to see the ice, make passes under pressure. That’s how I’ve developed my game over the past couple of years, so I know there’s a lot of things I still need to learn and get better at but hockey IQ comes naturally to me and making the simple plays. I might make too simple a play sometimes and but it all goes back to the vision, IQ and being able to escape pressure.”
By the same token, there is room for improvement, and Fabbro has identified a couple of specific focus areas he’s going to address in the offseason.
“I’ve got to improve my speed,” he said in an answer that certainly surprised the Scouting Post because he shows off some pretty deft skating and footwork already. “I felt I lacked a little bit in my pivoting (and transitions). Obviously, my separation speed is good at skating up the ice, but hockey’s a game of time and space, so you have to put in the work to get better every day and be that much quicker and faster on the puck.
“So, I’ve been doing a lot of off-ice work this summer, and I’m about to get back into my on-ice training and try to get every last ounce of the workouts in and making them benefit before the draft and I head to Boston for summer school. I’m just making sure that I can prove myself not only as a player but as a human being as well. ”
Whether he ends up as a player who is even available to the Bruins when they pick at 14, and if he would be the player GM Don Sweeney and chief amateur scout Keith Gretzky call to the stage to put on the spoked-B and Boston draft cap, Fabbro will soon be known to area hockey fans as he prepares to join an impressive cast of characters on Commonwealth Avenue under head coach David Quinn.
“It was one of those things where it felt right, and in talking to Coach Quinn and (associate head coach) Albie (O’Connell) they seemed like genuine and trustworthy people who are building something special there,” Fabbro said. “I’m lucky to have a chance to play for and grow under guys like that for however long it takes me to make pro. I’m pretty appreciative of what they’ve done for me so far and I’m looking forward to the summer work and then obviously, the season ahead.
“Another thing in my decision was the recruits coming in- it’s a pretty high class of players coming in, plus the players already there. The big thing for me in deciding on BU was the knowledge that it would be a challenge to remain in any position in a lineup like that, and to be surrounded by such good players and coaches can only be positive for my own development. You’re always going to have that challenge no matter where you play, and there’s always going to be someone better than you, so you want to try and beat them at whatever you can.”
And, having grown up outside of one of Canada’s biggest and most beautiful cities, there was something about Boston that drew him in, even if it meant being thousands of miles away from friends and family.
“What’s not to love about Boston? It’s a college town, it’s a sports city- there’s Fenway Park right around the corner, there’s TD Garden…it’s a place that I just connected with right away on my visit and is definitely the whole package for sure.”
There’s an old adage that talks about players having tools (size, skating, shot- all the physical attributes you need to play in the NHL) but no toolbox (hockey sense, ability to think the game), so in Fabbro’s case, he’s blessed with both. There is little doubt that if he were a couple of inches taller and had perhaps opted to play in the WHL, he’d be in the discussion with Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine for top billing. Having said that, Fabbro isn’t concerned about the various opinions about his projections and where he might or might not go in the draft and what is long-term potential in the NHL is at present.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that I’m not someone to take any crap but I’m pretty subtle in how I go about things and I think before I act,” he said. “I’m not someone who is going to act out or put my team in a tough spot, and I try to approach most situations like that by making sure I control what I can. I’m a pretty relaxed guy but when the competition starts, I ramp it up and I am how you see me. When people get to know me, I speak a little bit but I’m there for my team and that competitiveness shows.”
It’s more proof at a player who is mature beyond his years and grounded. However, at the end of the day- what gets you to the NHL and keeps you there is ability. Fabbro has the building blocks, but he also appears to possess the drive and want to that could propel him to big league success one day.
“There’s still lots of work ahead of us,” he said of himself and Jost, but in reality, was speaking for every member of the 2016 NHL draft class. “The big thing with us is that we’re dedicated and obviously want to get results. We’re striving for more every day and we continue to get better.”
The Dante Fabbro file
Height/Wt (RLR): 6-0, 190; Shoots: Right
Born: June 20, 1998 in
2015-16 club: Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Minor hockey program: Burnaby Winter Hockey Club
Favorite NHL team growing up: Vancouver Canucks
NHL player he most tries to emulate: Duncan Keith
Scouting report: Elite hockey sense, some of the best of any player in the 2016 draft: panoramic vision allows him to survey entire ice surface, instantly process and activate at right times. Pushes the pace with quick feet and effortless skating. Quick hands and a knack for delivering on-target passes at any range. Driven and competitive…a leader…mature and poised. Not overly physical but smart defensively and knows how to angle opponents away from skating lanes. Has everything you want in a top NHL defender except for ideal size. Working to add mass to his frame and increase power on shot along with pivots and transitions.
Quotable: “Dante Fabbro is probably fifth on the list for many teams, but we love his off-the-charts hockey sense and character. For that reason, we think he’s the safest bet of the bunch to be an intelligent two-way contributor who plays 10-12 years and eats huge minutes while playing on both special teams. He almost never makes a mistake or a bad decision, has great positioning, and has tremendous vision and passing skills. He lacks a dangerous point shot, though.”- Kyle Woodlief, USA Today June 15, 2016