BOSTON (CBS) – The Bruins drafted defenseman Rob O’Gara out of the womb.
Well O’Gara wasn’t quite that young when the Bruins used a fifth-round pick (No. 151) on him in 2011, but he was still days shy of his 18th birthday and ticketed for another year at Milton Academy.
After O’Gara’s first time at development camp that summer, one loose-lipped reporter blurted out to no one in particular that the skinny, baby-faced player looked more like someone who won a contest to get a spot at the camp rather than a draft pick. Don Sweeney, then an assistant general manager and actually listening to this nonsense, agreed O’Gara didn’t look the part of NHL prospect just yet but that there was potential in that skeletal frame.
Five years (including four years at Yale) of development later, O’Gara is at his first Bruins rookie camp and will be part of the squad that will compete against teams from the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils in the Prospects Challenge this weekend in Buffalo. O’Gara, still lanky at 6-foot-4, but with muscle on the bone and a hint of facial hair, is also one of a handful of Bruins rookies with a shot to make a veteran expendable once main camp opens next week.
After the rookies went through off-ice training Thursday at Warrior Ice Arena, Sweeney said he told all the rookies that the best players are going to play. O’Gara, now 23 and listed at 203 pounds, hopes to meet the challenge.
“The guys who are in those positions have put themselves there. It’s just up to us to work as hard as we can to join them and surpass them because it’s a competition within the team landscape. That’s just how it is,” O’Gara said. “And it’s something that you’ve got to learn quickly to be successful. I know all those guys in [here] are ready to really embrace that opportunity and put their best foot forward, myself included.”
O’Gara had 21 points in 33 games as a junior in 2014-15. He had 12 points in 30 games last season. Right now he projects more as a defensive defenseman. But just like there was no telling what he would become down the road when the Bruins drafted him, O’Gara has plenty of time to find his niche in the pros. He might become a two-way guy, a stay-at-home guy or an AHL lifer.
O’Gara’s work ethic and talent got him this far. He also grew up off the ice, learning to cook (at least three dishes, including his father’s meatball recipe). Time will tell if he has what it takes to forge a career in the NHL, but as a fifth-round pick he’s done well to even get to this point. Let’s face it, when a kid gets drafted as low and as young as O’Gara, there’s as much luck as skill involved in developing the player into a valuable asset.
This summer was true breakthrough in O’Gara’s development, as he worked out with the guys at EPS in Foxboro and also played in the pro summer league. He worked out, skated and got used to the pro athlete lifestyle.
The competition among the rookies on defense – including Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo – should be fierce. They all want to be the one that steals a job from a veteran. O’Gara probably needs more seasoning and the AHL will suit him just fine until he’s ready. Down the road, the Bruins are hoping two or three players from this year’s rookie camp will be part of their core. That could include O’Gara.
O’Gara no longer resembles a contest winner but we don’t know what his career will look like when it’s finished. If he keeps up developing as well as he has, though, he could turn out to be a hidden gem left over from the Peter Chiarelli era.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.