Remember back to when Max Görtz was traded by the Nashville Predators to the Anaheim Ducks? If you don’t, I wasn’t a very big fan of that trade at the time it happened because I felt a sophomore slump on the part of Görtz should have taken his value down as badly as a one-for-one swap with defenseman Andrew O’Brien. It was a struggling prospect for struggling prospect trade. And, now that we’ve all had the chance to digest things even more, I think I can very easily say something I have no problem saying – I was wrong.
O’Brien might not be producing Görtz’s offensive output from the 2015-16 season but neither is Görtz for that matter. What the Admirals needed more than anything as an organization at the time of the trade was actually a defenseman more than an additional forward.
The forward group was fine. Guys such as Adam Payerl, Justin Florek, and Matt White are all having great campaigns as part of a depth scoring unit that Görtz was sputtering away from. Meanwhile, the Admirals lost Adam Pardy due to injury and it wasn’t clear at the time just how long he would be out for due to a compound fracture of his left arm that he suffered two days prior to the trade to acquire O’Brien. The Admirals needed a big body presence back on defense. And O’Brien has been that while showing great glimpses of much more than just that.
What I’ve seen out of the 24-year old is a 6’4″ defenseman that not only uses the body well but skates incredibly well for his size. He moves quick and I feel his best attributes are how quick he is in decision making on the ice. O’Brien makes simple plays: battling off the wall, get pucks out of the zone, get pucks deep, and always tends to be direct when in the attacking zone by getting pucks to the net. He is very instinctive in the way that he plays rather than reactive and he benefits greatly from playing that way. His physical attributes were such that the San Diego Gulls -at times- rolled him out as a forward but -as a defenseman with the Admirals- you can see him playing at his best position with his tools working to their best use.
Görtz was awesome a season ago. It was very sad seeing him have such rotten luck in the 2016-17 season. Yet, this was a trade for both sides to try and shake things up while benefiting their AHL organizations in ways they both needed it and giving two players a change of scenery to help them grow. Görtz has since provided a Gulls team, who are in the playoff picture out of the Pacific Division, 19 points (4 goals, 15 assists) from 28 games. It is a farcry from his 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) in 72 games with the Admirals last season but significantly better than his 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) that he produced in 30 games with the Admirals before getting traded mid-season.
O’Brien hasn’t so much been about point scoring from the defense. He does have 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) in 32 games for the Admirals. But it is everything else away from that which you appreciate that much more. On average, most of what he has been doing as a part of the Admirals has been career best work from him. His plus/minus rating of +9 with the Admirals is +6 better than a year ago with the Gulls and it feels the structure in place is something that really suits his game. The way in which the Admirals defensive group work is meant to reflect ever so slightly that of their parent club the Nashville Predators with active defensemen who can join the rush, pinch down low in the attacking zone, and skate well enough to do transitional work effortlessly.
O’Brien might be a big guy with the nickname “Meat” but the powerhouse from Oakville, Ontario, Canada skates well enough to look the part. And it would be a joy to see what an full-season of him would be like in the system having processed everything he has this season on the fly.
Cheers to Andrew O’Brien for taking the time out to chat with Admirals Roundtable. Tomorrow we will be releasing the next edition of Fifteen which will feature Milwaukee Admirals team captain Trevor Smith. Beyond that, we’re getting down to the wire for time and selections but am always happy to hear suggestions as to who should be featured next.
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