If there were an award for most improved at Bruins Development Camp this week, it would have gone to 6-foot-4 defenseman Robbie OGara without any debate.
The giant man-child defenseman was a little bit of a babe lost in the woods last season as a 17-year-old out of Milton Academy competing against faster, more worldly, more experienced competition among Bruins prospects.
It was to be expected. Physically, he simply appeared younger than his peers, and had plenty of work in front of him to start filling out his reedy teenager build. It looks like OGara did just that by hitting the weight room over the last year. He utilized his entire experience at last years development camp as the highest form of motivation.
Ive definitely become stronger over the last year. I worked hard over the past year because the camp was a wakeup call. I think bigger, stronger and faster is going to be my goal for a long time. But the gains that Ive made have helped my confidence, said OGara. For me this year is 100 percent different. Last year, I was really nervous and pretty much freaking out before I got here.
This year, Im putting myself out there a little more on and off the ice. Im having a lot more fun too.
OGara came back to development camp this season and looked like a completely different player. He has gained size and strength physically through the combination of maturation and diligent work, and he skated with the kind of confidence a player shows when he knows he belongs.
It became customary to see OGara throwing bodies around near the net and clearing space so his goaltender could see the attackers on the outside. Those kinds of anchored, stalwart defenders are worth their weight in gold at the NHL level.
OGara was using that ideal size to shove players around in the defensive zone, and was one of the biggest physical factors in camp, along with grinding bottom-six pugilist Anthony Camara.
The gains in one year show that the OGara, 18, is ready for higher competition as he heads to Yale in the fall.
While OGara was a viable offensive player and power play performer for Milton Academy, putting up 25 points in 24 games last season, he may be more of a stay-at-home type defenseman at the Division I college level.
That should set up some pretty good Bs prospect battles between OGara and Cornell forward Brian Ferlin over the next three years in the ECACHL -- something they joked about along with Union College camp invitee Wayne Simpson this week.
Big-time college hockey is also a perfectly good lot in life when youre a solid 6-foot-4, 193 pound block of raw hockey talent like OGara. He's still growing into a potential shutdown blueliner down the road.
Last year he walked in and I think I had seen bigger legs on these aluminum chairs, you know. Then he comes in this year hes talkative and he looks more like a man than a boy. With his style of play hes a defender and a big guy, said Providence Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. So when he grows into his frame and recognizes how to use his stickhes not flashy at all but could be a very serviceable guy for you down the road.
I definitely see improvement physically in him and just his sort of demeanor around the locker room. Like a lot of guys when they go through a year of camp they get a little more comfortable and learn a couple things about the pro side of things. Hopefully, he takes that forward with him off to Yale, and has a good year.
Part of the beauty of the prospect development camp is taking players from all different development backgrounds and pushing them together for a week of drills and scrimmages. Placing the relatively inexperienced OGara in with players bragging world class hockey backgrounds, such as Dougie Hamilton and Malcolm Subban, has opened his eyes to where he needs his game to be, and the big blueliner project has responded exactly as they hoped.
Going into Yale I know my game. I think Im more of a stay-at-home guy and just trying to be as solid as I can back there, said OGara. I play my game and thats keeping the puck out of the net.
OGaras self-awareness about his simple, strong defensive style and his willingness to work mean the past years improvement is a sign of much more to come.