#8: Shane O'Brien
The best players you've never heard of
Team: Anaheim Ducks
Pos.: D Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 237
Hometown: Port Hope, Ont.
Key stats: Talk about making the most of your ice time. O'Brien has only played 13:28 per game this season, minuscule totals for a defenceman — but not so for a 23 year old playing behind the likes of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Despite the fact he's rarely on the ice, O'Brien has two goals and eight points in his first 21 NHL games, and has been dropping the gloves with surprising regularity — he's second in the league in both fighting majors (7) and penalty minutes (73). He's been a fighter ever since his first season of junior hockey with the Kingston Frontenacs, and had 769 PIMs in three AHL seasons prior to this year.
James on Shane: A definite steal for an 8th-round pick (2003). The fact that he can play a solid defensive game, drop the gloves and chip in offensively at his size bodes very well for a long NHL career for O'Brien. He's not quick and it was always predicted in the past that his mobility would hurt him against small, speedy forwards — but so far this year, he's yet to really be burned. He's on pace to finish with more than 30 points and 285 PIMs, which would make him the rare NHL specimen who can intimidate and produce, and his strength is really up there with some of the toughest hombres in the league. Big defencemen often have a slow growth curve in the NHL — Zdeno Chara, for instance, was a last-pairing blueliner at 23 — so there's a lot of room for improvement from O'Brien.
Pub for Shane: “I had to fight to stay on the team,” O'Brien told the Orange County Register of his time in the minors. “I was a boy fighting men, basically. It seemed like it was happening every night. I took some lumps, no doubt about it, but I learned a lot, too.
“And, yeah, I got a reputation pretty quick. The crowds got on me. Milwaukee was brutal. They had signs: 'I thought an Irishman could fight.' They were all over me.”