Blues draft a center with first-round pick

News-DemocratJune 27, 2014 

Deciding not to use their first-round pick as trade bait Friday, the St. Louis Blues instead selected center Robby Fabbri with their No. 1 pick at 21st overall.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Fabbri had 45 goals and 87 points in 58 games for the Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm last season and also was named MVP of the OHL playoffs.

At each level of hockey, Fabbri has dealt with constant questions about his size and ability to play against larger players.

"It's not something that's new," Fabbri said by telephone Friday from the NHL Draft in Philadelphia. "I've been dealing with that my whole life and I've been able to use that as motivation. Proving people wrong has been my goal since day one, that and proving my size isn't a problem."

The native of Mississauga, Ontario in Canada helped lead his team to a league-best 52-12-2-2 record and used his speed, relentless forechecking and skill to his advantage.

"He's kind of a combination of a little bit like (T.J.) Oshie and (Jaden) Schwartz, a hybrid of those guys," said Bill Armstrong, the Blues Director of Amateur Scouting, comparing Fabbri to two of the Blues' top forwards. "He competes on the puck extremely hard and has got first, second and third effort."

At Guelph last season, Fabbri played on a line with Columbus Blue Jackets former first-round pick Kerby Rychel.

"He's a special player," Rychel told Yahoo Sports/Canada. "He's got the heart of a lion and some of the best skill I have ever seen. He's never nervous before a game, no matter how big a stage it is -- OHL playoffs, OHL finals, Memorial Cup."

In 2012-13 with Guelph, Fabbri had only 10 goals and 33 points and his rapid jump in production helped lift his draft status as well.

"His hockey sense is off the charts and he's just a gritty competitor with skill -- and he's a centerman, which we need," Armstrong said.

Asked to describe his game, Fabbri said he was "a hard-working skilled forward and I'm fast and play both ends of the ice. I like to think I have some patience in my game and I like to utilize that on the power play. I like to pass just as much as I like to shoot."

Because he's not a giant center in the mode of Joe Thornton, Fabbri's role models instead are players like Carolina's Jeff Skinner and the Blues' Vladimir Sobotka.

"You look at their size and it shows that it's possible," Fabbri said. "You look up to guys like that and work to be like them."

The Blues were rumored to be in trade talks with Ottawa involving veteran center Jason Spezza, but reports from Ottawa suggested the Senators' asking price was extremely high.

Still in the market for a center, the Blues could either hope the demands for Spezza come down or wait until free agency begins July 1 and make a run at Colorado free-agent center and former St. Louis resident Paul Stastny.

The Blues' last first-round pick was defenseman Jordan Schmaltz in 2012. Schmaltz has been at the University of North Dakota the past two seasons and had a strong 2013-14 campaign that included six goals and 24 points in 41 games.

Schmaltz's younger brother, Nick Schmaltz, was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks at No. 20 in the first round Friday, one spot ahead of the Blues.

On Saturday when Rounds 2 through 7 will take place, the Blues have two second-round picks among their eight picks remaining.

Center Ryan MacInnis, the son of Blues Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis, is still available.

Shiloh resident and NHL Draft prospect Connor Chatham had planned on staying at home in the metro-east to watch the draft, but instead traveled to Philadelphia and was there with his family on Friday.

Chatham has an opportunity to be drafted on Saturday.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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