St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock isn’t known for raving about rookies and prospects.
However, Hitchcock makes an exception when it comes to 19-year-old forward Robby Fabbri, whose combination of speed, skill and tenacity make him tough to miss every time he steps onto the ice.
“His thinking, his reaction, his anticipation ... there’s no hesitation,” Hitchcock said of the Blues’ 2014 first-round pick. “He’s a step ahead of everything. His thinking on transition, his thinking on getting people the puck, his reads ... it’s another situation where we’ve got to temper our thoughts knowing we’ve got exhibition games against good opposition to get a good read.
“But he’s a much better player this year than he even was last year.”
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That’s saying a lot because Fabbri’s eye-opening performance at 2014 training camp kept him around much later than most 18-year-olds. Even after suffering an upper-body injury during a preseason game against Minnesota, Fabbri was still kept throughout camp before being returned to his junior team, the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm.
His thinking, his reaction, his anticipation ... there’s no hesitation. He’s a step ahead of everything.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock
On Saturday night in the Blues’ 3-1 loss to Chicago, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Fabbri played wing on a line with David Backes (6-3, 225) and Troy Brouwer (6-3, 213). Fabbri has one assist in two preseason games.
“Besides being a little bit more comfortable with everything around here, I think it’s pretty much the same,” Fabbri said when asked if things are different this season. “Coming here as a young guy trying to earn days and trying to stay as long as I can, the same mentality as last year.”
Every day in camp puts Fabbri a little closer to his goal of staying with the Blues.
“I try not to think too much into the future,” he said. “I’ll just keep doing everything I can to stay one more day longer than I did before.”
Fabbri has proven himself as an impact scorer on the lower levels in junior and with Team Canada at the World Junior championships. He has 80 goals and 171 points in 147 points in juniors and racked up two goals and six points in five games at the World Juniors before being injured.
Fabbri seemed to have impressed the Blues enough in camp last year to at least earn a shot at making the opening-night roster.
“You never know right?” Fabbri said. “I think everything happens for a reason, so heading back (to juniors) I tried to use that for developing and trying to come into this year faster and stronger.”
I’ll just keep doing everything I can to stay one more day longer than I did before.
Blues rookie Robby Fabbri
Fabbri stayed in St. Louis for two months this summer, working out with the team’s conditioning program and adding 10 pounds along with additional strength.
“I got improvements in all the exercises (strength testing) this year, so that was a good start,” Fabbri said. “That was a result of being here a lot of the summer and training hard with Nelson (Blues strength coach Nelson Ayotte) and the guys.”
An injury to Blues forward Patrik Berglund has opened up at least one roster spot. Veterans Scott Gomez and Scottie Upshall are in camp on pro tryout contracts and rookie forward Ty Rattie is also pushing for a spot along with veteran Magnus Paajarvi.
Fabbri has played center for much of his career, but has been used more at wing by the Blues.
Given Fabbri’s ability to create excitement and instant offense, he seems headed toward a nine-game tryout with the Blues before the club has to make a decision on whether to return him to juniors.
“I like using my compete level all over the ice,” Fabbri said, “hunting pucks and making skillful plays, using my speed to create opportunities with and without the puck.”
What does Fabbri have to do to earn an NHL roster spot?
“Continue with that anticipation,” Hitchcock said. “If he’s going to play like he is, a step ahead of everything, there’s no reason that he can’t continue to look like he’s got a chance to play. That’s what he’s doing right now.
“You make a mistake against him, he catches you. He’s quicker in his thinking, he looks like a real good player.”
Hitchcock said Fabbri’s performance in the preseason is another factor.
“This is one level, now it starts to accelerate,” Hitchcock said.
The Blues and Hitchcock are intrigued about Fabbri’s potential. Is it rare to see that from a 19-year-old?
“It’s impressive I suppose, but it’s not uncommon,” Hitchcock said. “It’s not surprising with him with his compete level and his hockey sense. This would have been interesting if he would have stayed healthy last year, could he have made the hockey club? We don’t know, but he was right there.
“And he’s improved since then. He’s a lot better player a year later than he was last year at this time. He’s a lot better player.”