St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong was willing to take a shot on talented rookie forward Robby Fabbri on a tryout basis early this season, but quickly became a believer.
Now he gushes when talking about the 20-year-old former first-round pick, who is tied with star forward Vladimir Tarasenko for the playoff scoring lead with three goals and 10 assists for 13 points in 14 games.
Fabbri, who scored the Blues’ first goal in their 6-1 Game 7 blowout win Wednesday in Dallas, also had 18 goals and 37 points during the regular season.
Not bad for a guy with three games of pro hockey experience before this season, one who was still playing in the Ontario Hockey League a year ago.
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“These young players, they play in the under-17, under-18, under-20 world championships, they come in, they’re so much more mature than they were maybe a decade ago, on and off the ice,” Armstrong said. “They’ve seen so many different things, they’re just ready to jump in and play. I’ve got to say, I’m surprised at how good Robby Fabbri is
“Obviously, he’s a 20-year-old, I’m not going to lie to you on that one. I’m not surprised now how well he’s playing because he’s done it all year, but the impact he had on our team was something we haven’t seen in a while.”
Fabbri’s collection of skill, speed, tenacity and aggressiveness made it fairly obvious he needed to stick around.
“The injuries allowed him to play those first nine games and he played so well that it was a no-brainer when we got to that point,” Armstrong said. “As a manager, the way the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) works, you get these players for seven years and I’ve always said I’d rather have a player at 27 than 19.
“But when a guy comes in and has that big of an impact, it would have been unfair to the team to send him back to juniors because the replacement player wasn’t going to be at his level.”
As the stage keeps getting larger and larger during the playoffs, Fabbri isn’t shying away.
“Playoffs are for competitive people - and he’s a very competitive person,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s not afraid of the stage. He’s been like that since anybody’s started noticing him at age 14. He wants the ball.
“I think sometimes you wonder, he’s 20 years old and you look at other 20-year-olds in the league and there seems to be a glutton of them that aren’t afraid of the stage and aren’t afraid of the focus. They just go out and play. I think it happens when you have players that have hockey sense like he does and competitive instincts like he does.”
Dealing with goalies
When it comes to dealing with his goaltenders, Hitchcock leaves much of the day-to-day duties up to goaltending coach Jim Corsi.
“Other than saying hello and goodbye, I leave a lot of it up to Jim,” said Hitchcock, though he does pay close attention to other things. “I observe very closely. I look at body language, I watch the goalies very closely at practice, I watch them very closely in their interaction, but I leave a lot of the technical and the communication up to Jim.”
Why is Hitchcock so hesitant to invade the space of his goaltenders?
“Well, I learned that from Eddie Belfour because if I went near him, I got a Sherwood (goal stick) over the head, so I learned that a long time ago.”
Quick look at the Sharks
Like the Blues, the San Jose Sharks a large, veteran team that plays a physical stule. The Sharks also possess a lethal power play and beat the Blues twice in three games this season.
The Sharks won both games played in St. Louis, 6-3 on Feb. 22 and 3-1 on Feb. 4, but lost a 1-0 thriller to the Blues on March 22 in San Jose. The road team won all three games.
Power forward Joe Thornton had three goals and five points in three games against the Blues while Logan Couture added two goals and three points. Goalie Martin Jones was 2-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .937 save percentage as the Sharks outshot the Blues 102-79.
Couture leads all NHL playoff scorers with seven goals and 17 points in only 12 games and set a new franchise record with 11 points in the seven-game second-round playoff series win over the Nashville Predators.
Sharks’ forward Brent Burns is tied for second in the league playoff scoring race with four goals and 15 points. Fabbri and Tarasenko (seven goals, six assists) are tied for third with 13 points each.
“We are both big-bodied teams going at it,” Blues winger Steve Ott said. “It is going to be a physical series. That is the way we play and they play with that same sort of style. It is going to be a great matchup.
“Both teams play similar, skilled power plays. That is why we are both where we are.”