For players entering their draft year, one of the keys is to ensure that you are able to showcase your talent as often — and in as many situations — as possible as an audition for potential future employers. So, while a 10-game suspension for a hit to the head meant that Guelph Storm forward Robby Fabbri missed some marquee showtime, his experience backstage may serve to help his future performance.
“Watching the game and playing it are two entirely different experiences,” he said. “You see things you wouldn’t see from the bench or through your own eyes on the ice, so I like to use those games as a learning experience to help me develop.”
Fabbri explained that his off-ice experience helped his all-around game, and the on-ice results show it. After being held pointless in his first game back from suspension, he’s since caught fire — scoring eight goals and adding three assists in his subsequent six games. And after last scoring a power-play goal in the second game of the season, he’s accounted for four more during his current hot streak.
“It’s just the way the game goes,” he said. “I guess you could say it’s timing. It’s not just about me scoring, it’s about the team winning. And if me scoring a few power-play goals helps the team, then I’m fine doing that.”
NHL Central Scouting rated Fabbri as an A-level player (first-round grade) in its November rankings for the 2014 NHL Draft. And ISS Hockey has taken notice of Fabbri's improved production, moving the talented forward from #44 to the 24th slot in that organization's December rankings.
After a 33-point rookie season, Fabbri’s stepped up his production dramatically, even with a 10-game mandated seat in the press box. In 24 games so far this year, he’s scored 18 goals and added 17 assists.
“Definitely you want to be pleased by it, but you also don’t want to let it get to your head,” he said. “I don’t want to let it affect my game and just keep playing the way that I am. I just want to focus on the things I can control.”
Those things he can control are on the ice. He said knowing that there are many eyes off the ice watching — scouts, for example — is something he’s aware of but has no control over.
“It’s a little bit tough. But the pressure is good for me. I like playing under pressure and I think that pressure improves my game,” he said. “Having that in the back of my head, knowing that there are people watching, I’m just going to play as hard as I can and contribute as much as I can. Hopefully I can live up to the pressure.”
With a massive recent trade, the Guelph Storm are hoping to showcase Fabbri on the largest stage of all. The club recently acquired Kerby Rychel and Nick Ebert from the Windsor Spitfires, signaling a brutal fight to the finish amongst OHL rivals the Erie Otters and the London Knights.
“I think they’re both great guys and they both fit in with our team very well. I think they’ve fit in with us right from the start,” Fabbri said. “I think, looking down the road, once we’ve had a chance to play a few more games with Kerby when he comes back [from Team Canada], we’ll be where we want to be as an elite team, and I think with these additions we’ll have a really good chance of doing that.”
At 51 points, the Storm has found itself entrenched in a three-way race atop the OHL’s Midwest Division, along with Erie (59 points) and London (53 points). While the arrival of Guelph in such lofty positioning may be surprising to some, to Fabbri it’s exactly what the team expected.
“It may be a little bit surprising to some people,” he explained. “You’ve always got London as a number-one, but I think coming into this year, if you asked a lot of people in this league, they would have said we were going to have a pretty strong team.
“We had a lot of returning players. I just think we’ve lived up to what we expected, but we also want to exceed that.”
Although missing 10 games to a suspension has set him back offensively, Fabbri said he’s pleased with his play so far and that he’s on track with his expectations. Of course, his main focus is not on the individual, but rather the team.
“Obviously as a player you want to have personal goals set and I think that, along those lines with what I’ve set, I’m doing well,” he said.“My focus is on team success, because with team success comes individual success. As long as the team’s doing well, I’ll be doing well.”
At 5’11 and listed around 170, Fabbri said he wants to focus on consistency and showing that his size doesn’t matter as he approaches Draft Day.
“I just want to be as consistent as possible,” Fabbri explained. “That would the biggest thing, along with showing that size isn’t going to be an issue. I want to show that I play bigger than I am and I’m strong defensively.”
And how do you show you’re bigger than you are? “It’s compete level — expend a lot of energy and show that I can play hard in all parts of the ice, with or without the puck.”
Growing up in Mississauga, one would expect Fabbri to bleed blue and white, but when asked the question, he paused, waited, and finally laughed out an answer.
“Not really, no…” he said. “I guess my family — my dad and my brother — cheered for the [Edmonton] Oilers, so that would be a team I watched a lot. Pittsburgh is good too.”
And for inspiration, Fabbri looks to a former OHL player who plied his trade a little further down the 401 in Kitchener with the Rangers.
“I really enjoy watching Jeff Skinner,” Fabbri said. “Actually, I try to model my game after him. He’s not a big guy, like me. Watching him, I’ve been able to see a few things that I can add to my game for my advantage.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard