The Draft Lottery gave the New York Islanders the 15th pick in the 2005 Entry Draft, and they used it on Erie Otters center Ryan O’Marra. Labeled as a “safe pick” in the weeks leading up to the draft, the 6’1, 195-pound center looks larger than his listed size both on and off the ice. O’Marra is currently away from the Otters, representing Canada at the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championships in Vancouver, BC. Playing for Team Canada has meant that O’Marra has had to make a lot of adjustments. Used to being the go-to guy in Erie, he is playing a two-way checking role and has been told that if he’s not physical, he’s not playing. As a result, O’Marra has been a frequent contributor to the highlight reel with a handful of bone-crushing hits, showing a side of his game that may not have been prominent in the past.
O’Marra is the type of prospect that may not excite a lot of fans because he isn’t going to be a 40-goal scorer at the professional level, but he is going to be an important part of the Islanders franchise. In time, O’Marra has the potential to develop into a physically dominant center that makes life very challenging for the opposition’s top line. If he’s able to improve his first two steps, O’Marra could be a difficult match for any player as he possesses great size and strength, and already has good top-end speed once he gets going. Despite having 35 points, including 13 goals, in 29 OHL games to date, he thinks he can do better.
O’Marra spoke with Hockey’s Future after Canada’s 4-0 win over Norway, a game marred by penalties and inconsistent officiating. O’Marra was one of seven players (four Canadian, three Norwegian) who received ten minute misconducts at the end of the game because of some scuffling that broke out, at least partially caused by frustration over the officiating. O’Marra was clearly frustrated by the game afterwards, but was still in good spirits that the team had won.
HF: You’re three games into the tournament, what are your thoughts on the team’s play to date?
RO: I think we played well. Just the game against Switzerland we clearly underestimated them and we got away from our game plan. I thought we got back on track tonight as much as possible five on five and I thought our special teams were great. I’m pretty happy where we’re at right now, we’re 3-0, which is what our goal was.
HF: Did it feel like you might get two minutes for touching somebody tonight (against Norway)?
RO: A little bit. It was frustrating. I knew I was going to get a penalty on that hit, but in the end, teams are watching, and you got to maintain your identity. And our identity should be that we’re a physical team and tough to play. By the same token, knowing that I was going to get that penalty I can’t take that hit at the end of the week.
HF: What kind of adaptation have you had to make to play on this World Junior team compared to your role with the Erie Otters?
RO: Back in the O, I’m a first line, 30-minute guy, all power play. I do very little penalty-killing simply just to save my legs. I’m as two-way, I’m still a two-way center back in Erie. Here I’m a winger, for the most part. I played a bit of center today. Here I’m a winger for the most part, I’m not playing that many minutes, I’m in a physical role. It’s almost similar, well, it’s kind of the polar opposite. The polar opposite to what I do in Erie, and that’s fine. That’s what I expected coming in.
HF: You have had a handful of big highlight reel hits just three games into this event. Is this something you’re making a conscious effort to do?
RO: No doubt. It’s something I have to do. Coach told me straight out I have to be finishing my checks or I’m not going to play. I fully understand that coming into this tournament and even coming into camp, so that’s my mindset from as soon as the tournament started. I’m not sure I’m going out of my way to make a huge it, I just don’t want to make sure I’m finishing my checks. And with my size, and sometimes speed, coming into these hits, that’s the result (smiling).
HF: Guillaume Latendresse (MON) and Andrew Cogliano (EDM) have both been benched as a result of poor play or a bad decision. Is this intimidating for you as a player to know you could get sat if you screw up, or is it more of a motivator?
RO: I got benched against Switzerland. I didn’t see a minute in the third period because I was the direct result of a goal, the second goal they scored. It’s just the way Coach does it. It seemed to work for me, I tried to, I didn’t make any mistakes tonight. I don’t think I did. I think it worked for those two, I think it gave Andrew for sure a spark, and you know, just his coaching method and I fully back him on it.
HF: You’ve been labeled as a guy with the upside to become a defensive center in the NHL. Do you think this is a fair assessment of your skills, or do you have more offensive ability than you’re given credit for?
RO: I think I have a little more offense than I’m given credit for, but you know what, to date I really haven’t given them a reason to think that. I’ve had a slow start in the OHL offensively and I’m hoping to break out offensively in the second half. I think it’s a fair assessment from what they’ve seen.
HF: How would you describe yourself as a hockey player?
RO: I’d like to say I’m just a complete player. I don’t like to say, I don’t overly excel in any one area, but I don’t have too many deficiencies and that’s what I like to think. That’s why they labeled me as a safe pick, because I’m a complete player.
HF: What are you working on the most right now?
RO: My first two steps, my skating. The next level, for me to play the way I play, for me to be effective, I need to have some quickness out there. Unfortunately for me, my skating has always been a question. It’s not even my stride or my top end speed, it’s getting those first two steps.
HF: How often are you in touch with the Islanders organization?
RO: On a fairly regular basis. Their player development guy and I talk at least once a week, once every two weeks at least. I saw them here, I saw the head scout here at camp. It’s good, I have a fairly regular contact with them.
HF: Do you follow any of the Islanders other prospects?
RO: Yeah, I follow Blake Comeau because I room with him and he’s a friend of mine. I guess he’s not a prospect anymore, but I follow Petteri Nokelainen, follow Chris Campoli because he’s my captain in Erie and he’s playing there. But other than that, maybe Dustin Kohn I follow, not too much.
HF: Do you think the fact that the Islanders already had Campoli’s rights influenced their decision to select you because they were watching him and you caught their eye?
RO: Possibly. I don’t think that played too much into it. Obviously Campy was my captain my first year so I had another year to show them what I could do. I had under 17s, under 18s. You know, I think it may have been a factor, but I think they just liked my overall game and they were happy I was there where I was.
HF: What NHL player do you think your game most resembles?
RO: I try to be a little bit of Rod Brind’Amour in that he’s a two-way center man and wins a lot of faceoffs. I just want to be safe defensively and, when I get into the offensively zone, just show my creativity.
HF: How important is it for you guys to beat the US on New Year’s Eve?
RO: I think it’s a big deal for us. I don’t think it is the be all and end all of this tournament for us though. Obviously we, if we lose, we still have a chance, but obviously we want to get the win, especially with them touted as the favorites.
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