Reports came out yesterday afternoon (first from the Twitter account of TSN's Bob McKenzie via Andy Tonge) that the Los Angeles Kings had traded forward Brian O'Neill to our New Jersey Devils in exchange for a conditional seventh round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. The pick is conditional on the Devils re-signing O'Neill for next season, so the Devils may have essentially acquired a center/right wing for this season to try in their new system and they may not have to give up anything in return; even if they do, a seventh round pick is just as much of an unknown as O'Neill, if not more.
Today, I decided to provide some brief information to give Devils fans an idea of who O'Neill is, what he's done so far in his career (including some video highlights), and what we might expect from him on a team that is terribly weak at right wing.
Who is Brian O'Neill?
O'Neill was originally an undrafted free agent that signed with the Kings after his senior season at Yale University. He has spent the last 4 hockey seasons in their organization as a member of the Manchester Monarchs; he was part of the Kings' roster during training camp and the preseason, but the Devils were able to acquire him as the Kings feared losing him for nothing on waivers. He's a bit on the smaller side for a hockey player (5'9", 173 lbs.), but that hasn't stopped players such as Brian Gionta, Marty St. Louis, and most recently Tyler Johnson from succeeding at the NHL level. Here are his stats courtesy of Elite Prospects:
What Others Have Said About O'Neill
Hockey's Future had this analysis of Brian from what they've seen of his game:
O'Neill is a small, quick forward blessed with excellent offensive instincts. He has great finish ability and is most dangerous below the dots. He can control the tempo of a game and makes things happen whenever he is on the ice. O'Neill has great hands and vision, making him a great playmaker, and can play either right or left wing. O'Neill is an excellent skater with a good burst of speed, but he is more about quickness. He makes good decisions with the puck and has an accurate shot and blistering release. Despite his lack of size he plays with grittiness and a great deal of physicality. He makes solid checks, even against bigger opposing players. He works hard, is a tough competitor, and can be quite difficult to defend. He is strong along the boards and in the corners.
I like a lot of what I see in that scouting report; it appears that at least at the AHL level, O'Neill has been a great playmaker as well as a good goal scorer. He also seems to be a complete player that isn't afraid to hit or be hit and plays tough in the "dirty areas" of the ice; seems like a prototypical New Jersey Devil to me. His good skating and quickness will fit right in with coach John Hynes' fast, supportive attack system.
Gann Matsuda of FrozenRoyalty.net had an article from earlier this summer where Kings' assistant GM Rob Blake had this to say:
"Any time you're the best player in the American league, you have the ability, the skill and the [desire] to play in the NHL," he said. "There's a huge difference between the American league and the National Hockey League. But I think that when you're a top player at that level, that transfers over to the NHL level."
"That's part of what you see on the ice from him—that competitive nature," he added. "He's been able to do that at all levels. He continued to do that in the American Hockey League, and I don't see why he wouldn't continue to do that in the National Hockey League, whenever he gets that chance."
Again, I think that the skill set and the drive to compete at this level are going to be important for O'Neill; his desire might be what secures him a spot in New Jersey's sub-par lineup. Also as a top player in the AHL (and last season's MVP) he should be better than some of the options currently on the roster.
A Little Video
First we have an interview conducted with Brian from a couple of weeks ago while he was still a King which mostly talks about his expectations and what he can bring to a team:
Now for the on-ice part, we have a highlight video; be sure to keep your eyes on #22, and also maybe mute your volume, as I don't think the music really goes with the video:
If there's any AHL player that the Devils should be taking a chance on, the reigning MVP who happens to be a right handed shot is probably our best bet. I understand Brian is a bit older at 27, but he's still a decade younger than many of the players the Devils shed over the summer. While Tom Gulitti has reported that O'Neill will not be in the line-up right away due to his limited number of practices, the possibility that he is better than some of the right wings the Devils currently have on the roster exists.
The main thing about him right now is that he's a complete unknown at the NHL level; while he's improved each season that he has played in the AHL, he never received even a "cup of coffee" while with the Kings. The Devils are starved for talented, younger players and the possibility of acquiring one for what may or may not wind up being a pick in the last round of the 2017 draft is worth taking a flier on.
Personally, I don't expect O'Neill to be the next Patrik Elias in his prime or anything, but I do think he could put it all together and be a solid NHL contributor. If he winds up putting up points this season and displacing someone currently in the lineup, I would love to see Shero sign him to a new contract; if he doesn't, then we cut him loose at season's end and keep the pick. He could also under-perform and be placed on waivers, where he would be claimed by another team, or be sent to bolster Albany's ranks, in which case we'd still owe a L.A. a pick that may not wind up even being an AHL contributor. This is literally a win-win scenario for the Devils, and again even if O'Neill winds up posting Dainius Zubrus-esque stats, if we don't re-sign him, we lose nothing.
Despite the fact that he has never appeared in an NHL game, what are your expectations of Brian O'Neill based on his career so far? Do you think he will fit in with the new system of our New Jersey Devils? Will he get time in a top 6 scoring role? Will Brian make any kind of significant contribution at the NHL level? Will he be on waivers/in the AHL before the end of the season? Leave any and all comments below, and as always, thank you for reading!