Defense continues to be a need for our New Jersey Devils, and while the free agent market can sometimes help to improve a weak area, the best bet is to draft and develop. With that in mind, depending upon where their pick(s) fall, the Devils could be looking for a defender to help shore up their ranks. Today we look at Ryan O’Rourke to see if he could be a player of interest.
Who is Ryan O’Rourke?
O’Rourke is the youngest player I have personally written a profile for (at least so far) this year, as he was born May 16, 2002 in Pickering, Ontario, Canada. He checks a few boxes of need for the Devils, those being position as a left defender, and size, as he already stands 6’2” and 181 lbs. with his 18th birthday less than a month away. He has spent both of his first two seasons in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds, who took him in the first round (20th overall) in the 2018 Priority Draft.
His rookie campaign saw him post a respectable 22 points in 62 appearances, though his production tailed off to just two assists in 11 playoff games. This season it appears Soo will be missing the playoffs (when/if the season resumes), but on a very “meh” team record-wise, O’Rourke posted 37 points in 54 games. registering him for 11th overall on the team, but 3rd among defenders. His full stats can be found at this link courtesy of Elite Prospects and at this link (with different listed height/weight) courtesy of the official OHL website.
Where is Ryan O’Rourke Ranked?
Zary isn’t going to be a player who hears his name called too early at the draft, but he should still be finding out which NHL team he will be part of before round one of the draft ends. Gauging by the draft rankings below, it seems probable that he goes in the middle of the round:
HockeyProspect - #24 (January)
EliteProspects - #41 (February)
Future Considerations - #30 (March)
Looking at the available rankings, O’Rourke should be drafted somewhere between the end of the first round and the beginning of the second round. I think the number of teams that feel that defense is a draft need will determine exactly when he is taken off of the board. Size is definitely working in his favor, but let’s see what else we can learn about his game.
What Others Say About Ryan O’Rourke
Dobber Prospects had a good scouting report of O’Rourke’s game which I will be taking some pieces of to analyze, but the one sentence overall summation had me a bit worried:
A solid two-way defenseman who can play in all situations reliably. A jack of all trades but a master of none.
Now it’s always good to see a rounded player, but you would like to see him referenced as at least a master of something on the ice. To me, this description reads as if to imply that O’Rourke would top out as a mid-pair guy, but hopefully that’s incorrect.
Continuing, the site quotes Tony Ferrari as having these quotes about Ryan’s game:
He is a good defensive player who angles opposing players to the outside effectively and has no problem getting into opponent’s faces. His gap control is inconsistent at times but he has been improving over the course of the season and for the most part, he is engaging at the blueline and separating the puck carrier and the puck.
Okay, some good and some not so good here. Encouraging to know he’s engaging early and also willing to do the dirty work. Gap control seems to be a general struggle for defenders that play for the New Jersey Devils, so one has to wonder if that facet of his game being seen as a weakness (at least currently) would keep him off of the Devils’ draft list.
His offensive game is still growing but he is an efficient puck mover from the back end and he has a sneaky good shot. His wrist shot finds the net at an above-average rate due to his ability to walk the blueline and change the angle. He excels at identifying space and taking it to make the shot or pass from a more dangerous position on the ice.
Offense isn’t his forte right now either, but he does have some good qualities here as well. This scouting report really stresses the smarts of O’Rourke’s game, which are attractive qualities in prospects. Skill is good, but skill and smarts to maximize the abilities of all players on the ice are what separates winning teams and losing teams.
He should be a lock to make the NHL, his role at the next level will be up to him and his development.
He could be a sleeper pick, as it seems as though he’s already shoring up some of the weaker aspects of his game. It will be interesting to see where he’s chosen and how his Draft +1 season plays out.
Today’s other source is The Sault Star with an article written by Peter Ruicci. In the article, he spoke with Greyhounds coach John Dean, who provided this analysis of his captain’s game:
“Ryan O’Rourke is not only a skilled player, he has the ability to play on the edge and be aggressive,” Greyhounds head coach John Dean told The Sault Star on Wednesday. “I love the way he leads with his grit and determination and well as with his skill. Anybody who takes him will be very fortunate, while getting a fantastic hockey player and fantastic human being.”
Being a team captain at 17 as O’Rourke was this past season cannot be easy; yet everything said of him describes his maturity and his leadership, which are qualities that can help make a player successful in the NHL Perhaps Dean is overselling his captain a bit, but the grit, determination, aggression and leadership line up with the previous scouting report, and again should he continue trending upward, it could make O’Rourke a good choice late in round one or anywhere in round two; that does lead to a problem for our Devils, but we’ll get to that in a minute after some highlights.
A Little Video
Today’s first video comes from the OHL, and it’s a video of O’Rourke and a prospect I previously profiled in Cole Perfetti. They grew up as teammates in minor hockey, before each being chosen in the first round of the 2018 OHL Priority Draft:
While it’s more of a discussion video between the two players, the goal scored by O’Rourke shows his on-ice awareness, as well as his willingness to jump into the play. This leads to him receiving a pass just a few feet out from the net, with Ryan burying it. Funny enough, both he and Perfetti scored the opening goals for their teams in this, their first ever game against each other.
The other video is from a Soo game this past October, where the Greyhounds routed the North Bay Battalion 11-2. O’Rourke had more points (2-1-3) than the Battalion had goals on his way to being named first star of the game:
While I could link to more Soo games, this is where our footage section ends today; there aren’t any highlight packages for O’Rourke by himself, and again he appears to be a name flying under the radar as the draft approaches.
An Opinion of Sorts
Now for that problem that I mentioned prior to the videos. Based on where O’Rourke is projected to go, it’s almost an impossibility for the Devils to take him even if they like his game. In a best case scenario, the Devils wind up with three first round picks this draft; two of those choices will be lottery picks and it would be a huge reach to choose O’Rourke within those top 15 picks. The third choice would be if the Vancouver Canucks make the playoffs, but with his projected draft positioning, the Canucks would have to likely at least make the Western Conference Finals for the pick to be in range. The issue is compounded by the Devils not having a selection in the second or third rounds this year. In a worst case scenario, the Devils have one choice, which at absolute worst, would be ninth overall.
Additionally, there are currently seven North American defenders ranked in front of him for this draft, and outside of Jamie Drysdale, all of them are 6’ or taller, with most weighing the same or more than O’Rourke. That eliminates the “need a big defender” argument as well, and also doesn’t even take into account that there are another seven defenders ranked in the Top 20 for European Skaters.
Personally, I’m just not sold on O’Rourke due to the current limitations in his game. New Jersey needs more high end talent, not players who currently appear to project to be a mid-pair defender at best. Even if the scouting staff felt he would be a great pickup in the early-mid second round, it can’t happen this year. I think that anyone New Jersey takes fits their anticipated competitive window right now, but they have to actually develop into NHL talent.
With the lack of buzz around him, and the noted deficiencies in his game (which may or may not change through player development), I just feel the New Jersey Devils should (and will) look elsewhere in this draft, whether defense is the priority or not. The drafting mantra of best player available applies here: when the Devils are up to select, while O’Rourke could become a good player, I just feel there will still be better players available.
Now we’d like to hear from you with your thoughts on O’Rourke as a prospect; is he a player you’re interested in? Are there parts of his game that your personally like or dislike? Have you seen/heard anything else that encourages or discourages you about his potential? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading.