Robby Fabbri is right on time.
The likely NHL first-round pick was at an impressionable age in the mid-aughties when big-league hockey reacquainted itself with a more free-flowing style of play that embraced the smaller, skilled player. Over the years, the stigma against prospects with the Guelph Storm star's dimensions, 5-foot-10¼ and 170 pounds, has also faded.
"It's an inspiration, the game's not all about size," Fabbri said of the changes that have taken place in the NHL since 2005, when he was a nine-year-old puck-chaser in Mississauga. "When you have small guys with big heart and grit, it's equal to being six-foot-five, when you're not scared to go into corners and play bigger than your size, I don't think it's a big deal at all."
Fabbri was No. 21 in NHL Central Scouting Service's final North American ranking. That was issued before he won OHL playoff MVP honours and helped the Storm come within one win of capturing the Memorial Cup. He's expected to perhaps sneak into the top 10. It's reminiscent of the rise another 5-10 centre from the OHL, Jeff Skinner, had four years ago with the Kitchener Rangers before going directly to the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes.
'Heart of a lion and some of the best skill I've ever seen'
Fabbri, on top of having well-developed speed and acumen for reading the ice and involving his wings, also has an innate nose for the net. The 18-year-old counted 45 goals and 87 points across 58 regular-season games, crediting the stretch where he sat out a 10-game head-checking suspension for helping him improve his stamina and strength.
The pivot missed nearly the entire first round of the playoffs after taking a check to the head in the Storm's opener. Fabbri was cleared to play two weeks later and did not miss a beat.
"He's a special player," said Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick Kerby Rychel, who was Fabbri's left wing this season. "He's got the heart of a lion and some of the best skill I have ever seen.
"He's never nervous before a game, no matter how big a stage it is — OHL playoffs, OHL finals, Memorial Cup," Rychel added. "He's always ready to play and he's got a smile. It's definitely a good influence to have in the dressing room. Whether it's Game 30 or the Memorial Cup, he's the same way. That is a good quality to have."
Fabbri said that "never nervous" bearing was a long time in the making. As a child, he tended to wake up hours early when he had a game. Over time, he learned to save his energy for the games.
"When I was younger, I would be a little bit anxious and nervous the morning of games," he said. "I guess maturity, and finding out how I play in different situations, helped with being calm. Throughout my experience I've found I'm better when I'm not waking up early and I'm not nervous.
"You just go game to game to find superstitions that you like and you just stick with it. One thing was not just really focusing on who's in the stands and focusing on my game."
1. You often cite Jeff Skinner as a player you admire; what is it about him?
"He's not the biggest guy and I get knocked for that too. Seeing him succeed the way he did in his draft year [with his 50-goal season and 20-goal playoff for Kitchener in 2009-10] and continuing to improve, and being underrated, is something that I've been working for this year. He did a great job of overcoming being knocked for his size and I'm trying to follow in those footsteps."
2. Your older brother, Lenny Fabbri, was the rare 20-year-old rookie in university hockey with the Guelph Gryphons this season. What has having your sibling play in the same town done for you?
"It's been great. Being away from home and my brother and I being so close. In the past, playing minor hockey, he's always the guy I would go to for anything. He's doing great at hockey there too. We hang out a lot more.
"He was busy with his hockey, I was busy with mine. This year it was a little easier."
3. Outside of your parents, which person has had the most positive influence on your career?
"I got to go with Lenny. My brother being in Guelph is huge. We would always catch up with each other. Going through a tough stretch, or anything going on, we would just hang out talk and get through it. His support throughout my whole career has been big. Practising with him in the summers and working out with him pushing me is great."
4. Who has been the toughest defenceman you have faced in the OHL?
"I saw a lot of [Buffalo Sabres prospect] Nikita Zadorov this year — big, strong, fast defenceman. That's the type of defenceman you see at the next level, so it's great to play against him."
5. Being a pro athlete means maintaining a strict diet, but what satisfies your sweet tooth?
"The odd time I might go for a bowl of ice cream at the billet house. Maybe a bag of chips."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Robby Fabbri
- Guelph Storm