When a young defender from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds fell further than he should have in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Colorado Avalanche were quick to pick him up. Conor Timmins was drafted later than he should have been and despite missing an entire season due to a concussion, he is currently one of the top defensive prospects in the AHL and looks poised to make an impact in the NHL very soon. Far more teams passed on Timmins that he should have and as a result, he fell into the laps of the Avalanche. This year, the same could happen with another Hounds defender - Ryan O’Rourke.
A former first round pick in the OHL Priority Selection Draft, O’Rourke is a prospect that has all the tools to be a top pair defender in the NHL. Originally projected to be selected later in the draft, O’Rourke put himself on the bubble for the first round with a very strong sophomore year in the OHL. He started to move up draft boards after his standout performance at the CHL Top Prospects game and as the season progressed, his growth and development has forced a lot of people to take notice.
On a mediocre Soo Greyhounds team, O’Rourke became one of the leaders and is primed to turn into one of the best defenders in the OHL next season.
The first thing teammates and coaches talk about when asked about O’Rourke is his leadership. The respect they have for the young defender became evident this past November when the Greyhounds named him their captain - something that is incredibly rare for a 17-years old in the OHL.
Though the relevance of intangibles like leadership can be exaggerated, in O’Rourke’s case, it manifests itself in his play. From his head coach:
“As a coach when you can be hard on your best players and they respond in a positive way, it makes it real easy for me. When you pick a leader when things aren’t going well, you want a guy who is going to respond the right way both on and off the ice. For a guy that’s got as many points as he does and how well he plays back there with the puck, when things aren’t going well he goes out there and makes himself physical and tries to get the guys back on track by competing harder and paying a price. He cares about his teammates. He cares about his hockey career. He cares about his teammate’s hockey career. I think that’s a huge asset when someone knows you care about them you tend to follow them.”
Leadership and desire to make his teammates better come as a byproduct of his hockey IQ. O’Rourke is a very smart player who has elite instincts both with and without the puck. These instincts help him to maximize the physical tools that some scouts seem to underestimate. That is no more evident in the way he scores goals. O’Rourke has a very hard shot from the point but more often than not, his goals come from a quick wrister or snap shot that he is able to get through traffic. He is very good at understanding that brute force is not always the best course of action. He’ll take the smart shot, not always a hard one.
Beyond what he does in the offensive zone, these instinct - along with strong vision and passing ability - make O’Rourke a high-end puck mover. He’s got the ability to start the breakout with either a great first pass or by using his above average skating ability.
On the defensive side of the puck, O’Rourke’s instincts lead to elite positioning for a junior defender. On top of the strong positioning and gap control, he’s got the uncanny ability to know exactly when he should be trying to take the body and when a more passive approach would be optimal.
This is where the comparison to Conor Timmins is really apt. O’Rourke’s biggest weakness is that he has such a solid all-around style that there is no one aspect of his game that stands out. He’s not flashy. He skates well but isn’t a burner. He’s good defensively but not a physically dominating presence. He’s a jack of all trades but a master of none - and that’s something that often hurts the draft stock of young players.
If you had to pick one “physical weakness” it would be the hunched over skating style, but that doesn’t hamper his game beyond making him look awkward at times.
O’Rourke finished second behind Jamie Drysdale for points per game among draft eligible OHL defenders. Thanks to an expanded role on the team and time on the powerplay during his draft year, O’Rourke saw a nearly 70% increase in his point production over his rookie season.
He’ll be the quarterback of the PP1 with the Hounds next season, something that could lead to an even more significant boost to his offensive numbers.
What Others are Saying
“He already wears the ‘C’ in Sault Ste. Marie, blocks shots, plays the body, and has improved his skating in recent years. O’Rourke has also improved his play with the puck to allow him to make more of an impact offensively.” - Brock Otten (McKeens Scouting)
“Ryan O’Rourke is not only a skilled player, he has the ability to play on the edge and be aggressive. 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.” - John Dean (Soo Greyhounds Head Coach)
At the very least, Ryan O’Rourke is going to be a bottom-4 defender in the NHL, but that’s just the floor. He’s the type of low-risk prospect that show up in an NHL lineup a few years after he’s drafted and then proceeds to be a quiet mainstay for the next decade. That said, O’Rourke has the potential to be a lot more than that. With proper development and a little luck, he has the legitimate potential to be top pairing defender on a good team.
Where he’ll be Drafted
A lot later than he should be. Based on risk/reward, Ryan O’Rourke should probably be drafted somewhere int he second half of the first round. Like Timmins a few years ago, there is a strong possibility that he drifts into the second round, makings a team drafting somewhere in the 30-45 range very happy.
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