By staying at Thayer (Mass.) Academy and not following the route taken by most highly regarded NHL prospects — that is, playing in top junior-level leagues — Jay O'Brien showed loyalty to his high school and belief in himself.
The Flyers rewarded that belief, selecting the 5-foot-11, 180-pound center with their second pick in the first round of last week's draft.
"I guess it's a different path," O'Brien said after the first day of the Flyers' development camp Thursday in Voorhees.
There were scouts who questioned his decision to stay in high school and bypass a chance to play in the United States Hockey League.
"I'm one to do my own thing and prove a lot of people wrong," he said. "I just kind of played with a chip on my shoulder the whole year and showed what prep-school hockey is [all about.] I don't feel out of place here. I feel the same as I've always felt. I just use my skill and hockey sense and play the same wherever I go."
At Thayer, O'Brien was coached by Tony Amonte, a Massachusetts native and a former NHL star right winger.
"I played for an unbelievable coach, so he made it pretty easy for me to stay," said O'Brien, who will attend Providence College. "I developed a great relationship with my teammates and schoolmates there, so there was no doubt that I wasn't leaving. I always wanted to finish school there and play my senior year there."
In 30 games this season, O'Brien had 43 goals and 80 points.
"I owed it to the school a little bit to stay," he said. "Those guys put in a lot of hours for me, whether it was teachers, coaches, or teammates. I owe it to them. I wouldn't be here without those guys."
O'Brien, 18, called his grandfather, Frank "Junie" O'Brien, who died six years ago, his "biggest role model. I mean, he coached hockey, baseball and taught English class at Groton School for 30 years," he said of another Massachusetts prep school. "He was just an unbelievable person and helped so many people out. He was a special guy and a good role model for me. He didn't coach me on a team, but we'd be in the backyard rink and he'd give me some pointers. I was just grateful to have him."
Selected 19th overall — much higher than most draft experts expected — O'Brien will face much tougher competition at Providence.
"I've always wanted to play college hockey and always wanted to play in Hockey East," he said. "Providence is a great spot for me. It's going to be a big step for me, but I'm ready for the challenge and I'm going to embrace it. I'm going to go in there and make an impact… and help them win another national championship."
Providence won the national title by beating Boston University in the 2015 final at TD Garden.
After the Flyers' development camp ends Monday, O'Brien will head to Providence, take some summer classes, and begin working out with his teammates and getting ready for the collegiate season.
"I have to prove everything," said O'Brien, whom former NHL player and referee Paul Stewart compared to a young Jeremy Roenick [gulp], another Thayer Academy product, in a column for HockeyBuzz.com. "I'm not going to go in there and be handed anything, so I'm prepared to do that."
Speedy left winger Joel Farabee, whom the Flyers took with their earlier first-round selection (14thh round), is also going to have a hectic summer. After camp ends, he'll travel to Boston University — he will face O'Brien's Providence team in Hockey East matchups — to take a class in archaeology and get ready for the season.
Farabee, who starred in the USHL and collected 15 goals and 40 points in 26 games last season, said he will absorb "as much as I can" at the Flyers' five-day development camp and take it with him to college.