HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Tim Taylor got to know St. Louis Blues 2014 first-round pick Robert Fabbri quite extensively last week. The Blues' Director of Player Development worked with some of their top prospects during Development Camp at St. Louis Outlet Mall.
After watching Fabbri, Taylor understood why the Blues made the center from the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League the 21st overall pick last month.
"There's a reason why we picked him first," Taylor said of Fabbri, who had 45 goals and 87 points in 58 regular-season games and then was named MVP of the OHL playoffs after he had 13 goals and 28 points in 16 games. He capped his season with two goals and four assists in four games while helping the Storm reach the Memorial Cup championship game.
"He's got that acceleration. He separates himself instantly away from his man," Taylor said. "He's got good instincts to get the puck to the net; not only shooting the puck, but he drives the net hard. Those are all good qualities in an NHL player that we like. He's a difference-maker. He's looking to be the difference in the game."
The Blues have been thirsty for a playmaking center for years. Although Fabbri isn't NHL-ready yet, his St. Louis debut left a positive impression.
"I just try to have as much fun as I can," Fabbri said. "Obviously a lot of fans [came] out ... that's great to see. All the guys you're skating with, you just want to stay relaxed and try and do the best you can.
"Just go hard every drill. You don't want to take a drill off. You're going with different guys. You want to communicate and show them what I can do."
Taylor said the player who comes to mind when he sees Fabbri is one of his former teammates, New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis.
"He shows he has the work ethic like Marty," Taylor said. "I'm very close to Marty, and I'm going to talk to Marty about Robby and the fact that Robby is a smaller guy. He's not small (5-foot-10, 170 pounds), but he's a smaller guy. He goes to hard areas, he's tenacious, he's gritty, and he's just going to have to watch himself a little bit and understand that he can't go in those areas at all times. He's going to have to learn and pick and choose.
"I'll pick Marty's brain at a golf tournament in a couple weeks, so I'll pick his brain about Robby and I'll get them to connect and Robby can pick his brain."
Guelph coach Scott Walker raved about Fabbri before the draft and told the Guelph Mercury, "Twenty years from now [Fabbri] might be the player that sold the most jerseys and the most tickets. I really do believe he has the best skill and heart in the draft."
Fabbri was quick to credit Walker for part of his development and success.
"He's such a great coach," Fabbri said. "And the way our team was [in 2013-14], it's a reflection on the way he coaches. He was a competitive player and he's a competitive coach and he wants that out of all of us. I like having that in my game, so it's always good to have someone like that pushing you.
"It's great to hear that, but to me it's just a number and it's an invitation to camp, and you've got to prove everything right off the start and that's what I'm hoping to do."
Fabbri may be smaller in stature but he's not afraid to play in the tough areas. It's why some compare him to St. Louis, who made a successful career playing the same style and using the same smarts.
"I think I'm very competitive," Fabbri said. "I go to those dirty areas to get the puck so I can utilize my skill that I have, a quick release in the offensive zone, but to play at the next level you've got to play in the defensive zone as well. Even though you don't put up numbers in the defensive zone, it's still a huge part."
Fabbri will return to Guelph with an abundance of knowledge from his week working with Blues staff and coaches.
"He needs to take with him the understanding of nutrition, strength training and a talk with [Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] on what it takes to be an NHL player," Taylor said. "Not just an NHL player for a day but to have a career. There's a difference."
Leaving a strong first impression was something Fabbri didn't lack in his first visit to St. Louis, and if first impressions are lasting Fabbri will be in St. Louis permanently in the near future.
"This is when your career starts and you want to start off on the right foot and you want to work as hard as you can every time you get the opportunity to prove what you can do," Fabbri said. "It was fun finally putting on the [Blues] jersey, [seeing] the fans and everything like that. Such a great organization, and you can tell that by the fans out there that it's a great city to play in.
"Obviously your plans are to make [the NHL], but that's a huge jump. I've set my goals high so I'm going to [try] to reach for them. But I see myself [in] a big leadership role in Guelph [in 2014-15]. Hopefully we can put up another run like we did last year."
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