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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Ryan O’Rourke sets traps for opposing offences

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Flashier players will go in the first round, but O’Rourke’s defensive skill set will be sought by 30 teams in round number two.

Terry Wilson / OHL Images

The 2019 off-season didn’t just bring a rebrand for the Ontario Hockey League’s Greyhounds, who changed their official name from Sault Ste. Marie to the shorter “Soo” nickname, but the need for a rebuild as well. Out were players who had been selected in the first round of recent NHL drafts, Barrett Hayton and Morgan Frost, as well as top defenceman Mac Hollowell, who all began their professional careers.

The three players provided much of the offence for the Greyhounds, and also served as the main leadership group, with Frost and Hollowell serving under captain Hayton. The team needed the remaining players to take up larger roles, and someone to become the franchise’s next captain.

To find solutions to both of those problems, head coach John Dean turned to 17-year-old defenceman Ryan O’Rourke.

Birthplace: Pickering, Ontario
Date of birth: May 16, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Defenceman
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 181 lbs.
Draft-Year Team: Soo Greyhounds (OHL)

The team needed a steady presence on the blue line if it was going to have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. The forward corps didn’t feature a single first-round selection from the OHL Draft, so going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s juggernauts was going to be tough. When the season was halted, they were right in the mix for a playoff spot, just under a .500 record and one point away from the eighth seed.

To keep the team competitive, O’Rourke was used at every available opportunity. He went out versus the best players on the opposing team, and did so for about 23:30 on an average night, the most on the team despite the defence featuring five players older than him.

Elite Prospects

O’Rourke potted seven goals for his team in the shortened season. He managed 30 assists as well, which ranked fifth on the team, though third among the team’s group of defencemen that was leaned on for much of the offence generation.

He scored several of his goals when he jumped up into the play; a rare moment of respite from his defensive duties. He got his chances on special teams, recorded four of his goals and 11 assists from a qurterbacking spot on the power play, and also led the defence with two points while short-handed.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: #28
Future Considerations: #39
Hockey Prospect: #38
McKeen’s Hockey: #30
McKenzie/TSN: #37
NHL Central Scouting: #27 (North American skaters)

They’re not outstanding offensive totals, but the range of his production reflects the complete game he played for the Greyhounds in 2019-20. For his efforts, he was voted as the team’s top defenceman at the end of the year.

He’s prevented from contributing more offence by skating that is merely average, but, unlike several of the prospects we’ve profiled, he doesn’t have a major flaw in his mechanics that will prove difficult to overcome. His lack of pace is mostly down to a lack of power, with a lower half not yet built for the pro game. As most prospects do, he will bulk up over the next few years, have a more powerful stride as a result, and perhaps gain just enough confidence to be more of a rush threat.

Mitch Brown’s Tracking Project

Even with his legs limiting his chances, he still finds the right opportunities to pinch up. That much is reflected in his expected goals per 60 minutes rate (shown in the first bar at the top of the chart) being significantly better than his actual shot rate. When he gets the chance, he’s moving to a good scoring area to make things happen.

Expected and actual are two very different things, however. His conversion rate at even strength was just 3.33 percent — three goals on 90 shots — so perhaps the whole goal-scoring thing just isn’t in the cards. Instead, what he prides himself on is holding opposing teams to similar offensive success.

Ranking in the 95th percentile for breaking up plays (in Mitch Brown’s sample of tracked games) is impressive enough for any defenceman, let alone one who played the most minutes on his team versus the toughest competition, including time on both special-teams units. Players on other teams must have pinpointed his lack of speed and strength as things to be exploted based on how often they tried to beat him one-on-one (the carry-in bar on the chart), then watched as their offence died.

O’Rourke lures his opponents into a trap. He leaves an inviting amount of space between himself and his man, getting forwards to think he can get beyond the defenceman for an easy chance. They quickly discover that’s not the case, sometimes painfully if O’Rourke sees his chance to land a big hit.

He’s aggressive when the play gets into his own end, but plays within his limits to stay in good position. He does everything in his power to prevent his man from getting into a shooting position, taking away his space with his stick or body right away.

Whether from that sole focus on his defensive duties, or perhaps a lack of confidence in his feet, he didn’t often attempt to carry pucks out of his zone. He was very effective at it when he did try, and shows an obvious talent for making plays with the puck at the opposite end of the ice, but it wasn’t a common practice. It will be something for him to work on over the course of his development.

He performs most of the tasks required of a defenceman well already, and the flaws in his game need relatively minor fixes. Scouts are well aware of his limited offence, but it’s the big-minute defensive game that most are intrigued by. All of the prospect outlets are wary of projecting him as a first-round talent, but they also agree that his value is too great for him to sit on his couch for long on the second day of the draft.