Who knew it was foreshadowing when Robby Fabbri won a dance contest last summer?
There he was one night, a rookie staring down embarrassment at the hands of veteran teammates. A hip-hop track blared. He could've crumbled under the pressure. Instead, he played it cool, busted out better moves than anyone else on the floor and bagged a $100 prize.
"I was just going with the flow," he said with a laugh.
Fabbri did the same this month against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in his first playoff series. With his team trailing 3-1 in the third period of Game 5, Fabbri had the puck on his stick with a crucial opportunity to put his St. Louis Blues back in the game. He then turned the ice into his personal dance floor, the Hawks into his dance partners, Brent Seabrook in particular. Fabbri's first career post-season goal was beautiful:
The Blues went on to lose that game in overtime, but they triumphed in the series, and Fabbri, 20, was a key reason why, chipping in five points in seven games. He continues to deliver as the stakes get higher. But don't let his coolness under fire fool you into thinking things come easily for him. Quite the contrary. His poise has helped him overcome a series of roadblocks on his path to the NHL.
Fabbri was a first-round pick in 2014, but he fell to 21st, likely because of his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame. He played with a lot of edge in junior with the Guelph Storm, where he was a prolific scorer, but there's always the question of whether a small player can translate his production to the pros.
"Great hands, shifty and quick," a scout said in the pages of THN's 2014 Draft Preview. "Is size a concern? Well, he's certainly played through it so far."
The Blues, proud owners of 5-foot-10 Jaden Schwartz, weren't scared off. Fabbri brought the same bulldog mentality and impressed the coaching staff with his passing, his shot and his all-around scoring ability. A pre-season shoulder injury, however, ended any hope of making the team for 2014-15.
“With how well I thought the camp was going, for it to get cut short because of an injury was tough to deal with and tough to handle," Fabbri said. "But it was a learning curve in my career. You use times like that to build as a person and as a player. I knew when that happened I had a lot of developing to do, and that was what I was going to use that year for and make sure when I came back to camp, I would pick up where I finished.
“I just wanted to improve my game from all aspects. Away from the puck, with the puck, in my zone, the offensive zone, just build all around.”
He returned to OHL Guelph and earned a spot on Canada’s 2015 world junior squad, but an ankle injury in the quarterfinal halted his tourney.
Fabbri made the Blues this fall after another great camp and scored in his first NHL game but, two days later, sustained a concussion which shelved him for roughly three weeks. The litany of injuries would mentally derail plenty of rookies. Not Fabbri.
“It’s definitely not a great feeling to deal with an injury as serious as a concussion,” he said, “but I was lucky enough that I was getting better every day. The process wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have the best luck with injuries at the world juniors and this one, so I’ve been through a little bit of adversity. I know how to handle it. I tried to stay as calm as I could and focused on getting better before focusing on anything else.”
It worked. Fabbri returned to the Blues lineup fully healthy and got better as his rookie season progressed. He had seven goals and 19 points in 26 games after the all-star break and finished the year with 18 goals and 37 points in 72 games. He's a natural center, but his build has better suited him to play the left wing for now. He's excelled primarily in a third-line role but looks poised to become much more, especially if the Blues wave goodbye to pending unrestricted free agent forwards David Backes and Troy Brouwer. The future of St. Louis' forward corps belongs to Schwartz, Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko.
And while Fabbri displays a feisty demeanor on the ice, he's quite a humble and appreciative character off it. He participated in the THN Rookie Issue this year and, during the interview process, kept pausing to say "thank you." He was honored just to be included. He's also thrilled to have defenseman Joel Edmundson as a roommate. Even though Edmundson is a rookie, he turns 23 in June and entered 2015-16 with two seasons of pro hockey in the AHL under his belt. Fabbri thus considers Edmundson a mentor as well as a good friend.
Fabbri also appreciates where he plays. He's enjoyed some sightseeing in St. Louis and, as a proud Italian Canadian, he's fallen in love with toasted ravioli, a famous dish in the city.
“I feel like there’s a lot of passion not only for hockey, but for all the sports here in St. Louis," he said. "They’ve rallied behind us this whole year and have been great fans in my eyes. There’s no issue with that. I really enjoy playing in front of these fans.”
The feeling is mutual. Fabbri has already wowed the Show Me State with his fancy footwork in more ways than one, and he's just getting started.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin