I'm eavesdropping on a couple of scouts here in Traverse City. The Columbus and St. Louis prospects are facing off and early on, Robby Fabbri is doing some nice things on a line with Ty Rattie and Yannick Veilleux for the Blues.
"Look at Fabbri," said one scout to the other. "He knows where he's going to pass it before the puck is even on his stick."
Sure enough, Fabbri makes another such play where the puck is on his stick for maybe a split second before he makes a perfect pass to Rattie. St. Louis ends up getting overwhelmed by the Blue Jackets, but it's pretty clear that Fabbri was a slick pick-up when St. Louis grabbed him 21st overall in 2014.
At 5-foot-10, the knock on Fabbri is obvious. And while the Guelph Storm center has excellent vision and a toolbox full of offensive gifts, you can't just say he's small and skilled, because the kid plays it rough, too.
“He's a tenacious player," said St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong. "He's got a lot of what we like to call 'gamesmanship.' A little bit undersized, but it doesn't hold him back. When a player performs like he did in the Memorial Cup and through that tournament, it shows a lot about his character and his will to win.”
Fabbri will return to that Ontario League championship squad and Guelph will once again be very good. In fact, this Traverse City is dotted by Storm kids, from Brock McGinn in Carolina to Kerby Rychel in Columbus, Jason Dickinson in Dallas to Tyler Bertuzzi in Detroit. Not all those players will be back, but it is funny for Fabbri to face off against them.
“We give each other little smiles on the ice," Fabbri said. "It's tough being serious around guys like that.”
But the games have been competitive. The Blues kids actually had a rough ride, despite some nice talent. Fabbri admitted to squeezing his stick early in his first game, but playing with the older Rattie and Veilleux helped settle him and overall he has produced nicely. And the fact he's willing to charge into danger, despite not having a big frame, is a great harbinger.
“It's been part of my game ever since I was little," Fabbri said. "It makes me the player I am; Never backing down, always going in the corner and wanting to come out with the puck. When people criticize my size, I like to show them it's not a problem.”
Fabbri proved that in the OHL playoffs, going to war with big Erie Otters defenseman Adam Pelech, the New York Islanders prospect. He will likely have to continue doing so until he breaks into the NHL and even then, he'll probably have to answer a lot of bells.
But eventually, that draft size bias is going to dissipate. Armstrong said he wasn't shocked when Fabbri was available at No. 21, but was certainly happy to snap the pivot up when he had the chance. Despite Fabbri's 87 points with Guelph and excellent run to the final of the Memorial Cup, his most important stat is still 5-foot-10. Very few players that size have gone in the top 10 in recent drafts and even though some of those players (Jeff Skinner, for example) turned out quite well, teams still seem gun-shy about players who don't hit that six-foot mark.
In the end, Fabbri is more than happy to prove the Blues right and the doubters wrong. He's got the fire already and he certainly has the skills to back it up.