Shane O’Brien’s gone from being in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse to becoming the latest breakout Canuck in a handful of Canucks that are having breakout years or have noticeably improved play. After leading the leagues in penalty minutes last year, being roasted for his lack of grit, lack of physicality, offense, defense and everything in between, people were shocked that he was extended a year at the healthy price of 1.6 million dollars. While O’Brien showed considerable improvement in the second half of last year, he certainly had a long way to go to earn that inflated salary of his and just when everyone was ready to give up on the guy what seems like a Christmas Miracle happened.
After seeing the press box for a few games, O’Brien came back into the lineup as Vigneault was juggling blue liners and something had changed. Shane O’Brien had a few good games, and the next thing you know he’s playing a style of game we haven’t seen him play since he arrived in Vancouver via a trade with Tampa Bay. O’Brien racked up a 13 game stretch without taking a minor penalty and then scored one of the most anticipated goals in recent years as he finally got his first career regular season goal in a Canucks uniform ending his 166 game goalless drought.
Of note, O’Brien’s learned to play his game within the confines of the referees, but he’s also learning to make the smart offensive pinch and he’s taken his physical game to another level. The blue liner is quickly increasing his stock as a player and as much as he’s become the player you love to hate, his play of late has been the best we’ve seen from him and what’s more surprising is he’s continuing to be play consistently responsible (for the most part) defensive hockey.
What’s interesting about this when you think about it, is O’Brien’s play has gotten him more ice time, but it’s also landed him smack dab in the middle of the trade block. With the Olympic break drawing near, now’s the perfect time to start considering trade bait and what’s likely to happen and on a team with such a solid blue line, his play has made him a movable player with a movable salary. The Canucks don’t have a lot of movable players right now and the fact that Shane O’Brien’s play has improved marks him as one of the expendable players which actually has some value. If he were to go somewhere it would likely be in a package deal.
The other option for O’Brien might be as a rental during the playoffs. Something similar to what the Canucks did a few deadlines ago when they chose to pick up then former Canucks blue liner Brent Sopel for the remainder of the season. O’Brien can provide that solid presence on the bottom of end of your blue line and in this recent turn around he’s also showed that he’s become more versatile. This has seen him play more minutes on the PK, but it’s also getting him the occasional powerplay time and in general has increased his time on ice stats.
O’Brien doesn’t want to be a press box staple, and his ticket out might just be at the deadline. With that being said the Canucks don’t have the abundance of blue liners they had at the start of the year and this might be Shane O’Brien’s chance to prove to everyone that he can finally outweigh the liabilities he comes with by backing it up with solid blue line play.