- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Last year, Liam O’Brien arrived at Washington Capitals development camp with the goal only of appearing in a preseason game. That was before he skyrocketed past milestones — making the team’s roster, playing in an NHL game and scoring his first NHL goal — that he’d only dreamed of.

But then he moved backwards. The 20-year-old left wing is back at development camp this year after getting reassigned to the Hershey Bears in December. Now that he’s had a taste of the big leagues, though, his goals aren’t so modest.

“It’s fuel,” O’Brien said. “Being here knowing what it’s like, you know, it really pushes you. I think there’s a lot of motivation there to get better and to be able to fit in here and to be able to finally try and get a role within the team and I think that’s kind of what fuels me is trying to make my place and try to in the next couple years trying to be here.”

O’Brien played in 13 games for the Capitals last season, earning two points, including one goal, after signing a three-year, entry-level deal. He scored four goals and had four assists in 45 games for Hershey.

Though his numbers weren’t prolific, O’Brien said he benefited from the leadership of older players on the Bears team, such as Chris Conner, and that he feels like he’s assumed a leadership role at camp since he has been there before and has a better understanding of the professional game.

“It’s kind of nice for me to just be able to have those games and I think I’m able to help some guys out around here, kind of show them the ropes and try to help them out if they have questions,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien still understands the distance he’ll have to cover to get back to where he once was. Most of his campmates won’t see the inside of an NHL locker room for years, if ever. But there’s more immediate silver lining in that the camp is a chance to skate and scrimmage with many teammates O’Brien is likely to play with in Hershey.

Ten of last year’s camp invitees saw ice time last season for the Bears. Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, Michal Cajkovsky, Pheonix Copley, Christian Djoos, Caleb Herbert, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana and Nathan Walker rounded out that group with O’Brien. Djoos, Herbert, Stephenson, Vrana and Walker are also back at camp this year.

“It’s awesome to get together in the summer and skate together and maybe develop some chemistry and get to know each other. It’s definitely important for the organization,” O’Brien said.

As much as he enjoys spending time with his AHL teammates, the patience required to rise through the ranks is harder to come by this year. His contract makes him exempt from waivers, so he could conceivably move back up with ease, but that is unlikely to happen unless his numbers in Hershey improve dramatically.

Still, O’Brien recognized that as a player, he’ll always be competing for a spot, so he doesn’t mind being in a position he’s been in before. The goofy redhead doesn’t seem at all haunted by his time in the spotlight or subsequent fall from grace.

“You know what? It was just a lot of fun,” O’Brien said. “It’s your dream and the fact that I got to live my dream for three and a half months already, you know I’m proud of that. It’s definitely something that I want to get back to and I think that having that taste, it’s pushing me to get better and to try to get back here.”

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