The Penticton Vees added two more huge pieces to what they hope will be a roster that will contend for a championship in 2019-20.
Forward Jay O’Brien and defenceman Steven Holtz – both 1999-born players in their final seasons of junior eligibility – committed to the Vees on Thursday.
The much-coveted O’Brien was a first-round, 19th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers.
The native of Hingham, Mass., comes to Penticton after spending the 2018-19 season with the Providence College Friars in the NCAA.
The 5’ 11’’, right-shot centre will spend his 20-year-old season with the Vees before returning to the NCAA ranks in 2020-21.
Prior to playing at the NCAA level, O’Brien was named the United States High School Hockey All-USA Player of the Year after his senior season at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Mass.
In 30 games that year, O’Brien scored 43 goals and 80 points, leading to the Flyers selecting him in the draft in June.
In four years of prep hockey, split between Thayer Academy and Dexter School in Brookline, Mass., O’Brien scored 86 goals and 102 assists in 120 games.
This past year, O’Brien played at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver and Victoria, helping Team USA to a silver medal.
Holtz, meanwhile, spent the past two years with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League.
The White Lake, Mich. products is an imposing 6’ 4’’ and weighs 190 pounds.
As a rookie in 2017-18 Holtz scored once and added five assists in 30 games with the Phantoms. This past season he posted another goal and five assists in 28 games.
The right-shot defenceman is a dual citizen and unlike O’Brien will not count as one of the Vees six “import” spots.
The additions of O’Brien and Holtz mean the Vees have eight 20-year-olds. B.C. Hockey League teams are only permitted to card six 20-year-olds at any one time.
The other 20-year-olds are goalie Derek Krall, defencemen Jonathan Smart and Carson Kosobud, and forwards David Silye, Colton Kalezic and Cassidy Bowes. Bowes is expected to be moved to another program in the coming weeks.
Vees president, GM and head coach Fred Harbinson is excited about the prospects for the upcoming season, and evidently so too are many of the players.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys staying here this summer and training hard to prepare for the season,” said Harbinson. “You see a young kid like (Jackson) Niedermayer coming off a (season-ending) injury and he’s here working his tail off. It’s great to see the commitment from the guys – the younger ones and veterans alike.
“We can’t wait to get going.”