When we last saw Joel Farabee up close at the Flyers’ 2018 development camp, you had to look, well, up close.
Then 18 years old, Farabee could disappear out there on the ice, and not just because of the skills that compelled the Flyers to draft him 14th overall in the 2018 amateur draft. At 6-1, 160, he raised eyebrows even before he put his skates on. At the NHL combine two springs ago, he was measured at 4 percent body fat.
He could, almost, hide behind a goal post.
“I’m still definitely one of the lighter guys at my age group,” Farabee said this week. “But I play heavier than I am. And gaining muscle has been really important.”
When development camp begins at the end of this month, Farabee will show why. Now weighing around 175, Farabee is coming off a season in which he played for the United States in the World Junior Championships and for Boston University, where he led in goals (17), power play goals (5), short-handed goals (3), game-winning goals (5), and plus-minus (4), and was at or near the top in several other categories.
“He’s a guy who knows how to read a play and jump,” first-year BU coach Albie O’Connell said as the season wound down. “He had a major impact on our team.”
Despite what was, for the Terriers, a down year (16-18-4), Farabee received the Tim Taylor Award, given to the nation’s best rookie. Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (28 goals, 82 points), Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor (34 goals, 66 points), and Arizona’s Clayton Keller (14-47) won the award in three of the four previous seasons.
Farabee was signed by the Flyers to an entry-level contract when the season ended.
“I think it definitely helped me a lot as far as getting bigger and stronger,” he said of his only college season. “Playing against older guys. Going to college was definitely a good play for me.”
At the time he was drafted, Farabee was most often compared to Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel. Including by Farabee. Both are strong skaters with good hands, good instincts, and good hockey minds.
Farabee’s size alone likely kept him from being drafted higher, but the Taylor award suggests how short-sighted that may turn out to be. And how visionary former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall may turn out to be.
“I think my down-low, below-the-goal-line game has gotten a lot better than it was a year ago,” he said. "As far as protecting the puck and holding onto it and not making plays too fast to where I turn it over. That’s the big thing at the highest levels.
"That’s why college hockey was so good for me. You have to learn those things when you play against older guys. Because they already know how to do it, and what works.
“When I watch a guy, how he manages the game is something I watch. What I like to key in on is playing the game at my speed and trying to slow the game down when I have the puck. Playing college has really helped me learn a lot of those shortcuts and tricks.”
The ultimate shortcut of course, would be hopping over the AHL and directly into the NHL. New Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher has vowed to keep an open mind, but he has also vowed to make the Flyers a harder team to make this fall than in previous ones.