If Danny O’Regan comes off as hungry, it’s because the San Jose Sharks have been rationing his tastes of the NHL, teasing the center since drafting him in 2012. Earning three appearances for the club to date, O’Regan hopes to finally take the next step in his career. The early results were promising. Suiting up for the Sharks this preseason, O’Regan slotted a goal top-right corner in an opening shutout win over the Anaheim Ducks.
Named the American Hockey League’s 2017 Rookie of the Year, O’Regan—leader of the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks’ minor league affiliate—is known for his relentless knack for hitting the back of the net. He scored 23 goals last season, highest among all rookies, and led the Barracuda—who open the season Saturday in Stockton—to their first division championship on the way to the Western Finals, where they fell short to the eventual 2017 AHL Champions, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
O’Regan’s ascendance has coincided with an evolving league. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, he fits a new mold of undersized yet lighting quick players such as Tyler Johnson of Tampa Bay, Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary, Cam Atkinson of Columbus and, of course, Joe Pavelski of the Sharks.
“I definitely don’t feel big on the ice,” O’Regan says. “It’s fine to be classified as smaller. There’s different types of players teams need—you need some big guys and you need some skill guys.”
Truth is, O’Regan has never played down to his size. And his stature only grows when accounting for the massive chip on his shoulder, earned through a life of competing.
O’Regan’s mother, a longtime figure skating coach, taught him how to skate at age 3 by having him do figure circles around the ice in his hometown of Needham, Mass., a Boston suburb. The O’Regans moved there after a decadelong stint in Berlin, where his father, Tom O’Regan, played the remainder of his pro career for the Berlin BSC Preussens and Capitals.
O’Regan credits both parents for helping him reach the cusp of an NHL roster, starting with his mother. “She had four kids, dragging everyone to different rinks every day,” he says. His father also provided guidance, teaching him how to be a dynamic scorer, how to manage a puck and position his body on the ice. “He’s been great throughout the years,” O’Regan says. “Never critiqued me, really, maybe a couple pointers, but he’s been nothing but supportive.”
When O’Regan’s natural talent wasn’t enough, he committed himself to “doing a little something extra every day,” like shooting pucks in the driveway and playing street hockey.
He would go on to star at St. Sebastian’s Prep and, after a successful high school career, he had the option of joining his older brother at Harvard or suiting up for the Boston University Terriers, his father’s alma mater.
O’Regan’s dream to grace the same ice as his dad led him to BU’s celebrated hockey program, playing in Agganis Arena under Hall of Fame coach Jack Parker. “It was definitely surreal. You can’t really prepare for that mentally,” O’Regan says. “I had the chance to play for coach Parker, a Boston legend—very cool.”
At BU, O’Regan collected a whopping 154 points in four years, more than any other NCAA player during that span. He and his father’s success for the Terriers came down to fundamentals. Parker told the Mercury News, “They both had great offensive skills, but I think their biggest asset was that they both had great skating ability.”
O’Regan says he doesn’t model his game after any particular player, but he expresses admiration for Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings. “He’s just magic with his hands,” O’Regan says. “He does crazy, creative stuff.”
Despite his record-breaking career at BU, O’Regan waited until the third round of the 2012 draft to hear his name called by the Sharks. As it turns out, he was already a fan of the team and even owned a pair of jerseys when he was younger. He’s come a long way since first suiting up for the Barracuda as a developing player, but his mindset hasn’t changed.
Thanks to mentors like Mike Ricci, a former Sharks center turned development coach, as well as coaches Roy Sommer and Ryan Mougenel, O’Regan’s skills and work ethic have put him on the precipice of an NHL roster spot. While he just missed the cut after a strong preseason, another call-up could be just an injury away.
With the departure of beloved winger Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sharks need new talent to emerge. And while the Barracuda continue to develop Sharks prospects, they have their sights set on hoisting their own shiny cup at season’s end.
“I don’t think anything changes,” O’Regan says about suiting up for either squad. “My mindset doesn’t change. Just gotta go try and get a job.”