The Detroit Red Wings shocked the hockey world this weekend by upsetting two excellent hockey teams to get off the schneid, downing the Boston Bruins 4-2 on Friday night and toppling the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 on Sunday. Besides the startling realization that the Red Wings are still capable of winning hockey games, the biggest storyline of the weekend was one new face: Robby Fabbri. Acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the middle of last week, Fabbri made his debut in the Winged Wheel on Friday, scoring two goals, and then adding an assist on Sunday for a 3 point weekend.
With Fabbri’s hot start in the Motor City being the talk of the Red Wings fan base, it’s time to take a look at what has gone right for the 23-year-old forward and what to expect from him going forward:
A hot start for Fabbri
Fabbri made his mark in Detroit in the first period of his first game on Friday, cashing in on the power play with help from Tyler Bertuzzi:
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) November 9, 2019
On this play, Fabbri mans the slot and receives the feed from Bertuzzi right in the wheelhouse. There’s not a ton of skill involved, as the beautiful puck movement from Mantha to Bertuzzi slices open the Boston defense and allows Fabbri to get a nearly point-blank one-time attempt. However, it should be noted that Fabbri is able to finish the play off well, which is perhaps easier said than done, delivering a strong shot that left no doubt and no chance for goaltender Tuukka Rask. His second goal was hilariously more or less the exact same play:
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) November 9, 2019
Once again Fabbri is in the slot and receiving a pass from the half-wall from Tyler Bertuzzi right onto the tape. And once again, Fabbri deposits it into the back of the net, showing off the goal scoring talent that allowed him to net 70 in his final two seasons with Guelph of the OHL. He’s got a good shot and the chemistry with former Guelph teammate Tyler Bertuzzi is evident, as the pinpoint perfect passes from Bertuzzi set up the opportunities for Fabbri.
So far we can see that Fabbri is a competent shooter when set up perfectly, but what else did we see from his game this weekend? He also showcased high-skill passing ability on Sunday in two plays, one that should’ve ended in a goal and one that did. First, on the actual goal:
— Ryan Hana (@RyanHanaWWP) November 11, 2019
Fabbri receives the pass from Larkin along the boards just inside his own blue line, skates out into the neutral zone while harassed by two Golden Knights, and then whips a cross-ice pass towards Mantha that perfectly pinballs off the boards and onto the stick, freeing the big man for the game winning goal. Most importantly, it’s a simple, smart play by Fabbri just to get rid of the puck in a pinch close to his own zone. But to make that level of pass, is something more impressive. While Fabbri has been more of a goal scorer throughout juniors and in the NHL, that feed is a play that takes a lot of skill and hockey IQ, and evidently, he has it.
— Ryan Hana (@RyanHanaWWP) November 10, 2019
This is a rather short GIF, but Fabbri is pinned up against the boards with the puck at the start of the play. He sees the Vegas defender to his right coming over to try and take the puck away and then spies Bertuzzi all alone in the circle, delivering an accurate backhand feed. While the pass is to Bertuzzi’s backhand, it is still a stellar play that results in the Vegas defense being torn open and Bertuzzi has the time to tee up Larkin for what should have been an easy goal, but the Red Wings’ centerman fans on it.
One final play stood out to me on the weekend, coming just before Madison Bowey’s goal against Vegas on Sunday:
Obviously the whole “flying through the air and still scoring a goal” thing is the main attraction of this clip, but notice the play from Fabbri at the start of the video. Receiving the puck in the corner, Fabbri is closely pursued by Nicolas Roy and receives a few shoves in the back in the process. Roy does a valiant job to try and pry the puck free, but Fabbri uses his frame and strength to maintain positioning and puck control as he curls out towards the point. Seeing Dennis Cholowski coming over, Fabbri aborts his possession and leaves it off, allowing the defenseman to get a shot on net. It’s not a pretty play or one that will show up on any highlight reel (except you know, if it’s shortly followed by an acrobatic goal), but it was vital as it kept the possession alive and eventually led to a goal.
All of these clips considered, Fabbri showcased a lot of the talent that still remains despite his tumultuous career: he’s got a good shot, he’s a high-skill player, and despite being only 5’10”, 190 lbs., he has good strength and body control.
What to expect going forward
Hockeytown is in a bit of a high right now after Fabbri’s terrific start, but as the high wears off it’s worth asking: what should we expect from the new #14 moving forward through the remaining 3/4 of the season?
It’s honestly tough to say because that will mostly depend on Fabbri’s potential, which is still a mystery. What I can say for sure is that the Red Wings are the best possible situation for Fabbri to revitalize his career. If it doesn’t happen in Detroit, where he’ll get to play 15+ minutes per night alongside multiple 30 goal scorers, it’s not going to happen anywhere. Fabbri needed to get out of St. Louis, where he was forced into a bottom-six role on a Stanley Cup-contending team playing limited minutes alongside tougher, low-skill players. Detroit is probably the best case scenario for him, as we saw glimpses this weekend.
In Fabbri’s 8 games for St. Louis, he played 8, 10.5, 10, 12, 8, 11, 6, 9.5, and 11 minutes. In Fabbri’s first two games for the Red Wings, he played 13 and 16 minutes. He arrived on Friday and was immediately slotted in to the second line alongside Andreas Athanasiou and onto the first power play with Larkin, Mantha, and Bertuzzi. Again, this is his chance to save a once-promising career. At just 20 years old, Fabbri was an 18 goal, 37 point player in the NHL, but following two devastating knee injuries, he scored only 4 goals and 8 points in 51 games with St. Louis. Already in two games, he has 3 points for Detroit.
Basically, if you believe Fabbri can get back to what he was in 2016 and 2017, then you should expect that to happen over the remainder of the season, since this is the team he would hypothetically achieve it with. But if you think the injuries have done too much damage, then you are probably expecting this to be a mirage. I’m not honestly sure where I stand, but I know I’m sure as hell rooting for him, because he could be a significant piece for Detroit if things pan out.
At the very least, I do know that Fabbri looked like he belonged next to Mantha, Larkin, and Bertuzzi this weekend. His skill was evident, and that’s something that often stands out when Jeff Blashill whips out the blender and tries to play Darren Helm or Luke Glendening in the top-6. Those players just don’t have the skill to keep up, but it was very clear that Fabbri does, and that’s a big deal.
He’s going to play a lot the rest of the season and whether he can keep it up depends on his own hockey prowess, because the rest of the team is configured to bring out the best in him. The early returns are positive for Fabbri, but only time will tell.