Robby Fabbri’s long-anticipated return is on the horizon for Blues fans, as the 22-year-old coming off two torn ACL’s was cleared for all hockey activities Monday.
“He’s doing very well,” Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said. “He is up in Toronto working very hard… Health wise, he’s doing good.”
Fabbri made a name for himself in a dominant 2015-16 rookie campaign, totaling 37 points on 18 goals and 19 assists. His high-speed, aggressive play immediately made him a fan-favorite in St. Louis.
The hype continued to build for Fabbri in his sophomore season, racking up 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 51 games beforePenguins forward Carter Rowney checked Fabbri into the boards in front of the Blues bench on Feb. 4, 2017. His skate got caught up on the boards, twisting his left knee.
Fabbri yelled and grimaced in pain as he couldn’t get up off the ice. A eerie silence took over Scottrade Center; everyone knew something was wrong. Trainers escorted a hobbling Fabbri off the ice, and he hasn’t donned the blue note since.
Fabbri spent countless hours in the gym rehabbing and was medically cleared in July of 2017, and joined the Blues on the ice in September’s training camp. After a preseason game against the Washington Capitals in which Fabbri scored a goal, he noticed some swelling in his left knee.
Dr. Bernard Bach, who performed Fabbri’s first ACL surgery, confirmed he re-tore the same ACL.
“It’s very difficult, you feel for Robby,” Armstrong said. “He was projecting to be such a good player and then these two injuries kept him out a year and a half.”
Although Fabbri was cleared for camp, don’t expect him to play at the same level for quite some time.
Fabbri has an uncanny knack for making everyone around him better. His game relies on playing at a high tempo, chasing down loose pucks on the boards, taking hits, and drawing attention from the defense.
The Blues missed his production in 2017-18, as an ineffective power play and lack of depth hindered St. Louis’ offense, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
With the game Fabbri plays, it’s tough to be effective on the ice if his knee isn’t 100 percent. Even if all goes well, he may not be the same player as before until mid-season — and that’s assuming he can come back from two torn ACL’s and be alright.
“Time is going to tell on this one,” Armstrong said. “We want to make sure we’re not putting him in a position to fail when he comes [to training camp].”
As hard as it is physically, it’s equally as tough mentally to return from a torn ACL. Fabbri has been away from his teammates and the game he loves, rehabbing for a year-and-a-half. That along with the fear of a possible career-ending third ACL tear can make someone timid and mess with a player’s confidence.
However, it’s not like professional sports hasn’t seen an athlete get over the physical and mental toll of an ACL injury and dominate coming back.
In the first season after tearing his ACL, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2012, rushing for 2,097 yards (131.1 YPG) and 12 touchdowns. His comeback season was good for the second-most rushing yards of all time and only the seventh 2,000-yard season in NFL history.
Peterson’s game relies on a lot of the same movements as Fabbri’s. Peterson makes hard, quick cuts, takes hits all over his body and stands his ground blocking larger defensive ends and linebackers.
Seasons like Peterson’s 2012 campaign give hope to players like Fabbri. The Blues organization is doing everything they can to ensure their young forward comes back the right way.
Adding forward depth this offseason with Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak and David Perron put far less pressure on Fabbri to come back and dominate on the first two lines right away. Easing him back in with the third line would still mean playing with a talented center in Bozak or prospect Robert Thomas.
Surely, the Blues would love Fabbri to end up on the first or second line as a complement to Vladimir Tarasenko, Perron or Alex Steen eventually; but clearing the forward to participate in camp is a positive first step in Fabbri’s comeback journey.