The 14th and 15th overall picks in the June NHL Entry Draft were in action with their respective teams last night in the OHL and WHL. Neither of their clubs prevailed, but both players scored impressive goals in defeat. I did some film study on both players and thought I would share those observations, but first- I hope you will indulge me in a sidebar/rant about one of the things that has bugged me a bit of late…
It seems that with the WJC ongoing, I have gotten more tweets than ever from passionate Bruins fans lamenting the fact that the Bruins didn’t draft Mathew Barzal with one of their three picks in lieu of any one of Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn or even Jakub Zboril, who has fallen out of favor with some stat watchers because of his down numbers this season (well, there’s probably a little more to it than that, but that’s a post for another day). This gets back to the comment I made the other day in the David Pastrnak discussion about how a lot of fans make the World Jr. tourney out to be more than it is in some cases. In the minds of some, Barzal is on Team Canada and DeBrusk and Senyshyn aren’t, ergo- that’s proof that the B’s messed up by not drafting him. While I understand that logic, that’s not how the world works, so if or when he conclusively proves his worth in the NHL, then we can close the book on whether the team made the wrong decision- not before.
The fact of the matter is this: going into the draft, the Bruins needed goal scorers and it sure looks like they got a couple. If I told you that the four players: DeBrusk, Senyshyn, Barzal and Kyle Connor have among them tallied- 22, 11, 11 and 9 goals this season, would you care to guess which players have 22 and 11? You guessed it- Senyshyn and DeBrusk. Instead of polarizing the discussion with absolutes perhaps it would it kill the critics to be a little less disingenuous and recognize that the players Boston went with might not be the “sexy” names the others were, but they’re doing exactly what the B’s expected them to? As for Barzal and Connor (who in fairness are both having outstanding offensive years with Seattle of the WHL and the University of Michigan), in time, the Bruins might regret not making the popular choice for either one or both, but given the way the two forwards they did draft are playing, you’re not seeing any buyer’s remorse right now. The proof will be in the pudding eventually, but we’re not settling that debate now or even this time next year. It’s a long process, and if anything, Landon Ferraro’s emergence in Boston as a waiver wire pickup is a reminder that some players simply take longer to establish themselves than others.
So, off the soapbox and here are some observations from last night’s games.
Zach Senyshyn vs. Saginaw Spirit; home game 12/28/15
The first thing that jumps out at you is the skating and a powerful stride that allows Senyshyn to attack defenses from speed and beat defenders from the outside. He uses his size to establish position in the high danger areas out in front of the net. Protects the puck well and establishes an effective cycle in the offensive zone. His goal was a bullet that he got off quickly on the blocker side- his 22nd of the year in 33 games (he had 26 in 66 games a year ago in more of a bottom line role). His overall game needs work- at times he was slow in picking up his man and reading the play in his own end, which led to puck chasing. He’s a hard-working player, though- the hustle is there and with more coaching and experience, he’ll improve his three-zone play. He’s not an overly physical presence, but will take a hit to make a play. On one sequence in the first period, he carried the puck into the middle of the ice over the blue line, and then absorbed a big hit from a defenseman, staying on his skates (big kid- he’ll only get stronger as he matures) and maintaining possession. His subsequent pass was picked off, but he showed a willingness to hold onto the puck and go into a danger area on that play even if it didn’t pay off. Senyshyn was involved throughout the game, mostly in the offensive end where he was working the puck to the net. He’s not especially creative, but probably has more offensive hockey sense than he got credit for a year ago when he was mostly just going straight to the net and didn’t get much power play/special teams time. He’s now the first line RW and on the top PP unit.
Kirk’s key takeaway: Senyshyn is still pretty raw as a player and the fact that he’s only in his second full OHL season shows a little with the lack of refinement in his game. Having said that- you can see why Boston liked him because he’s got size, speed and scoring tools in abundance. He has 48 goals in 99 career OHL games- to provide some purely statistical perspective, Dylan Strome, taken 3rd overall last June, has played one more full season than Senyshyn and has 71 career goals in 153 OHL games, while 6th overall pick (New Jersey) Pavel Zacha has 33 goals in 60 games. From a production standpoint, Senyshyn is right in the ballpark with those two high-end “can’t miss” OHL products. One NHL scout I highly respect told me after the draft’s first night that he was hearing a lot of buzz on Senyshyn going into the weekend and that he didn’t think that he would have lasted much beyond pick 20. If teams had a crystal ball to see what he’s doing this season, that’s a certainty.
Don’t believe me? Decide for yourself with this Weekend at Bergy’s clip. This kind of skill/finish doesn’t grow on trees and begins to explain why the B’s passed on trading out of the 15 spot for extra picks to make sure they got the guy they wanted. He’s performing like a top-15 pick right now, but there is a lot of work ahead yet.
Jake DeBrusk vs. Edmonton Oil Kings; away game 12/28/15
Playing his second game with the Red Deer Rebels after being acquired Saturday from Swift Current for a younger player and picks, DeBrusk scored his second goal in as many games with his new team, a 3-1 loss on the road. At first glance, the 14th overall pick does not jump out at you. He’s not a blazing skater but he’s quick and elusive, nor does he have the natural height to stand out on the ice the way Senyshyn did when watching the first game on the schedule. Red Deer fell behind early, and DeBrusk’s line was on the ice for the Oil Kings goal to make it 1-0. He was behind the play but was not at fault for the goal. DeBrusk is a smart offensive player- he slips through seams in defenses and makes plays on the puck in a more stealth-like fashion more as opposed to the mold of a dynamic, explosive forward who puts defenses on their heels. His goal came late in the game, with the Rebels facing a 2-0 deficit. He gained the offensive blue line near the right side with a defender squared up to him and maintaining a good gap. DeBrusk then turned sharply to cut into the middle of the ice, shaking Ben Carroll enough to open up a shooting lane. He then ripped a high shot from outside the circles that beat Payton Lee high to the glove side. It was a goal scorer’s move and reflects the natural ease that DeBrusk has shown at finding the back of the net since netting 42 goals a year ago. His 11 goals in 26 games after missing time with a lower body injury are off his previous pace, but he’s on a better team in Red Deer. On the minus side, he was on ice for all three goals against, one of which was an empty-net tally with 30 seconds left.
Kirk’s key takeaway: I like DeBrusk’s aggressiveness in the offensive zone. Less is more with him, as he doesn’t necessarily control the flow or push the pace, but can score from just about anywhere on the ice. With Red Deer being the host city for the 2016 Memorial Cup, he’s in position to have a fun spring with the guaranteed spot in the annual May tournament. This is good for his development, and as a late ’96-born player, the Bruins can option him to Providence of the AHL on a full-time basis next season. Fans hoping to get a preview of him in late spring at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center will have to wait until next fall, but with his ELC already signed, DeBrusk is going to be a welcome addition on the farm. Like Senyshyn, he has work to do on rounding out his game and play away from the puck, but this is a smart kid with a good attitude. It will come.
In the meantime, here’s a look at his offensive work in Swift Current from last year (h/t loudog29 who put the highlight package together for YouTube):