Last week, I had a chance to talk to Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) play-by-play announcer (and friend) Reed Duthie about some of the top prospects coming out of the Ontario Hockey League for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for a future post on this blog. We also discussed the skill set and progress of Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds right wing and 2015 first-round pick Zach Senyshyn.
A little bit on Reed- he grew up in Hamilton, Ontario and was a minor hockey defenseman who from a young age “really wanted to be involved in the game,” and set his sights on one day becoming a play-by-play announcer. At age 19 while attending Mohawk College, he called the Hamilton Bulldogs AHL team’s games on a closed-circuit feed, the youngest person to ever to play-by-play for AHL broadcasts. From there, he worked for Cogeco TV and Rogers Corporation (Cable 14) calling hockey and football at various levels. Beginning this season, he became the voice of the Bulldogs when the Belleville Bulls OHL franchise relocated and took on the new name, and calls all of the team’s home games.
Reed’s father is a diehard Boston Bruins fan, having grown up in Ontario when some of the great talents from the B’s were playing junior hockey, old enough to remember when Bobby Orr graduated from the Oshawa Generals to skate for the Bruins. The senior Duthie’s favorite player was Gerry Cheevers, and his love of the Black and Gold was cultivated by seeing so many of the Boston stars come up through the junior ranks in Ontario. He passed his loyalty for the B’s onto Reed, who grew up in the era of Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, Adam Oates and those fine Boston teams of the early 90’s. Reed’s first-ever Bruins jersey was Andy Moog, so he’s followed the team for some time and applies his hockey knowledge on a variety of broadcast and social media platforms.
Reed was kind enough to dish on Senyshyn, in addition to some of the top options coming out of the OHL for the 2016 NHL draft. I wanted to break up the posts so as not to mix apples and oranges, but before we do the OHL players, here’s a quick Q & A about Senyshyn, who was the Scouting Post blog’s top Bruins prospect for the month of December with an impressive 11 goals and 17 points in 9 games. That raises his scoring totals to 23 goals and 34 points in 35 games this season. He tallied 26 goals and 45 points in 66 games as a rookie a year ago.
Scouting Post: Tell us some of your observations of Zach Senyshyn as a player based on your viewings of him this year and even going back to last season.
Reed Duthie: Last year, I remember watching Senyshyn and a lot of people were talking about the great speed he had. I didn’t get to see a lot of him (last year) because he was playing on a bottom-six role for the majority of the season as they loaded up to take a run at the Memorial Cup. This year, we actually had the Greyhounds come into Hamilton in October and right away, from the first shift on the ice, you could tell that he’s just a different type of player.
You see some guys, and I’ve done games with the London Knights, and you see players like Mitch Marner and you see it with Christian Dvorak or Lawson Crouse in Kingston- Senyshyn had that presence on the ice and is one of the fastest skaters on the ice that I’ve seen live. There was a play in the overtime sequence against the Bulldogs where he was racing one-on-one with I believe (Bulldogs defender) Cole Candella, who is quite fleet of foot in his own right and there was just no chance- Senyshyn blew straight past him and made a move, that, if not for (goaltender) Charlie Graham, who has been the Bulldogs’ saving grace on more than a few nights this season- the Greyhounds would’ve won that game on a Senyshyn overtime goal.
His speed is outstanding, and he knows what to do with it. It’s not just speed for speed’s sake- he goes directly to the net. And watching him in offensive zone positioning- when his team had possession, they were creating a low cycle in the third period. Blake Speers and I believe it was Gabe Guertler were going back and forth in the corner and you could see the smarts in Senyshyn where he recognized he was too far away and would’ve just drawn coverage into the cycle to join that, so he found a dead zone in defensive coverage, found his way through four Bulldogs who were around him, but found a little area of ice where he was by himself and gave himself a passing lane so that Guertler could find him in the slot. He hammered one past Graham- it was labeled top corner as soon as it came off his stick and I was so impressed with the release, the shot and his hockey IQ to just find that dead zone in coverage. It’s something that I don’t believe we’ve seen in a Bruins pick in quite some time.
SP: There may be two factors that influenced the way Senyshyn was perceived going into the 2015 draft: 1. He is only in his second full season of the OHL, unlike many high picks that come out of major junior- they normally enter that level of competition at age 16 and have had two season under their belt typically and are a little more refined when they are drafted. In his case, he played at Smith’s Falls in his age 16 season and was just seeing his first full year in the OHL. The second factor is that he was not ranked as a first-round prospect by a lot of the public lists, so when you take a player that early, the perception by most fans is that it was a reach because they don’t have visibility on the NHL lists, and so for all we know multiple teams could have had him around where the Bruins did. How do you see it, Reed?
RD: I think one of the big things that affected Zach in his development is that he had a growth spurt earlier than most do in his development as a player. He was 6-2 at age 16 and already up to about 180 pounds, and he’s had to learn how to play at that size, and I think he was a little awkward at one time. When he learned how to use that size and his big, loping stride to create separation and use his size to hold off defenders. You saw it last year in the Soo when he continued to learn and got up to OHL speed and then one he settled in, he realized that he didn’t have to play like a normal 17-year-old because he had the size to make himself an impact player. He’s doing the same thing this year- just watching him lean on defenders is something neat to see that a young kid who’s already learned to use his size.
But, it’s like you said- people didn’t really know who he was. He was a bottom-six forward and you were right on that as a 16-year-old he didn’t play in the OHL, so a lot of people had never seen him before.
SP: We’ve talked about what he does well. What does he need to work on? What are the things Senyshyn will need to address before he takes that next step?
RD: Two things stand out for me.
One, is consistency- in game at times, I think he has a tendency- and I don’t think it’s a lazy thing- but he does have a tendency to disappear for moments in that he doesn’t seem to be putting out an incredible amount of effort on every shift. There were moments against the Bulldogs where he just kind of blended into the crowd as opposed to standing out. And you’d noticed him chip up the boards or chip the puck around the defensemen, it wasn’t that he wasn’t doing his job, but he wasn’t standing out amongst an OHL group until he has a moment that really makes your head turn. So, probably- consistency and effort would be one.
A second one, but this is more the team around him, but using his teammates a bit more. He maybe goes out of his way a bit much, and we’ve seen some of the same things in Hamilton at times with Stephen Harper and just the sense that the supporting cast probably isn’t up to snuff. For Zach, he hasn’t used his teammates a lot this season and has had to create his own offense because he’s really been one of the only ones who can do it on even a mildly consistent basis- he’s been their guy.
One more thing would be physicality. He doesn’t throw a devastating hit, but his board work could use some improvement. With his size, you should see him winning battles more often than not, and occasionally- the OHL effort, and it gets back to that consistency of effort- it just seems like he lost some board battles he should have won, and I think that will get worked on as time goes along.
Reed and I then segued into a discussion about the top OHL prospects for the 2016 NHL draft, so for you draft fans out there- I will finish transcribing the more than 30 minutes of notes he provided and put that up in a post in the next day or so.
Thanks again to Reed Duthie for taking the time to dish on Senyshyn and so many other OHL players. You can follow him on Twitter at @rcduthie and catch his Hamilton home game calls on the OHL TV package for those in Canada (or those outside the area who can stream it).