What a difference a year makes.
In the case of the 15th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Zach Senyshyn is himself taken a little aback at how rapidly things have come together for him since the Boston Bruins made him the first real controversial choice last June in Florida. In the some eight months since, Senyshyn has gone from being a polarizing discussion point between draft enthusiasts to a source of genuine excitement with hockey fans who follow the entire organization and not just the goings on with the NHL roster.
Senyshyn, who is in just his second full OHL season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, has already blown by his goal total of 26 as a rookie in 66 games during the 2014-15 campaign. He currently leads the time (by a wide margin) with 33 goals in 50 contests, on pace to exceed the 40-goal plateau if he can keep finding the back of the net.
“I’ve always kind of been a goal scorer,” Senyshyn told the Scouting Post blog before practice today. “When I got here, I was able to watch guys on the first line like (Jared) McCann and (Nick) Ritchie. I saw how they were able to dominate and establish themselves at this level, and I think that by being around them it helped me to take the reins more this year and take on more of a role with the offense than I did in my first season.”
The B’s went off the board to grab Senyshyn with the third of three consecutive first-round selections. The pick immediately raised eyebrows given that it officially closed the door on a pair of forwards who were still available when Boston made its final choice in Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor, both of whom were immediately snapped up by the Islanders and Jets respectively at 16 and 17. For Boston to pass on those two, both of whom have gone on to post outstanding offensive seasons themselves, it said more about what the team felt about Senyshyn’s long-term potential than it did any misgivings the scouts might have had about the ones they didn’t select.
“He is easily one of the fastest players in the CHL,” said one league insider with close ties to the OHL. “He’s super athletic, which helps with his explosiveness. Zach’s dad, Paul, was a quarterback at Queen’s (University) in the late 80’s and I’ve heard (Zach) equated to a wide receiver in football- you get him the puck in the right spot so to speak- and he’s gone.”
(Video posted by HockeyVidz)
Senyshyn’s 33 goals represent a smorgasbord of different looks: the classic rebound cleanup while standing just outside the paint? Check. An impressive tip-in from the slot? Check. A quick bang-bang one-timer from between the hashmarks? Check. But it’s the signature Senyshyn goals that have tended to capture the imagination and excitement of fans…you know the ones I’m talking about?
Like when he intercepts a bad pass in the high slot of his own end and then explodes down the ice with a powerful, explosive stride, accelerating away from hapless, helpless, backpedaling defenders who can only chase him as he goes in alone and often finishes off the breakaway with a snap release on a twine-tickling laser beam?
(Weekend at Bergy’s)
Yeah, that’s the one. The ones. He keeps doing it, and nobody (at least at the OHL level) seems to have a formula down for stopping him consistently. 2016 top prospect and Sarnia defenseman Jakob Chychrun was the latest victim of a Senyshyn cutback and short side snipe in a February 10 game. As Chychrun came across his own blue line to try and staple a charging Senyshyn into the right wing boards, Senyshyn changed direction at the moment Chychrun lost his balance and went tumbling into the wall. The Soo Greyhound, with a clear path to the net, fired home his 33rd tally of the year.
Here’s a nice Vine compliments of Kathryn Jean (@msconduct on Twitter- give her a follow, mates) giving you the closer look:
If you watched Senyshyn last year, he did it more than a few times, often rocketing down the right side and beating scrambling defenders to the spot along the boards where they might have sealed him off. He would then often cut to the net and bury his shot, which was a big reason he went inside the top-15 selections, because Senyshyn played bottom-line minutes and virtually no special teams on a veteran-laden club built to contend for a league championship and chance at the Memorial Cup. It didn’t happen for the Greyhounds, and so as multiple key veterans left the team for pro hockey this season, Senyshyn was elevated to the top line and plenty of power play and penalty killing work- situations he barely sniffed a year ago.
“It’s been great, it’s a great time,” Senyshyn said of the expanded role and his chemistry with power play linemates Blake Speers and Gabe Guertler (the team’s top three scorers for the record). “They’re terrific players who do a great job of moving the puck in space and setting us up for good scoring chances. I’m lucky to have a chance to play with them in any situation, but on the power play, when we have that added time and space, we can work together and make a lot of plays.”
Making plays is something that Senyshyn has excelled at this season, though his assist totals are nothing to write home about- he has less than half (16) helpers than goals, but it is clear from watching the ‘Hounds in action that when No. 9 is on the ice, his teammates are looking for him to be the finisher and at least with more than 2/3 of the regular season in the books, he’s delivered.
“As good as he is, he could be better,” said the CHL insider. “Ideally, you’d like him to be more creative, but that’s not his game.”
Senyshyn’s game is played in direct lines- the shortest distance from point A to B. Sometimes, too much might be made of a “lack” of creativity, however. If you watch closely, you can tell that he sees the ice well and will make good reads and passes but if the puck doesn’t end up in the net, there is no accompanying point to validate a nifty play in distribution.
This is not to say that Senyshyn is ready to step in next season and start terrorizing NHL goalies with his big league shot and exciting but as-of-yet-not-realized potential.
“He goes through lulls in his play where he is ineffective and for a lack of better terms- is invisible,” the source said. Those observations jive with what Bruins player development director Jay Pandolfo told me back in December when I interviewed him about the organization’s top prospects.
Here’s what Pandolfo had to say about Senyshyn: “He just needs to round out some of the other parts of his game- his play away from the puck and making sure he’s engaged all game long and not just kind of waiting for one opportunity. He can do more and I think he’s learning to do more- he’s a young kid so he’s really raw. As he gets older and stronger and more mature, he’s just going to get better and better.
“He’s off to a real good start and he’s got a bright future. Just being in the OHL for one year, you’re already seeing some of the improvements. The coaching staff in Sault Ste. Marie is doing a good job with him and trying to help him in those areas away from the puck and in the d-zone and he’s doing a much better job with those things and he’s coming around in all areas of the game, so it’s promising.”
The improvement in shift-to-shift consistency is probably the biggest area that Senyshyn needs to address in his game before he’ll be ready to stake a claim to an NHL job.
“I think the (lack of) consistency is the frustrating part at times,” said the source. “But that’s what you get with scorers. You have to accept that, but it still could be better. Defense is always something (most) every player could be better at. It mainly comes from working harder, because most forwards don’t like playing defense- it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of them.”
In other words, we have to remember that Senyshyn is still a pretty raw prospect, even with the impressive goal totals. He’s a full year behind many of his peers who spent their 16-year-old seasons in the OHL in terms of major junior experience. He played for the Smith’s Falls Bears of the CJHL, and openly admits that it was a good thing that it took him a little longer to reach his current level.
“It was a great developmental year for me,” said Senyshyn. “I loved the coaching staff (led by head coach Mark Grady; assistants Walt Dubas and Tom MacLaren) and they really helped me in my development, because I wasn’t ready to make the jump to the OHL at 16. I realize that and am thankful for what I learned at Smith’s Falls- the experience really made me a better player when I got here than I would have been otherwise.”
Senyshyn parlayed that readiness into 26 goals as a rookie and selling one of the NHL’s 30 clubs that it wasn’t worth risking losing him to anyone else who saw him similarly. Boston pounced early, and things are looking pretty good in retrospect.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Senyshyn says in a voice that seems to betray a smile from the other end of the phone. “Your heart drops (soars?) when you hear your name called in the draft, no matter when it happens. But the reality is- I had a great connection with the Boston Bruins. They talked to me a few times before the draft and told me that they liked my game. That was a team that I had a real good feeling about, and I was hoping, I was hoping…they would pick me.. When they did, it was a dream come true.”
If you watch the above video and listen to the analysts on draft day express concern over the choice of Senyshyn with other “better” options on the board, that’s the rub and until he breaks through and makes an impact with the B’s, this will be the proverbial sword of Damocles that hangs over the player and franchise. In the end, we have to remember that drafting players is not an exact science, though with the use of metrics and analytics, we’re getting closer to making the process more predictable than ever before.
The road to the NHL is shorter for some, longer for others. Others, yet, never even get there.
In Zachary Senyshyn’s case- he seems to have all the tools, character and moxie to live up to his billing as a top-15 pick. The Bruins certainly appear to have gotten their gut instinct right on this one. There’s no need to rush him into the fray- they say all things in good time.
The payoff could be big with this one.