Bruins prospect update 11/28/16: Senyshyn back on track

It was a tough start offensively for the third of Boston’s 2015 first-round draft picks, a season after putting up 45 goals for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, but a productive November has right wing Zach Senyshyn back up near the top of the B’s prospects scoring list.

The Nepean, Ont. Native has the size, speed and hands to do a lot of scoring damage, especially off the rush. The 19-year-old has NHL-caliber burst and open-ice speed, often blowing by flat-footed defenders to drive straight to the net and find the twine with a lightning release and close-in finishing ability. He’s got nine goals in 20 games- a respectable if not career-best scoring pace, but the season is still young, and Senyshyn has helped his Greyhounds to a share of 1st place with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL’s West Division.

Senyshyn had a tough summer, missing the July prospects development camp due to a bout with mononucleosis, and then went through an emergency appendectomy a couple of weeks before the start of rookie camp in Boston, missing the prospects tournament in Buffalo. Although he was able to attend the B’s veteran camp, he was still on the mend and went back down to junior in pretty short order.

Although the fast foodies out there demanded instant success and gratification with his offensive statistics regardless of the health-related setbacks, reality had a different plan in mind and it took Senyshyn some time to get himself into gear. He’s playing a more consistent and dangerous game these days, exploiting defenses with his speed and offensive hockey sense. Obviously, you don’t want to completely dismiss some of the early concerns associated with the lack of scoring, but the reality of the situation is that Senyshyn is too talented to be held in check for long. Whether that translates into the kind of production that certain self-important segments of the punditry and fan castes deem worthy of a player of his draft position remains to be seen (and to be frank- is completely beside the point).

Senyshyn is still addressing his all-around game and demonstrating more of a willingness to go and get pucks himself and provide defensive zone support. He’s a pretty proven commodity on offense, but in order to thrive in Boston, the 15th overall pick will have to assert himself more and that’s been a benefit of going back to the OHL for one more season. The offense is starting to click for him, but the real measure of Senyshyn’s development and progress are the little things that don’t manifest themselves on the offensive side of the ledger.

So far, so good. (And, Senyshyn avoided an automatic two-game suspension last week after getting a match penalty for slew-footing…The Greyhounds successfully got the ban overturned on appeal.)

***

Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and center Colby Cave have impressed down in Providence in recent weeks.

Although the offense has been fleeting and the Baby Bruins are a rollercoaster adventure this season under first-year head coach Kevin Dean, things are starting to come together more consistently on both sides of the puck.

Grzelcyk is second in scoring by defensemen (Alex Grant’s 5 goals and 12 points in 16 games paces Providence) and is demonstrating confidence with and without the puck, especially over the past two weeks. The former Boston University captain and third-round pick by the Bruins in 2012 is using his speed, head and hands to boost the transition game and is improving his positional play while not getting too far out of the box on his own physical limitations.

As Claude Julien has stated many times before, with undersized defenders playing ‘smart’ hockey is key- there are just certain situations and matchups coaches will avoid when they can, but guys like Grzelcyk come equipped to overcome the size and strength deficit.

In the early going, his stick positioning and gap control has been capable for a first-year pro. He’s filling lanes and showing a willingness to sacrifice his body to get in front of shots. When the Charlestown native gets the puck on his stick, he’s moving with his head up and can rapidly process and move the play to the right spot on the ice.

Cave, who is in his second full AHL season, is just a solid two-way center who brings versatility and opportunistic play to the mix. The undrafted free agent out of the WHL captained the Swift Current Broncos and was an effective player who could round out a bottom line in the NHL eventually. Despite the pretty average size, Cave could be a serviceable third-liner at some point, but he’s more of a projection as a fourth-liner and penalty killer who is a disruptive presence on the fore check and stands out for his effort, energy and opportunistic offense. We’re not big fans of making player comparisons, but there are some similarities to Dominic Moore, especially if he can raise his faceoffs to the next level.

These are two players to keep an eye on going forward; their effort levels and production of late could be rewarded with NHL time if Boston’s depth is tested yet again.

Amateur Prospects as of 11/28/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 14 9 14 23 4
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 20 12 10 22 24
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 20 9 8 17 15
Jakub Zboril, Saint John* QMJHL 16 6 10 16 10
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 16 5 11 16 22
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 12 2 10 12 10
Ryan Donato, Harvard ECAC- NCAA 9 5 6 11 8
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin** Big10- NCAA 8 4 6 10 8
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 12 2 8 10 6
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 12 1 9 10 6
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda QMJHL 9 2 6 8 2
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls** USHL 15 2 3 5 26
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 14 0 4 4 14
Wiley Sherman, Harvard ECAC-NCAA 9 0 3 3 8
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 12 0 1 1 26

* Suspended 5 games for hit to head of opponent

** Injured

Pro and European Prospects

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 19 9 17 26 2
Peter Cehlarik, Providence AHL 16 8 6 14 6
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 19 5 4 9 22
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 19 1 8 9 4
Danton Heinen, Providence AHL 9 5 3 8 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 19 3 5 8 11
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 18 3 4 7 6
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 19 3 4 7 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 16 3 3 6 18
Austin Czarnik, Providence# AHL 2 1 2 3 0
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 10 0 2 2 9
Rob O’Gara, Providence AHL 14 0 2 2 2
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 16 0 1 1 18
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 16 0 1 1 4
Oskar Steen, Farjestad Sweden- Elite 19 1 1 0 2
Brian Ferlin, Providence AHL 1 0 0 0 0
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 4 0 0 0 5
Zane McIntyre, Atlanta ECHL 1 0 1 0.93 .973
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 6 3 0 (3) 2.84 .914
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 10 1 6 (4) 3.15 .895

# Czarnik recalled to Boston

Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed

Bruins prospect report 11/15: Zboril, Gabrielle ascending

Two selections from Boston’s deep and promising draft class of 2015 are making positive waves in their respective junior leagues this season.

Defenseman Jakub Zboril, who was Boston’s top pick at 13th overall (acquired from Los Angeles as part of the Milan Lucic trade), is answering some of the questions about him coming into the season after being focused more on defense last season and posting a mediocre 6-14-20 stats line in 50 games with Saint John a year ago, he already has 5 goals in just 14 contests, and has not slowed much since the return of fellow blue liner Thomas Chabot to the QMJHL after breaking camp with the Ottawa Senators and beginning the season there for a few games.

If you have been a regular to this blog, then you know that TSP has never questioned Zboril’s skill and talent levels. When breaking down the top tier of the 2015 defensemen, the Czech two-way rearguard belonged in the discussion going off of pure ability- he wasn’t that far off from any of Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski, all top-10 selections and all three of whom are in the NHL this year and making an impact on their respective clubs. What caused Zboril to fall into the second tier and below the cut line of the top defenders available in that strong draft crop was his waning compete levels and inconsistent application of his abilities. In short- when Zboril is working hard and on his game, he’s an ideal fit for the modern NHL: he’s fast, hard-hitting and can make a top first pass, not to mention having a blistering point shot when he has the time and space to cock the cannon and unload. Unfortunately, Zboril isn’t always on his game, and that is what has led to some of the doubts about his long-term viability.

For now, he’s certainly getting the job done for Danny Flynn and the Sea Dogs, and that is good to see. Flynn is a good coach- he helped mentor Brad Marchand when he was an assistant under Ted Nolan with the 2006 Moncton Wildcats, so he knows how to get good mileage out of players who might not always be on the same page when it comes to applying themselves. This is not to stir undue concern where it isn’t warranted, but not to put too fine a point on it- Zboril is still very much a work in progress who has yet to prove that he really wants to succeed and be the kind of NHL player his talent implies he should be. We shall see, but as B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley said in the offseason- the team sees their top choice a year ago as “on track”- that wasn’t what you would call a ringing endorsement, but to Zboril’s credit- he’s playing effective defense and contributing offense much more consistently than he was a year ago. That’s encouraging and we’ll see where it leads- pointing out a player’s shortcomings doesn’t make them “haters” so we’ll hope that people who ought to know better don’t try to polarize the discussion as often happens in sports discussions and take the feedback in the spirit intended- he’s making positive progress and is answering some of the questions, but it’s early yet- we’ll re-evaluate at the end of the year and see how it all went.

We’re not ready to eat crow yet, but we’ll give Zboril a stick tap for a strong Bruins training camp and a fine start to the season. It’s all you can ask for at this point, and he looks like a top-15 pick, which is encouraging.

 

***

Jesse Gabrielle is stepping it up for the second consecutive season in Prince George of the WHL after scoring 40 goals a year ago.

He’s the kind of forward that Bruins fans instantly took a shine to because he can score and plays a physical, abrasive style that makes him a tough opponent that teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ice.

The Saskatchewan native fell in the draft, and he’s been a man on a mission to show the teams that passed him up that they were wrong in doing so. So far, so good. He’s done impressive offseason work in the weight room to get his body in shape to handle the punishment that he takes on by driving hard to the net, firing himself into corners and along the walls to win battles for loose pucks and bouncing through checks to set up in the high danger areas where he makes the most money.

He’s playing a more controlled style this season- staying within his parameters and not taking undisciplined penalties as much. Gabrielle continues to understand that he’s more effective when he’s on the ice firing pucks into the back of the net, much like his hockey idol Brad Marchand has learned over time with the Bruins.

You have to give Gabrielle credit for not only getting himself into top physical shape but taking the coaching to heart and continuing to be a key offensive player, leading the Cougars in goals and pacing a blistering offensive attack that can beat opponents any which way. Gabrielle is the embodiment of that—he can play a finesse style or he can pound you, take the puck away and finish off the play himself.

He’s still refining his overall game, but at present, Gabrielle is looking like one of the top values in a very good 2015 draft class.

And here’s the updated stats lines for both amateur and pro (AHL and Euro) players:

Amateur Prospects as of 11/15/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 15 10 9 19 16
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 9 7 11 18 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 14 5 8 13 6
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 13 4 9 13 16
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 8 4 6 10 8
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 9 2 7 9 8
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 9 1 8 9 6
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 14 5 4 9 10
Ryan Donato, Harvard

 

ECAC- NCAA 6 4 4 8 4
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin

 

Big10- NCAA 8 2 6 8 6
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda

 

QMJHL 7 1 5 6 2
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls

 

USHL 15 2 3 5 26
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St.

 

WCHA- NCAA 12 0 3 3 12
Wiley Sherman, Harvard

 

ECAC-NCAA 6 0 2 2 6
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota

 

Big10- NCAA 8 0 0 0 24

Pro and European Prospects

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr.* U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Peter Cehlarik, Providence

 

AHL 10 5 5 10 4
Anton Blidh, Providence

 

AHL 13 4 2 6 6
Danton Heinen, Providence AHL 5 2 3 5 0

 

Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 13 2 2 4 2

 

Matt Grzelcyk, Providence

 

AHL 13 1 3 4 4
Austin Czarnik, Providence#

 

AHL 2 1 2 3 0
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF

 

Sweden- Elite 12 1 2 3 6
Colby Cave, Providence

 

AHL 13 1 2 3 11
Rob O’Gara, Providence

 

AHL 8 0 2 2 0
Sean Kuraly, Providence#

 

AHL 10 0 2 2 9
Colton Hargrove, Providence

 

AHL 10 1 0 1 7
Linus Arnesson, Providence

 

AHL 11 0 1 1 4
Justin Hickman, Providence

 

AHL 3 0 0 0 5
Oskar Steen, MoDo

 

Sweden- Div 2 4 0 0 0 2
Chris Casto, Providence

 

AHL 10 0 0 0 14
Zane McIntyre, Providence#

 

AHL 3 1 0 0.44 .977
Dan Vladar, Providence

 

AHL 5 2 0 (3) 2.93 .917
Malcolm Subban, Providence

 

AHL 8 1 6 (1) 3.31 .888
Brian Ferlin, Providence*

 

AHL 0 0 0 0 0

# Czarnik, Kuraly, McIntyre recalled to Boston

*Joona Koppanen, Brian Ferlin- injured

** Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed

On Anders Bjork and other prospect notes (Senyshyn, Donato, McIntyre and Kuraly called up)

After a two-goal, five-point weekend (two games), University of Notre Dame junior right wing Anders Bjork sits atop the NCAA scoring list one month into the 2016-17 hockey campaign.

The fifth-round pick in 2014 has come on like gangbusters going back to last season after originally being projected as more of a grinding defensive-type forward coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team. The Wisconsin native always had impressive speed and agility, but his slick hands and a noteworthy offensive hockey IQ have him as the topic of frequent discussions in the scouting community as a classic late-bloomer. Obviously, if anyone had seen this coming from Bjork (whose father, Kirt, and NHL cousin Erik Condra, were also standout members of Fighting Irish teams of old), the former Chicago Mission standout would have been drafted much higher than the 146th overall selection.

Bjork plays with urgency and pace- you notice him on just about every shift because he’s moving his feet- either attacking into the teeth of defenses or pressuring the opposing puck carrier as a relentless forechecker who forces turnovers with his feet and instincts.

Watch the highlight video here, and on the last goal you can see how aggressive he is at using his speed and stickhandling skills to take the puck to the net and the poor netminder doesn’t have a chance here with some grade-A maneuvering to finish off the play.

We saw some of this last year in the WJC when Bjork joined fellow B’s prospect and 2014 draft selection Ryan Donato with two goals apiece to secure the bronze medal. Admittedly, TSP wondered if it was an aberration, but we need no further proof- Bjork is for real. Where once we thought his ceiling was a solid third-liner good for 15-20 goals, there’s the potential for a good deal more if he continues his upward trajectory. An added bonus is Bjork’s versatility- he can play any forward position.

Of course, his 7 goals and 16 points in 8 games has created immediate discussion of Bjork “pulling a (Jimmy) Vesey” on Twitter and other Internet locales. Not to be glib or dismissive, but…really guys? That kind of talk is premature, predicated on the assumption that because other successful NCAA players have opted to wait out the four-year rights-owning period by the drafting club, that Bjork will do the same thing.

It’s possible that Bjork could do just that, but he’ll have to wait until August 16, 2018 to become an unrestricted free agent and because he’s playing so well, you have to imagine that the Bruins will do all in their power to sign him this spring, when his season is officially done. This is not to say that Bjork will sign or politely rebuff the attempts as Vesey did in the spring of 2015 when he was coming off a 30+ goal season at Harvard. If Bjork does that, then the B’s will have a precedent for what could transpire and all bets are off- they’ll have to protect the asset and do what they can to get something back for him. However, that’s a bridge we can cross later- it’s November 1- we’re still months away from the team even being in a position to tender Bjork an opportunity to turn pro. However, nobody should just assume that because Vesey took the action he did, that Bjork will opt for the same.

Now, in order to get him to commit, the B’s might need to get creative an offer Bjork a spot with the NHL club right away and the chance to burn a year off his three-year ELC the way Torey Krug did when he chose Boston as an unrestricted free agent in 2012. Sometimes, you have to give to get, but this is the new reality of CBA-permitted tactics that players and their advisors can leverage to their advantage. A fifth-round pick getting max rookie money and a chance to be an RFA one year earlier is a pretty enticing deal- it’s easy to project that someone might just wait it out until 2018, but there’s risk involved with suffering a major injury or going through a lackluster campaign that could diminish the bargaining power.

Bottom line- we’ll eventually find out, but let’s get past the whole “Bjork could pull a Vesey” trope and enjoy the 20-year-old’s season for what it is: a breakout performance that signals the latest impressive find for the Bruins, whose scouts (led by college scouting chief Ryan Nadeau) have mined the NCAA ranks for promising talent.

Other B’s prospect notes-

The Bruins announced today that with Patrice Bergeron a game-time decision (when it rains it pours) tonight against the Florida Panthers (and David Pastrnak serving the second of a two-game suspension, plus David Backes still injured) former San Jose Sharks prospect Sean Kuraly has been called up to the big club.

Kuraly, who was acquired on June 30, 2015 as part of the deal that sent Martin Jones to the West Coast for a first-round pick (Trent Frederic), is a big-bodied forward who can play either center or wing. He’s got good feet and hands, but the offensive hockey sense probably has him projecting more as a third/fourth-line guy. He had a strong training camp, however, and played well enough to earn the look. In eight AHL games, he has just one assist.

It’s one more opportunity for a young player to get a look, but perhaps we should be thankful that the Bruins are 4-4 instead of much worse given the adversity they’ve dealt with in the early going. Ruck up- injuries are a part of the game, so you have to deal with it as best you can, but the depth is being tested.

***

2015 first-rounder Zach Senyshyn is off his 45-goal pace from a year ago, but cut the kid some slack- he dealt with mononucleosis over the summer and then an emergency appendectomy right before the start of rookie camp. It’s not an excuse, but anyone bagging on the kid is probably looking for a reason to be negative at this point.

In a perfect world, Senyshyn would be on pace for 55-60 goals, but that isn’t reality- hockey is an imperfect game played by imperfect humans. Just because you expect certain things to happen doesn’t mean a player is a failure if your statistical expectations aren’t met, and unless you’ve been through the double-whammy of mono and appendicitis in the span of weeks, you probably ought not to be talking about how well he should or shouldn’t be playing. Just sayin’. Sometimes, just because you can vomit forth an uninformed opinion on something, doesn’t mean you should.

Senyshyn is still a fine NHL prospect albeit one who isn’t getting the expected points, so critiquing the lower-than-expected numbers is fair game, while writing him off is not. We’re a little over a month into the season…chillax, folks.

***

Ryan Donato began his sophomore season with a bang, netting a pair of goals in a lopsided victory over Arizona State in a weekend series. Wiley Sherman also registered a pair of assists. The ECAC regular season officially begins on Friday. With Donato’s high-end hockey sense and hands, watch for him to put up a lot of points this season, but undrafted 23-year-old senior Luke Esposito bagged 2 goals and 6 points against the Sun Devils to take the early scoring lead for the Crimson.

***

I like what Zane McIntyre is doing for the Bruins. Technique has never been his strong suit- it’s always been about the compete and battle level with him. He deserved a better fate against the NY Rangers last week, he earned a longer stay in Boston because he gave his team a shot in that game. McIntyre struggled at times last season with the pace and skill of pro hockey, but what has benefited him most throughout his hockey career is his personality and a mental toughness that allows him to play the role of both workhorse and backup.

We are all seeing how important an effective Tuukka Rask is to this Bruins club, but McIntyre has done pretty well in his limited audition to show that he is capable of being an NHL goaltender, even if his time is not quite now.

Here’s the updated stats charts:

Amateur Prospects as of 11/01/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 8 7 9 16 2
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 11 6 8 14 12
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 6 3 5 8 4
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 5 2 5 7 2
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 9 3 4 7 12
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 9 2 5 7 6
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 10 4 2 6 10
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 6 1 5 6 6
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 5 0 4 4 4
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 11 2 2 4 8
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Ryan Donato, Harvard ECAC- NCAA 2 2 0 2 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard ECAC-NCAA 2 0 2 2 2
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 8 0 1 1 8
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 6 0 0 0 2

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

Pro and European Prospects

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Peter Cehlarik, Providence AHL 5 2 2 4 4
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 8 2 1 3 2
Austin Czarnik, Providence# AHL 2 1 2 3 0
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 10 1 2 3 6
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 8 1 2 3 2
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 7 1 0 1 5
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 8 1 0 1 4
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 8 0 1 1 2
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 8 0 1 1 9
Oskar Steen, MoDo Sweden- Div 2 3 0 0 0 2
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 5
Rob O’Gara, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 0
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 7 0 0 0 6
Zane McIntyre, Providence# AHL 3 1 0 0.44 .977
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 5 0 4 4.50 .857
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 2 1 0 2.97 .917
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

# Czarnik, McIntyre recalled to Boston

*Brian Ferlin- injured

** Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed