By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’m comfortable admitting that P-Bruins head coach Jay Leach knows infinitely more about professional hockey (and what it takes to get there) than I ever will. I’ll still not sleep at night, but it won’t be Leach’s fault.
A player-turned-coach who willingly put himself through 300-plus minor-league games from Long Beach to Trenton and beyond before cracking an NHL lineup, Leach is an undeniable authority. Especially with his own players.
When Leach talked about how 2015 first-round pick Zach Senyshyn was going to have to essentially become a ‘grinder’ before he could entertain the notion of making the NHL, though, I nearly passed out. And that’s coming from somebody that enjoys every agonizing blocked shot, glass-rattling hit, and ovation-inducing fight as much as the next knuckle-dragging Neanderthal found on the Orange Line most wintry Thursday nights.
But it’s why Senyshyn’s preseason showing at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, which featured the 21-year-old score two goals and lead the Bruins with seven shots on goal in a 5-2 win over the Capitals, is more important than you realize.
Point blank: Senyshyn is far too young and inexperienced to be legitimately reinvented as a player. And the idea that a reinvention has to happen for him to make it to Boston would be a sequel to the Jordan Caron Death Sentence.
After just 66 AHL games (74 if you include Senyshyn’s eight playoff tilts), the Bruins do not know exactly what they have in a player that posted back-to-back years of 42-plus goals in the OHL. At least they shouldn’t think so, because that’s completely insane when you’re talking about going from high-flying scoring junior ranks to leagues featuring seasoned veterans and greater structure, particularly in the defensive zone.
This is not to suggest that the B’s should let Senyshyn run into the wall again and again without a coaching of sorts, of course, but the idea that he needs to drastically change his DNA as a player seems both overstated and reactionary.
It’s not as if you’re talking about a 26-year-old set to flame out on his third professional contract. It’s around that time that you see those players, — especially if they have that sometimes-dreaded first-round label to their name — attempt to be something other than what had got them (or held them back) to that point. And it’s not as if Senyshyn’s lack of NHL progress has created a hole on the Big B’s roster. If anything, the B’s have been afforded patience with Senyshyn’s road to Causeway thanks to the steps (leaps in the case of some) taken by Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, and what they hope is a healthy Year 2 from Anders Bjork. David Pastrnak, of course, is already a superstar.
And in the immediate future, the Bruins are absolutely loaded with grinding-heavy, utility players. In fact, they added another two this summer despite already having Noel Acciari, David Backes, and Sean Kuraly signed to NHL contracts, and with Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, and NCAA free agent addition Karson Kuhlman waiting in the wings.
You can turn Senyshyn into the grittiest grinder in the world, but it still won’t be as effective as deploying these natural-born dudes that eat gravel and nails for fun when you’re looking for that true bottom-six pop.
(Oh, and for the record: If the Bruins are suddenly living in a world in which Senyshyn’s development becomes acceptable if he’s the next Danny effing Paille — a first-round pick that was ultimately converted into a speedy bottom-six, penalty-killing specialist — this pick is enough for Isles fans to bonk you off the head with Barzal’s Better takes forever. Or until Barzal leaves for whichever team he owned bedsheets of as a child, at the very least.)
There’s simply too much raw talent for the Bruins to simply abandon course. And, again, it’s too early for that.
What you’re really talking about is a player that hasn’t figured it out after just one real season in the AHL.
With any player, this is considered part of the process. But because it’s Senyshyn, a player everybody considered to be a ‘sizable’ reach by the Bruins because Pierre McGuire said as much into a working microphone, it’s pure Bust City. So draw a No. 19 on the lobotomy chair and let’s get this over with. The Bruins need another shot-blocking forward who’s been coached to think that offensive creativity is a sin punishable by a lifetime of weekend bus rides.
But in reality, what the Bruins — and every team, for that matter — could use more of is speed and skill.
And, boy, did Senyshyn show both in D.C. on Tuesday.
What made Tuesday night critical for Senyshyn’s development, though, was that he found success from the confidence generated by doing what he was drafted to do: Score goals by creating separation with his speed. And that was after his fourth straight no-show of a preseason period with that focus on ‘grinding’ it out. Shockingly, it wasn’t mucking it up that brought Senyshyn’s acceleration and offensive creativity back for his second (albeit fluky) goal of the night.
After the game, Senyshyn admitted he’s been ‘squeezing’ the stick a little too tight, and that he really needed a goal to get his game going in the right direction. Offensive results, as it turned out, got his overall game centered.
This is why it was just plain cringeworthy to watch Senyshyn ‘fight’ Tyler Lewington when the Bruins found themselves in the offensive zone in the first period of his preseason debut, and why it was downright offensive to see Senyshyn take his game-changing, ice-burning skating game to the corners of the rink instead of scoring lanes.
For Zach Senyshyn the First-Round Pick to work out in Boston, he has to be Zach Senyshyn The First-Round Pick. This shouldn’t be a farfetched concept, either, when talking about a 21-year-old, one-year AHL veteran.
Now, one good game against the half-Caps doesn’t change much of anything. He could still very well be the Black and Gold’s biggest miss of a back-to-back-to-back sequence that really couldn’t afford one. But for the first time since the Bruins put their faith in Senyshyn over the Barzals, Kyle Connors, and Brock Boesers the first round offered to salivating teams, there seemed to be actual, tangible on-ice progress on the part of the clearly skilled winger.
By playing the style that made the B’s reach for him in the first place.
For 98.5 The Sports Hub’s complete coverage of 2018 Boston Bruins training camp, click here.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.