By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bruins winger Zach Senyshyn summed up more than the first goal of his NHL career, an empty-net strike that closed the door on the Wild in a 3-0 final, when speaking with the media late Thursday night.
"I know it's not the way you envision it," Senyshyn said. "But I take it any way I can get it."
See, that's how you'd describe Senyshyn's path to the NHL at this point, actually. An emergency recall on Wednesday, Senyshyn's debut made him the last skater of the 2015 first-round to make his NHL debut. Only goaltender Ilya Samsonov, taken by the Capitals seven picks after Senyshyn was selected by Don Sweeney, has yet to play in an NHL game. It's the kind way of saying that Senyshyn, at just 22 and in just his second full season of professional hockey, has been labeled a bust.
But Senyshyn looked like anything but a disappointment in his NHL debut. Forget the empty-net goal. It's a nice bonus, of course, but it wasn't exactly an important takeaway from this game. Senyshyn simply looked like he belonged. He got his shot off, showed off his speed to create separation and win battles (there's still more to be discovered there, and you're gonna love when you see it), and seemed to be positionally sound. It was the kind of five-on-five sample the Bruins needed to see.
"He had three or four good chances before [the empty-net goal]," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "As your first, you'd always like to tell the whole world you went through the whole team and went bar down, but this still works for him."
So why wasn't he with the Big B's before the games meant nothing? I think there's a few reasons, actually.
If we're talking about pure expectations/projected impact at the start of the year, Senyshyn was behind more than a few others (Anders Bjork, Peter Cehlarik, Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson). Then, even when you'd think those spots had opened up for somebody like Senyshyn, the Bruins didn't want to reward Senyshyn "just because." The Bruins were essentially forced to do that with Jakub Zboril, another way-too-young 'bust' drafted by Sweeney in 2015, when injuries ravaged their blue line back in November. And it showed, as Zboril looked downright terrified of the moment in front of him and on every single shift. Bruce Cassidy pulled the plug on that experiment (experience, maybe) after less than 22 minutes of total ice-time over two games. Good luck selling legitimately anybody on his AHL progress since those showings.
But above all else, it really felt like the Bruins wanted to make sure Senyshyn was ready. I mean, think about it: This has been a universally-praised season from the Bruins. But one thing they haven't done particularly well is push their (probably, most definitely over-hyped) prospects. It's hard not to name a tweener whose value hasn't dropped -- dramatically, at that -- this season. The Bruins simply couldn't afford to have yet another prospect's value go down the tubes with a nightmarish showing.
Granted, this seemed to be the B's plan long before every fill-in forward struggled -- the Bruins straight-up said that Senyshyn needed to experience life as a 'grinder' before he could become an NHLer -- but the plan has certainly paid off. At least when it comes to Senyshyn's "take what he can get" approach, as he'll be back in action on Saturday afternoon in Boston.
(Also: I can't name any first-round busts averaging a goal per game in their NHL career. STATS ARE STATS, NERDS.)
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 3-0 final in Minnesota...
West Warriors: B's had fantastic year against Western Conference
With a 3-0 win over Minnesota, the Bruins will finish the year with an East-best 20-5-5 record against their rivals to the West.
It's relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it really speaks to this team's ability to not leave points on the table when it comes to skating in those mild and relatively energy-less November and January contests against a team you know almost nothing about.
(Also: 30 games against the West? That's entirely too many. Make divisional rivals hate each other again.)
The Bruins will just have to hope it pays off in the Stanley Cup Final...
Kuhlman could make Cassidy 'eat his words' this postseason
Listening to Bruce Cassidy's pregame conversation with Judd Sirott on 98.5 The Sports Hub, I found it interesting that Cassidy admitted that Karson Kuhlman could have a seemingly real shot to make him 'eat his words' this postseason.
What Cassidy was referencing there was his original belief that it was unlikely the 23-year-old Kuhlman would skate with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci once the postseason started. Nobody could blame him for having his doubts; Kuhlman is in just his first pro season, and has shuttled between Boston and Providence throughout the year, with three goals and five points in 10 NHL showings. He's been good, but he's not exactly lighting the world on fire.
...But he's given us something to think about amid a few mean-nothing contests.
The big thing working in Kuhlman's favor? He's a right shot winger. Something that Danton Heinen and Marcus Johansson, two candidates for Boston's top six, cannot say for themselves.
Cassidy also believes that Heinen does his best work playing his natural left-side, which does not exactly bode well for him logging right-side minutes in the most important games of the season. (The Bruins can hide him pretty well next to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.) Johansson has considerable playing on the right side (he was acquired to play to Krejci's right) dating back to his D.C. days, but I really think Cassidy is determined to do what he can to make Johansson and Charlie Coyle his three-zone pairing on the Black and Gold's third line.
A sneaky-important win for Jaro Halak
I know the Anti-Tuukka Crew is gonna hate hearing this, but Tuukka Rask is your Game 1 starter. Where the Bruins go from there, though, is completely up in the air and 100 percent based on Rask's performance. That's why Halak's 26-save shutout victory over the Wild should have Cassidy feeling a liiiiiittle bit better about his backup plan if Rask's game goes to hell like it did at various points in last year's round one survival against the Maple Leafs. (I mean, it feels a lot better than going into the postseason knowing Halak's last game featured an ugly 22-of-27 performance against the legitimately awful Red Wings.)
The Bruins will conclude their regular season Saturday afternoon against the Lightning.