In a move that surprised more than a few, Zachary Senyshyn was selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry draft, 15th overall. Fans of the Bruins were quick to criticize this pick, as certain players with more noticeable high-end offensive talent still remained undrafted (I’ll address this later). Senyshyn was projected to go mid-to-late in the second round; in fact TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s first words were, “Oh boy the Bruins went off the board here”. Ranked 38th by Central Scouting and 39th by International Scouts, Zach managed to increase his draft position from the 50s and below during his rookie campaign in a bottom-6 role in the OHL. His role was not reflective of his skills, merely that he was playing on a stacked Soo St. Marie Greyhounds team 2014-2015. Despite limited minutes, Zach must have impressed director of Amateur Scouting for the Bruins Keith Gretzky, who was also responsible for the brilliant David Pastrnak selection in 2014.
While Senyshyn managed to miss some critical development camps in 2016, he appeared on the Bruins scene in 2017 with a commanding presence. No doubt this was a result of two successful OHL campaigns (15-16,16-17) in which he notched 65 points in consecutive years. (Check out some of his highlights!) Playing to his strengths of elite speed, explosiveness, creativity with the puck, smooth skating, and competitiveness, Senyshyn entered the Bruins development camp in the summer of 2017 leaner, meaner, and tougher to play against. I witnessed the final day of this true introduction to his game during Bruins Rookie Development Camp on July 9th. Coming into camp, his toughness and poise in the face of pressure were big question marks. However, in a three on three scrimmage, I watched him strip Oskar Steen (fellow prospect) of the puck with enough force to knock the former’s stick clean out of his hands. Further, he showed promise during one on one battles along the boards. Zach’s speed was on full display as well, dazzling opponents with fluid, high octane straight-line speed, and explosiveness in the short game play. He is also able to change gears seamlessly, moving up ice or laterally with precision. Despite his development and praise, it was a long shot for him to make the big club out of camp, and he would follow in the path of fellow ’15 first rounder Jake DeBrusk who spent the previous year in the AHL before making the 2017 NHL roster.
October 7th, 2017 was the first time I saw Senyshyn up close and personal. One thing was absolutely evident: he’s got an enormous NHL frame. At only 20 years old, he is 6’ 3” and a well-proportioned 196 lbs with room to grow. Through the first two periods of the game, it was clear why he is developing in the minors; at times, he looked somewhat lost, as if he was skating in circles. His first few games have seen him back in a bottom six role, which might explain his bewilderment: during his 2 years on the Greyhounds top lines, he may have lost sight of his bottom six days during the 2014-2015 campaign. As if to silence the critics (at the time, myself included), he scored his first professional goal in the third period of the home opener. For the next several games, he went ice cold. Almost the entire month of October, from the 13th till the 4th of November, he registered no goals, assists, and few shots on goal. Finally, Senyshyn lit the lamp for the second time on November 4th against the Hartford Wolf pack. This begun a string of 9 games in which Senyshyn has posted 8 assists, at an almost point per game pace. During a game against Springfield on November 12th, Senyshyn set up 3 P-Bruins goal scorers by blazing up the ice with the puck glued to his stick, beating the Thunderbirds’ defenders with clean entries and making pinpoint passes to teammates waiting in the slots. On November 19th, Senyshyn continued to prove his blazing speed isn’t just a one trick pony by repeating the feat against the Hershey Bears, setting up 2 goals: one with a smart outlet pass, and another with a solid carry into the zone. Most recently on November 25th, Senyshyn should have had his third goal of the season when he turned and fired a powerplay goal later credited to fellow prospect Ryan Fitzgerald. (Allegedly the shot went off the latter’s stick in front of the goalie, however watching via AHL live, I never quite saw that last-second tip, even after multiple replays.) He has already far outpaced fellow first rounder Jake DeBrusk in their respective inaugural minor campaigns: DeBrusk’s first goal came at the end of October and by the end of November had fewer points at than Senyshyn does in this season.
Suffice to say, Zach Senyshyn is acquitting himself well in the minors, biding his time until his skill is refined and ready for a cup of coffee or more at the NHL level.
I have a bit of a bold prediction here too, so if you’re not a fan of theories or “hot takes”, close your tab or browser and have a nice day.
I think Sweeney made this pick with a lot more intent than we all seemed to initially give him credit for. People have said in the past Don made the Senyshyn pick hastily, pulling the trigger on a player that seemed like a “reach” (as pointed out earlier). However, remember who was the director of amateur scouting at the time: Keith Gretzky, responsible for a slew of bright young talent in 2014, ’15, and ’16. Out of this talent pool, we received 2 notable right wingers (Senyshyn excluded): David Pastrnak and Danton Heinen, both drafted in 2014. Seth Griffith, another predominantly [right] winger was coming off a potentially breakout season in 2015-2015 where he earned his first call-up, and would record his first points at the NHL level.
Pastrnak’s effect would be felt immediately as he made the Bruins during his draft year. In the same time frame, Seth was making his inaugural mark. Danton Heinen’s genius level hockey IQ was on full display at the Collegiate level (NCAA), as the third-leading freshman scorer. Griffith looked to be a candidate for 2nd or third line duties. A lot of talent was coming down the pipeline, and the only forward position we had more depth at was center. Looking at the 2015 draft, forwards Kyle Connor and Matt Barzal (who the Bruins were chastised by fans and media) were drafted after Senyshyn, however both are natural centers; a position already established the Bruins had no need for depth at. In fact, with the tandem of Bergeron and Krejci, there would be little chance for Connor or Barzal to do anything but languish in Providence for a while or spin their wheels in a 3C role (which at the time it seemed Spooner was poised to take over).
Sweeney has been quoted as saying he loved the assets of speed and skill (better described in above paragraphs), and didn’t want to lose Senyshyn to another team if the former waited to draft him (at pick number 37 where Brandon Carlo was drafted for instance). Senyshyn’s toolbox absolutely includes first round potential, however his craft would take a little more time to develop than Sweeny anticipated Pastrnak, Heinen, or potentially Griffith would to develop and be roster mainstays. In the salary cap era, this was an intentional means to control when contracts would need to be renewed and thus keep the Bruins out of salary cap jail as they had been the past few years thanks to mismanagement by former GM Peter Chiarelli.
This brings up another question: why not pick Brock Boeser, as the Vancouver Canucks did at 23rd overall? Boeser has begun his professional career this season in Vancouver, already posting his first goal(s). The best answer I can come up with is that Sweeney wanted to limit the number of players committed to the NCAA. This was before Jimmy Vesey had exploited the NCAA-ELC loophole that allowed him to choose where he would play professionally, and Sweeney wanted Senyshyn around the organization with no chance of movement until such time as his talents could be adequately developed and understood. My guess is Don is extremely high on Senyshyn and wants him to succeed in the organization at the highest level, however in a timeframe the former has already crafted.
Tl;Dr: Senyshyn was an off-the-board pick, with first round skill who Sweeney hand-picked on advice from Keith Gretzky to develop over time and slot into the NHL lineup based on development when more cap space was available to pay another potential high-scoring forward.