PROVIDENCE – Twenty-three games into his first season of pro hockey, Zach Senyshyn is earning solid if unspectacular grades with the Providence Bruins.
While his numbers – three goals and 11 points – are nothing to write home about, they are virtually identical to what Jake DeBrusk had a year ago in the same number of games.
DeBrusk improved steadily while spending all of last season in Providence before graduating to Boston this year. It’s much too early to predict that Senyshyn will do the same, but he is heading in the right direction.
There’s no question Senyshyn has been more noticeable and effective recently than he was during the first few weeks of the season.
The bursts of straight-line speed that demonstrate that he is almost always the fastest player on either team have become more frequent.
He looks to be gaining confidence when he has the puck. He dished a nice pass to Colby Cave for a goal on Friday night, handling a pass from Kenny Agostino in tight space on the rush and quickly making a backhand feed to Cave.
Senyshnyn scored a total of 87 goals in the OHL in the two seasons after Boston drafted him 15th overall in 2015, but his finish around the net and his play without the puck are a work in progress so far. And there are nights when he still spends too much time on the perimeter.
Jamie Langenbrunner, Boston’s player development coordinator, spent the weekend in Providence. I asked him for his thoughts on Senyshnyn to this point and on player development in general.
“It’s what a lot of kids have to go through that are scorers in junior: Things that allowed them to score in junior don’t happen at the pro level — National Hockey League or the American Hockey League. Zach’s learned that,’’ said Langenbrunner, who played 18 seasons in the NHL, won Stanley Cups with Dallas and New Jersey, and was captain of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team.
“The great thing about him is his willingness to learn. He wasn’t used on the penalty kill in junior. Now he’s getting thrown into those opportunities. He’s buying into the fact that to play in the NHL, he’s going to have to penalty kill and know how to play in a bottom six role maybe to start and work your way up.
“That’s the mentality we’ve been pushing on him the last couple of years. Credit to him. He’s buying in and it’s starting to pay off,’’ he said.
Langenbrunner compares where Senyshyn is now to where fellow 2015 first-rounder DeBrusk was 12 months ago. After 23 games last season, DeBrusk had 4-6-10; Senyshyn has 3-8-11.
“I see a lot of similarities in his trend as Jake last year. Jake came in and it was a little bit of a battle at first. The points didn’t really show up. He ended up having a pretty darn good year when it was all said and done. Hopefully, Zach can trend in that same direction,’’ Langenbrunner said.
Senyshyn’s speed is what makes him an intriguing prospect. In the OHL, he was able to use it to beat defensemen to the outside, something that rarely happens in the pro ranks.
“We’re trying to teach him to use it properly, by slashing through and putting D under pressure. Obviously, he has game-breaking speed with the ability to create a breakaway for himself. Not a lot of guys have that. For us, it’s harnessing it in the right spots,’’ Langenbrunner said.
“He’s buying into that. He’s getting way better at finding ways of slashing instead of drifting to the outside. In pro hockey that doesn’t work.’’
For Senyshyn and the many other youngsters in Providence, patience is the key.
“As far as setting timetables on all of them, we try not to. We project a little bit, but the word is patience – on our part and on theirs. I sometimes feel that it’s them more than us that are the impatient ones.
“They see certain situations, a guy in this organization or another organization gets an opportunity sooner, and they feel like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ Nothing. It might just take a little bit longer,’’ said Langenbrunner.
“What I keep trying to stress to them is we’re not looking for you to play an NHL game at 19 or 20. I’m looking for you to still be playing at 34, to be a good pro. That’s what we’re trying to instill in these guys here, those details in their game, that if you want to break into the league as a fourth-liner, end up on the top line in the middle of your career and go back as a fourth liner (as an older player), that’s when you know you’re doing it right, so that you can play up and down that lineup.
“The more guys we can have with that type of mentality, and when the Charlie McAvoys of the world (who can step right into the NHL) come around, all the better for all of us.”