By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After a camp spent showing Bruins brass he could do things with his hands he wasn’t previously known for, prospect Zach Senyshyn finally showed he can meet expectations with his hands in terms of offensive output.
Senyshyn scored twice, his first two goals in four career NHL preseason games, during a 5-2 exhibition win at the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
“It definitely kind of gives you a little bit more confidence,” Senyshyn told the media after the game. “I don’t have a lot of experience up here. It’s been great to watch [the NHL games] and play at Providence, but it definitely gives you confidence to be able to pot a couple.”
The last of Boston’s three consecutive first-round draft picks in 2015 (15th overall), Senyshyn’s development has gone slowly compared to some other high-end skill players in his draft class, including teammate Jake DeBrusk, who went 13th in that draft.
This training camp, Senyshyn, now 21, has been focusing on other aspects of his game, including grappling. At the rookie tournament in Buffalo earlier this month, he nearly came to blows with New Jersey’s Dylan Seitz and earned a roughing minor. In the Bruins’ first preseason game at TD Garden on Sunday, Senyshyn earned a fighting major for his brief tussle with Capitals defenseman Tyler Lewington.
All the rough stuff came as a big shock to anyone who checked out hockeyfights.com and saw just one entry under Senyshyn’s name — a 2014-15 bout in the OHL.
“I think it can be [part of my game] when the opportunity arises,” Senyshyn said after the rookie tournament in Buffalo ended. “I think I’m not really scared to drop the gloves or do anything like that. But I don’t think that’s something I’m really focusing on as a part of my game, but when the opportunity arises, I’m prepared.”
When the Bruins talk about Senyshyn rounding out his game, they have other things in mind. They want him to use his speed to become a proficient penalty killer, and they want him to be more responsible without the puck in all situations. He believes he’s taken all the coaching to heart.
“I think there’s always room for growth. I want to be able to have more offense and score a lot more,” Senyshyn said. “Again that’s a big part of my game but again there’s always room for growth on both sides of the puck and again use my speed to score in different areas and be able to explore to the corners and really take pucks to the net. That’s a strength of mine, but that’s something I want to work on as well.”
Providence coach Jay Leach saw Senyshyn pick up 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 66 games last season. The coach thinks that by adding other skills to his game, Senyshyn can pick up the pace of his development and become an option for Boston even when they’re not looking for a top-six forward to fill in.
“[To crack the lineup at this point] he’s going to have to be a utility guy, a depth guy really for the start at least,” Leach said. “I mean Brad Marchand did it his first year and it turned out to be OK. So for Zach I think he was never that way in junior, he always scored goals, he was on the rush. They didn’t use him as a killer, they didn’t use him as those things. We’re transitioning him or I think we’re just trying to complete him as a player so that when the opportunity does come in Boston, we could throw him in on the third or fourth line and he can give us energy minutes and he can be an effective killer for them.”
Of course, the Bruins didn’t draft Senyshyn to be a plugger or a fighter, they want him to show the offensive skills that produced back-to-back 65-point seasons in the OHL. He has to harness his speed and work on finishing so he can fulfill his promise. Two goals against a Capitals lineup with a handful of regulars should, at least, provide the boost of confidence he spoke about.
While the Bruins are being patient with Senyshyn, he admits he’s getting antsy to reward them for picking him where they did in that famous 2015 draft.
“I’m definitely impatient and I’m definitely itching. It’s definitely frustrating for me to be able to see all those guys and have such success, but again it’s my job to worry about what I’m doing on the ice and leave that up to the staff and leave that up to the coaches about when I’m ready to go,” he said. “Again I’m going to be itching and doing everything I can to get there, but again that decision’s not up to me.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.