BRIGHTON, Mass – There’s no denying that pressure is starting to mount for Bruins prospects Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Zboril.
Two of the NHL-record three consecutive draft picks taken in the middle of the 2015 first round, Senyshyn and Zboril both have extreme outside shots at winning an NHL roster spot when training camp closes in October. Both are again taking part in the B’s rookie training camp that got going at Warrior Ice Arena on Thursday morning, but they’re also slowly evolving from prospects into whatever they’re going to be at the pro level.
- MORE BRUINS - B's not expecting the same rookie wave this season
After watching fellow first-round brother-in-arms, Jake DeBrusk, make a splash with the Bruins last season, and witnessing fellow 2015 first-rounders like Brock Boeser, Travis Konecny, Mitch Marner, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Ivan Provorov, Zack Werenski, Mat Barzal and Kyle Connor establish themselves the past three seasons, it’s got to feel to them like it’s “go time” for Senyshyn and Zboril.
Fair or unfair, too much more time spent marinating in the AHL is going to have people begin to whisper that both first-rounders are trending toward the bust category. Clearly, they’re not there yet with just one season of AHL experience each under their belts, but you also get the sense there’s an anxiousness among them to get to the NHL proving ground.
“Obviously I’m chomping at the bit, and I want to get to the NHL and I want to help this team,” said Senyshyn. “Seeing the young talent that we have in the locker room is unbelievable. But I try not to think about that too much, and try not to focus on [getting an NHL shot]. I just focus on myself and what I can do to help the team win.
“This is my fourth camp now and [the coaches] have instilled in me to try and be the best player that I can be. When I’m ready they’re going to be put me in, so I’m just trying to show everything that I can right now.”
Both had solid introductory seasons in pro hockey. Senyshyn finished with 12 goals and 26 points in 66 games for the P-Bruins after back-to-back 40-goal seasons in junior hockey, but clearly didn’t dominate offensively in the way one might expect given his skating wheels and his 6-foot-3 frame. Senyshyn admitted that there is still plenty for him to learn after one AHL season and a lot of it is about playing to his strengths and getting a little stouter in the scoring areas.
“I definitely want to be more aware defensively and be more defensively responsible, and to use my speed not just for offense but for defense as well,” said Senyshyn. “[It was about] learning new ways to score and news to create offense. I’m a big kid and I like to use my size and physicality now, and it’s a year where I learned I can’t be one-dimensional. I had a lot of video sessions with coach [Trent] Whitfield and that was awesome. I’m really looking forward to this year.”
- MORE HAGGERTY - Tavares chase was a fun ride for most, but not Krejci
Zboril has a lot of the necessary talent to be an NHL defenseman and should be a top-four guy if he can realize the potential that his skating, shooting, physicality and hockey smarts have provided for him. Zboril, 21, had four goals and 19 points in 68 games for the P-Bruins and admitted he learned a lot about simply being a pro hockey player last season. For a talented guy that perhaps wasn’t always lauded for his overall work ethic in the past, Zboril took on a lot of good work habits both on and off the ice.
“I just learned a lot about taking care of my body, being better in my nutrition and being a better pro as I would say,” said Zboril. “Just being earlier for meetings, being earlier on the ice and how I act on the ice. [It’s not] being a guy that goes on the ice and goofs around, but instead being a guy that goes out there and puts in some work to get ready for the games.”
The pressing problem for both prospects is that they’re beginning to recede in the overall Black and Gold landscape of young players.
At a time when Zboril should be knocking down the NHL door, the Bruins went out and signed left shot D-man John Moore to a five-year contract and now have eight legit NHL D-men signed to contracts entering camp. That means it’s going to be virtually impossible for Zboril to make the tea, out of camp, and would only have a legit shot at NHL playing time this season if injuries or a big trade comes down.
Even if both prospects still have ample time to carve out a career in Boston, it also becomes a perception problem given where they were selected.
After watching Barzal take the NHL by storm with his 22 goals and 85 points in 82 games en route the Calder Trophy last season, Senyshyn and Zboril will always be judged as the players Boston selected right before the electric Barzal, who was scooped up by Islanders GM Garth Snow with the very next pick in the middle of the first round.
DeBrusk has already proven his worth and certainly belongs in that draft class based on the way he played as a rookie last season, and that pick has turned out to be a prudent, productive one for Don Sweeney and the Bruins.
Still, no matter how many prospects the Bruins churn out and how fertile their draft-and-development plan continues to be, the 2015 draft is going to be viewed as a pretty big bust if Senyshyn and/or Zboril don’t find a way to bust through in Boston sooner rather than later. That may be a difficult weight to bear for a couple of 21-year-olds learning the pro game, but that’s what it is until they start showing what they can do in the NHL as have so many of their first-round peers.