Mat Barzal

NHL clock beginning to tick on B's 2015 first-rounders Senyshyn and Zboril

NHL clock beginning to tick on B's 2015 first-rounders Senyshyn and Zboril

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.  

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.”

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.   

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Morning Skate: Poignant pregame moment in Florida from Luongo

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Morning Skate: Poignant pregame moment in Florida from Luongo

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while the Olympic Men’s Hockey tournament has been turned upside down.

*Good on Roberto Luongo for this moving, powerful speech about the Parkland, Florida tragedy ahead of last night’s Florida Panthers game.

*Former Bruins goaltending farmhand Michael Hutchinson is looking for a change of scenery from the Winnipeg Jets.

*The tide seems to be turning when it comes to whether or not Erik Karlsson will be traded, and perhaps it will happen sooner than people think as the Senators are in a tough, tough spot.

*Interesting piece about the confidence and the work that has gone into Mathew Barzal being an NHL success story as a rookie.

*For something completely different: Quincy Jones is sorry, everybody, after his daughters had an “intervention” with him.

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Morning Skate: Donato's stock rising with each Olympic victory

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AP Photo

Morning Skate: Donato's stock rising with each Olympic victory

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while Team USA continues its uphill journey toward an Olympic medal.

*Ryan Donato potted a couple more goals in a decisive win for Team USA over Slovakia in elimination play and has been one of the top American hockey players at the PyeongChang Winter Games in South Korea. Donato showed a little bit of everything in the performance with a sniper shot off a loose puck, another goal off the rush and he played through a nasty hit up high that appeared to bloody his nose. It’s no exaggeration at this point to say that Team USA goes as Donato goes after he’s secured two-goal performances in each of their victories.

Even better, Donato did it after a surprise visit from his old man, former Bruins player and current Harvard coach Ted Donato, after it was up in the air whether he’d be able to get away to South Korea to watch his son play. From a Bruins perspective, it’s all good things watching Donato score and lead the Americans on a large, global stage while his prospect profile grows with each play that he makes. It’s clear he’s going to sign with the Bruins and go pro shortly after the Olympics, with the only question being whether it makes a quick detour back to Harvard to finish up his college season prior to signing with the Black and Gold.

What’s less clear is the immediate future for Donato, 21. He continues to show high hockey IQ and a scorer’s toughness that’s allowed him to basically be a goal-per-game performer for the Crimson this season. Those will serve him well in the pros. But it would be unrealistic to think that Donato can jump right in and play for the Bruins at this late point in the season. It’s far more likely that he instead spends some development time in Providence after finally inking his entry-level deal.

The Bruins may have to burn off the first year of the entry-level deal when they sign Donato as has become customary with many of the college prospects, but it would be in his best interest to gain experience in Providence rather than sitting and watching as Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson did last season. That experience has done him little good as he’s spent this season in Providence working up to being ready for his shot in the NHL.

What Donato could do for this year’s Bruins team is something else, however. His mere presence as a prospect about to join the pro ranks would allow the Bruins to part with one of their young players on the wing in a deadline deal trade. Anders Bjork would be the NHL-ready prospect most likely to move if the B’s had to give up one of their best and brightest in a big deadline move.

Bjork has speed and skill in large amounts and showed it in flashes when he was in Boston earlier this season, but the Bruins are dealing with a massive surplus of skilled wingers and left-shot defensemen in their prospect ranks right now. You can’t play them all in the NHL and Donato’s presence could and should allow Don Sweeney to deal one of them away ahead of Monday afternoon’s deadline.   

*Petr Mrazek is officially now in the playoff chase and also the newest goalie hope in Philly after getting traded to the Flyers from the Red Wings.

*Mat Barzal has overcome any bitterness about his previous experiences in pro hockey to become a Calder Trophy favorite with the Islanders.

*Interesting look at a typical practice with the struggling Montreal Canadiens from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Arpon Basu, who sees meaning in the mundane daily ritual.

*Larry Brooks seems to be dreaming of a lottery pick for the New York Rangers, who have not had one at the very top in a long, long time.

*Women’s Olympic Hockey will be expanding from eight to 10 teams for the next Winter Games, which is great news.

*For something completely different: Kurt Cobain would have been 51 today. Wow, that makes me feel wicked old.


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