When the 2015-16 hockey season begins all eyes will be on Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Both household names across the hockey world, both dubbed generational talents, both set to begin their NHL careers in October. While McDavid and Eichel will most certainly provide entertaining story-lines to hockey fans for the next 20+ years there are a number of other NHL prospects suiting up in the OHL that are worth keeping an eye on. Some have serious breakout potential, some will face new challenges and increased responsibility, and some are in need of a bounce back season. Whatever the case it is my goal that by the time the puck drops on September 24th you have the information and insight you need to follow more than just your favourite CHL team.
2014/15Team: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Draft Status: Selected 15th Overall by the Boston Bruins
By the time Don Sweeney appeared on the draft floor in Sunrise FLA this June the hockey world was well aware that he wasn’t afraid to rock the boat by doing something unpopular or unconventional. Sweeney used the 15th pick to select Zachary Senyshyn of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The pick was widely regarded as “off the board” considering the players that were still available and the fact that many experts had Senyshyn slotted in the 2nd round, some even later.
I do think the Bruins grabbed Senyshyn a little early, especially considering they had three second round picks and they passed on Mathew Barzal and Travis Konecny (two of my favourites). The thing is I don’t actually hate this pick because I like Senyshyn’s potential; his speed and upside are both incredible. Plus, if the Bruins had reason to believe that Senyshyn would not be available at 37th overall (their next pick) then good on them for stepping up; it takes a certain level of bravado (something Sweeney apparently has in spades) to make big moves and go against the grain.
At first glance Senyshyn’s numbers are underwhelming; when compared to the players selected in the mid-first round he doesn’t seem to belong in such company. The Bruins selected Jake DeBrusk at 14th overall (right before Senyshyn) and the Islanders traded up to take Mathew Barzal at 16th overall (right after Senyshyn). DeBrusk netted 42 goals and 81 points to lead the Swift Current Broncos in scoring while Mathew Barzal tallied 57 points in 44 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds, good enough for second in team scoring, one point behind the team leader while playing in 23 fewer games due to injury. Compare that to Senyshyn who had 26 goals, 19 assists and 45 points in 66 games placing him 10th in team scoring. Seems more like a second rounder right, maybe a third? Especially for a player projected to be point producer.
Drafting is not an exact science and numbers don’t tell the whole story. The 2014-15 season was Senyshyn’s first in the OHL, during the 13/14 season, when guys like Barzal, DeBrusk and Travis Konecny were getting their feet wet in the CHL, Senyshyn suited up for the Smiths Falls Bears of the CCHL. There is undoubtedly an adjustment period for any player stepping into the OHL as a rookie, no matter their age, and Senyshyn spent the first part of the season adjusting to the CHL game. Senyshyn also broke into the league on a stacked Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds team and spent the year competing for ice time with the likes of top prospects: Sergei Tolchinsky (CAR – Undrafted), Jared McCann (VAN – ’14), Nick Ritchie (ANA – ’14), Justin Bailey (BUF – ’13), Michael Bunting (ARZ ’15), Blake Speers (NJ – ’15) and veteran leaders like Jean Dupuy, Bryan Moore and Gabe Guertler. Compare that to the role other 2015 first round prospects played on their respective teams often playing top line minutes and on the first power play unit, and the numbers make more sense.
What makes Senyshyn one to watch this season is his breakout potential. He owns blazing north-south speed and his top gear must be respected because he can beat defenders wide if given the room. Senyshyn also has an excellent shot, capable of beating goalies from multiple spots on the ice. He did score 26 times last season, no small feat, and when you consider his role on such a deep team, 26 goals is all that more impressive. Zachary Senyshyn will see an increased role on a very different Greyhounds team this season. He will see more primary scoring opportunities (PP, offensive zone starts, increased TOI) and having a years experience at the OHL level under his belt he should see a drastic jump in his point production. If/when this happens we might just look back at the 2015 draft and forget Senyshyn at 15 was a bit of a head scratcher.
Sarnia Sting at Soo Greyhounds game on September 26, 2014 at the Essar Centre in Sault Ste Marie. Courtesy Kenneth Armstrong / SooToday