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P-Bruins Prospects Learning Pro Game Under Leach

Providence Bruins head coach goes in-depth in discussion on prospects

by Michael Tolvo @NHLBruins / BostonBruins.com

BostonBruins.com - Before the Providence Bruins defeated the Lehigh Phantoms 4-2 on January 4th, head coach Jay Leach sat down with BostonBruins.com for an in-depth discussion on the state of the team and various exciting prospects on the squad. For a closer look at the season thus far, click here. Below is a closer look at some prospects that were discussed:

Anders Bjork

After an illustrious career at the University of Notre Dame, the Bruins selected Anders Bjork in the 5th round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, which could turn into quite the steal if Bjork can overcome the injury bug.

"All-world talent for sure," said Leach. "His skating ability is off the charts as well as his stick handling and his plays with the puck. The thing that's frustrating probably for him and myself is just the injury bug. He can't seem to kick it. He got going really good. He had a really good start and then he had a little setback and he was out for a few games. Now he's out again…That's the only thing that's going to hold him back. He just needs to keep playing. As far as his performance while in the lineup, he's been great. He skates like no other. Can create offense…Injuries kind of got him."

Video: DET@BOS: Bjork beats Bernier on the rush

For the second consecutive season, Bjork suffered a shoulder injury that has forced him out of action for the remainder of the season. Leach lamented the injuries, noting that Bjork merely needs to gain experience.

"With Bjorkie, it was really just to play," said Leach on why Bjork was brought down to Providence. "He had a bit of a segmented year last year in Boston with the injuries. And obviously the start of the year in Boston but then didn't play as much. Especially as a younger player. our focus was just to get him out there playing some quality minutes. Both five on five, power play, even threw him on the kill a few times just to get him playing. He came down with a good attitude. Sometimes players come down and they're almost like, 'I need to play'. I think Anders was like that. The guys really do enjoy him. He's a good dude. He's an infectious personality. And he's interesting."

Zach Senyshyn

Drafted in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry draft, Senyshyn's development has progressed steadily each year.

"He's coming," said Leach. "He's young too. He's a 21-year-old now. Seny [Zach Senyshyn] just had to learn the game a bit. With his exceptional speed, in juniors he really didn't have to do a whole lot other than just get the puck wide and go to the net. At the professional level you have to learn how to do other things. You just do. I think he's just applied that."

When asked to compare the straight line speed of Senyshyn and Bjork, two known elite skaters, Leach had glowing things to say about each of them.

"Seny is probably faster," said Leach. "Seny now is probably faster. Seny is flying. Now he's just coming back…Up until he was injured, he was flying. He was really really flying. Bjorkie is probably right up there…Bjorkie is able to get to top speed within three or four strides. I don't know if there is a guy that can do that."

Video: BOS@WSH: Senyshyn nets own rebound to pad lead

Off the ice, Senyshyn has won over his teammates with his energy and work ethic.

"First and foremost, he's an awesome kid," said Leach. "His teammates really, really like him. He's really well liked in the room. Well respected, he works his tail off. He's by [P-Bruins assistant coach Trent Whitfield] Whiter's hip most days trying to pick up anything he possibly can. We had him last year in a little bit more of a third-line, penalty kill role - which he fully embraced.

"This year he's on the power play and he's getting more offensive touches. Kind of like Bjorkie with the injury, I was bummed because he was playing his best hockey right up until that point. Hopefully we can get him back playing a few games and he can get back to where he was."

In his first season in the AHL, Senyshyn scored 12 goals in 66 games. He has already reached that mark this season in 38 games.

"The first rounder, the name and all these other things," said Leach. "I think he was unfairly casted really as a 20-year-old kid who just needed to play some professional hockey before you can make a decision on someone like that, especially that young. The naysayers are going to be the naysayers.

"I always put my money on good people and there's no one better. I have not seen him slow down since he's been here. I've seen nothing but improvement and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get there. I'm hedging my bet on him, for me. I know there's 20 guys in the room that would probably do the same thing."

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson

The Swedish center often referred to simply as "JFK" is currently enjoying extended time in the NHL, but Jay Leach and the P-Bruins staff are quite familiar with him from his time in Providence. The 2015 2nd round pick played 58 games for the P-Bruins in 2017-18, scoring 15 goals and dishing out 17 assists. This season, Forsbacka Karlsson has staked his spot in the NHL, playing in 28 games for the big club thus far.

"As far as the opportunity has been given up there, he's really made the most of it," said Leach of JFK, who has three goals and six assists with the Bruins. "He really has. He's all around, up and down that lineup, both as a center and as a wing. Credit to Butchy [Bruce Cassidy] for trying to find a home for him and also to the kid for being as versatile as he's been. You could argue a couple games, I remember the game I think it was against Arizona where he sets up Heinz [Danton Heinen] on the back door there, they really had nothing going. That goal gets them going and all of a sudden, they score four in the second. Teams need that he's been able to do that a couple times."

Video: ARI@BOS: Heinen nets Forsbacka Karlsson's sweet feed

The 22-year-old played two seasons for David Quinn at Boston University, demonstrating impressive skill and a strong two-way game which he has carried over into the professional ranks.

"JFK is really a fascinating player with regards to this league [the AHL] and that league [the NHL]," said Leach. "He has high end talent. He has the ability to make high end plays. Which he's done up there. There aren't many players that can do that. There really aren't. That's what separates himself. Like a [Matt] Grzelcyk, the more skilled guys when they get up there and it's more of a controlled environment, they actually excel a little bit more than some of these other players do. We did see a difference between last year and this year with JFK. He was a lot more engaging with his teammates. It wasn't the shy 20-year-old as much as he was a little bit more mature. That was really nice to see and encouraging."

Trent Frederic

Trent Frederic, chosen in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, is another young player who has needed to adjust to the professional game.

"He came down and kind of like Seny and all these guys, you have to learn the game," said Leach. "Freddy [Trent Frederic] is such a big body, I think at the college level and under he didn't really have to do much. He just used that body a little bit and he has some hands and he can skate and he just made a play. You get to pro and everyone is a little bit bigger and can skate a little bit better and now he's not moving his feet as well and he's not getting those opportunities. So he's having to learn how to do that - use his body."

Leach and his staff have devised simple ways to help Frederic make the adjustment.

"We have a routine now," said Leach. "I throw him a puck and I come at him and he gets inside position and learns to move his feet. It's a brain thing. He just has to learn a new way to play just because as he goes up in the levels, he's just not going to be able to do that. That's where he's at."

Frederic struggled initially, and the injury bug struck once his play began to pick up.

"He had a little bit of a slow start and then he started to come pretty good," said Leach. "Then he got hurt. When he got hurt, it was a really tough time to come back because we were on the road. We didn't have any practice…He's trying to find his way, probably like the team really."

Video: BOS@CGY: Frederic goes five-hole to take the lead 

While there have been ups and downs to his season, Leach is excited to see what is to come for the 20-year-old center.

"He's got all the potential in the world," said Leach. "A really, really good kid. Wants to learn, likes being here around his buddies. I think we're excited for what he'll be because he's a big boy that can skate and make plays and is also willing to engage which is becoming more and more of a rarity."

Cameron Hughes

Frederic's teammate at Wisconsin, Cameron Hughes joined the Providence Bruins for 14 games at the end of the 2017-18 season. This year, Hughes has been one Leach's most versatile players.

"He's a utility man," said Leach. "[Karson] Kuhlman and himself are one of our top penalty killers and Hughesy [Cameron Hughes] has really been on the power play for most of the year too. I use him at wing, I use him at center, can make a play, he's smart defensively. He's actually not even that old, I think he's [22]."

Hughes ranks fourth on the P-Bruins in scoring with 10 goals, 15 assists and 25 points in 43 games. He is one of only two players to appear in every game for the P-Bruins (Anton Blidh).

"He's just going to have to continue to get stronger," Leach said of the 6-foot, 175-pound forward. "He's not as big as some of these other guys are. I think he'll find his way because he's just so intelligent. And he competes. He's a competitor. He gets inside people. It's pretty impressive."

Jeremy Lauzon

The 10th defenseman on the Bruins depth chart this season was Jeremy Lauzon. The 21-year-old started the year in Providence as one of the P-Bruins' top shutdown defenseman and a key special teamer.

On Oct. 25, Lauzon was called into action for the Bruins in the NHL. The 6-foot-3 defenseman proceeded to play in 15 NHL games, averaging 15:32 TOI per game, including a career high 24:52 against Dallas on Nov. 16. Lauzon has since returned to Providence and has dealt with the pressure of performing in the AHL again after finding success at the next level.

"It's always hard to come back," said Leach. "It's honestly something that we, the coaching staff, talk about a lot. Because it's happened a lot, frankly. The expectation by the player when he comes back, in my experience, is always, 'I've got to be really good here'. And that's always really tough because the fact is, this league is a real challenge. And it's a different league. It's a lot more of a scramble down here.

"I went back and I actually was watching a lot of the forechecks up there compared to the forechecks here. The forechecks down here are very aggressive. I would say they are more aggressive than up there. When a defenseman like Jeremy goes back on a puck up there, he probably is able to get the net and he can hang a guy on the net and he can make his first pass the guy and he's clean and he's done and 'I'm good'. Down here, there's probably a couple options and there is probably two guys coming at him. It's an adjustment period. I think there was an adjustment period."

Video: VGK@BOS: Lauzon pots first NHL goal

While Lauzon initially struggled with the transition, he has turned things around by keeping things simple.

"He's started to simplify a bit and embrace the fact that it is a real challenge down here," said Leach. "You're just left with less time and that clear number one option with the puck, it's not necessarily there a lot. You have to really find it. You have to learn timing and you have to learn all these things."

As for the young blueliner's development, Leach did notice a number of improvements in Lauzon's game after his time with the Bruins.

"I've noticed physically, his skating is a lot better from being up there," said Leach. "He's able to turn and get on pucks a lot quicker. That I've noticed. And I do find that his shot is a bit harder as well, with his passing, passing, shot, whatever it might be. He's probably used to - when you're up there, you are practicing and playing with faster, harder players. You have to adapt. It's just natural. Always when an NHL guy comes back down here, you can tell he has the NHL passes going. You can just tell. They're firing passes. It's hard. They make harder passes up there. Definitely you see that with him."

 Video: BOS@ARI: Halak gets help from Lauzon in final seconds

Connor Clifton

Entering this season, Connor Clifton was not expected to see NHL action. After enjoying a solid first season with the Providence Bruins upon departing Quinnipiac University, Clifton was looking to become a more consistent defender. Due to the barrage of injuries to the big club, the 23-year-old was called into action for the Bruins for nine games.

The New Jersey-native performed admirably, matching up with skilled NHL forwards on a nightly basis. Known for his skating and aggression, coaches often do what they can to reel in the young defender.

"Cliffy's infectious personality, thus his infectious energy, does tend to get him sometimes a little overzealous out there on the ice," said Leach. "That's just part of being a young player. Especially a player like that who is boiling over with that energy. When he came back [from his stint in the NHL], he wants to do everything. We've got him on the power play, we've got him here, it's just like a kid in the candy store type of a scenario.

"We have to do the right thing here and now that we're getting healthy we're able to, to get him in that situation of, 'Ok this is where you're going to be, an energy puck moving defender'. So we can kind of rein him in a little bit, relatively speaking."

At the start of the season, few may have projected Clifton as a future fulltime NHLer. However, his success earlier in the year has made that a possibility.

"I say to everybody, and I've watched, I clipped his game, his keeper game was Toronto," said Leach. "Cliffy played I think 24 minutes (24:36) against Toronto. [Bruins assistant coach} Kevin Dean texted me and said he was really good. If you can do it once, you can do it. It's up to him to learn how to compartmentalize all these other things that were out there and to rein it in and play like that consistently.

"And that's the hardest thing about being a regular in the NHL. Do I think he can do it? Yup. I do. Do I think it's going to be a challenge? It's going to be a challenge like everyone else. That's the hardest thing about playing in the best league in the world. Consistently being able to achieve that level."

Wiley Sherman

New England native Wiley Sherman was drafted back in 2013 (5th round, 150th overall) as an 18-year-old. Nearly five years later and after four seasons at Harvard, the 6-foot-6 defenseman has embarked on his first full season as a professional. With seven goals in 137 games for the Crimson, the hulking blueliner was not known for his offensive prowess. While he began the season outside the Providence Bruin's top 6 defenseman, a bevy of injuries to the big club forced Sherman into a big role.

Early on, Providence Bruins head coach Jay Leach saw a young player making the difficult adjustment to the pro game.

"I saw early on an apprehension," said Leach. "Some indecision in a lot of his play. Just because it's a new league and it's fast and all these different things. He's asked to do things that he probably hasn't had to do before, either physically or with the puck."

One significant area that Sherman focused on improving this past offseason has been his skating.

"Wiles [Wiley Sherman] is certainly working on that," said Leach. "He's working his tail off in the summer and you can tell the improvement. He worked on it from the beginning of the season till now and you can continue to see the progress there…It is really imperative that bigger guys who are supposed to defend and have good sticks and all those things, limit the amount of time and space that the opposing teams have. It's their biggest asset.

"Once I think Wiley got comfortable with the system and what we're asking him to do defensively, he was able to become more aggressive and thus become more effective."

Sherman has played in 31 games this season, even scoring a pair of goals.

"I think the last [few] games, he's learned to simplify his game," said Leach recently. "Become a bit more aggressive defending and really shown an ability to be a solid defensive defenseman for us for the 15 minutes he's given. It's been an improvement."

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