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Rookie Notebook: Excitement Growing with Main Camp on the Horizon

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — While the Bruins veterans continued informal practices at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington on Wednesday afternoon, the Bruins’ 24 rookies had a rather unique experience at TD Garden.

One day after returning from the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, they once again hit the ice for practice, but this time, they did it on the Bruins’ home ice.

It was a special experience for many of these players, most of whom have never skated in this arena. 2015 first-round pick Zach Senyshyn said that merely coming down the tunnel for the start of practice was a memorable moment in itself.

And with that, of course, the real fun begins.

Main camp kicks off on Thursday morning with team meetings and off-ice testing for the veterans. All 24 of Boston’s rookie camp participants will move on to main camp, Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed on Monday in Buffalo.

The rookie tournament itself was a test. But there is no rest for these prospects. It’s on to the next challenge for them.

“You know what, I want to show what I’m capable of doing,” Senyshyn said following Wednesday’s practice, “but I also kind of want to be a sponge and look at the top players in the National Hockey League — the kind of guys I’ve looked up to growing up — and try to soak up as much as possible, and take back what they show me, and bring it back to my team back in Sault St. Marie.”

Senyshyn, along with his fellow 2015 first-rounders Jake DeBrusk and Jakub Zboril, certainly have goals in mind heading into training camp. They are young, but they know they have a lot to prove to Boston’s coaches and management. They want to make a good impression now, even it is a while before they are able to impact the big club.

There are also plenty of players who leave the rookie tournament ready to show that they can impact the club now. Frankie Simonelli is among a handful of prospects who played professionally last season — in his case, with the Providence Bruins and with Boston’s ECHL affiliate in South Carolina — and now, the bar has been raised.

“I’m out to prove myself again,” Simonelli said. “Coming back into my second camp, I have some experience, and I’m looking to build on that, show them what I learned from last year. I’m looking to move forward and have an impact on this organization this year.”

In Buffalo, Simonelli brought something special to the rookie roster — namely, experience. He split time last year between Providence and South Carolina, accumulating 55 games and tallying a total of three goals and 15 assists. During the ECHL playoffs, he anchored South Carolina’s blueline, registering 10 points in 24 games.

During the Prospects Challenge, he was rewarded for that experience — and the leadership he is able to impart because of it — with the opportunity to wear an A for both games.

“I think it’s a really cool experience,” Simonelli said. “Anytime you get to wear a letter on your jersey, especially for an NHL club — even though it’s rookie camp — it’s a huge honor, and it’s cool just to be a part of that room and have the guys look up to you. It puts a lot extra on your shoulders.”

Now, Simonelli is ready for the next step. He is ready to get on the ice for main camp with the B’s veterans and learn alongside them, especially from the guys who have been in his shoes.

“It’s good to look at other guys who have worked their way up through Providence — Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, guys like that who have experienced playing in the American League recently and they’ve made their way from there into the NHL,” he said.

For some of the younger players, the opportunity to finally skate with some of their childhood idols is not lost on them.

Senyshyn lit up when talking about taking the ice with a certain former Ottawa Senator.

“I’m from Ottawa, so when [Zdeno Chara] was with the Senators — I watched him a ton when he was in Ottawa,” Senyshyn said. “[He was] kind of a player I always looked up to.”

Veteran Max Talbot remembers what it felt like to be in the rookies’ shoes about 13 years ago.

“It was different back then,” Talbot said. “I remember one of the first times I jumped on the ice, I was passing the puck, doing horseshoe with Mario Lemieux, which was pretty special. I remember all of the butterflies in my stomach, where it was very nervewracking, very exciting. You’ve got guys like Zdeno here, and [Patrice Bergeron] and [David Krejci] and [Tuukka Rask], the guys that the young guys kind of watch on TV. It’s definitely different when you come on the ice and you skate with them and try to make the team.

“So it’s exciting. These guys had a little bit of time to work in Buffalo, down there at the rookie tournament, and now it’s the big camp, and I’m sure they’re very excited.” 

Whether they’re first-year Bruins or fifth-year Bruins, though, the attitude is the same across the board heading into Day 1 of training camp.

2015 second-rounder Jeremy Lauzon summed it up best.

“I just want to work hard show the organization what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “So that’s it: I want to work hard and show them what I am able to do.”

A Successful Rookie Tournament

Even a couple of days after the Prospects Challenge had come to an end, the excitement was still running high in the rookie dressing room.

“It was a pretty special experience, for sure,” Senysyhn said. “First time playing in a real game against a lot of those big prospects in Buffalo and in New Jersey — a pretty special experience, for sure.”

There were certainly challenges. One of them was getting off to a strong start and sustaining the compete level for an entire 60 minutes. Another was contending with the pace of a professional game.

“It’s a real learning process,” Senyshyn said. “I think in the first game, I was pretty nervous and just kind of a learning process — learning from these older guys and being able to really develop over the next games and really get better each shift, and kind of look back at my experience and take what I did and try to improve on it.”

Most of these players were nervous, particularly in a Game 1 victory over New Jersey. It marked their first time wearing the Spoked-B in game action, and, for some of them, their first experience playing in a pro-level game.

But with every minute they played, the comfort level increased.

“I feel great,” Lauzon said on Wednesday. “I’m sure that I had a little bit nerves for beginning of the first game, but [the longer] the games go, I feel pretty [good].”

And with every minute they played, the prospects got a better idea of what will be expected of them at the next level.

“I think New Jersey and Buffalo both had a lot of good prospects on their team as well as us,” Simonelli said. “I think it was a good start for our guys to get our foot in the door and get a taste of what camp’s going to be like at a high pace.”

There are two places these rookies can go from here: They can remain in Boston’s system for the season, whether that’s with the big club, with Providence or with the Atlanta Gladiators, or they can return to their junior teams.

Regardless of where they end up, though, they will carry with them the lessons from the last week of camp.

“[I just want to] continue with my development,” Senyshyn said. “I’m a real young player, and I’m really excited about my potential, and if I can maximize my work ethic and kind of really take that to the next level, I think the sky’s the limit for me and I’m really excited.”

Wednesday’s Rookie Practice Lineup

Forwards: Noel Acciari, Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Austin Czarnik, Jake DeBrusk, Mitch Dempsey, Jesse Gabrielle, Colton Hargrove, Justin Hickman, Joonas Kemppainen, Jordan Maletta, Eric Neiley, Zach Senyshyn, Frank Vatrano

Defensemen: Linus Arnesson, Brandon Carlo, Max Everson, Max Iafrate, Jeremy Lauzon, Frankie Simonelli, Jakub Zboril

Goalies: Matt Ginn, Zane McIntyre, Dan Vladar

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