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Senyshyn Putting His Skills -- & Character -- on Display in 2nd Season with Greyhounds

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BostonBruins.comZach Senyshyn definitely had something to prove entering this season.

But not necessarily to his coaches, or his teammates, or the fans — in Boston or in Sault Ste. Marie — and certainly not to the media.

“I had a lot to prove to myself, I think,” Senyshyn said. “I think there was a lot of talk around the summer, and the draft and everything, but I wanted to really come into this season and focus on myself and my development and continuing that — but also proving to myself that I had what it takes and really working this season and becoming a Boston Bruins player.”

Following a rookie season in which he established himself as one of the Greyhounds’ biggest offensive threats, the Bruins selected Senyshyn with the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, right behind Jakub Zboril (13th) and Jake DeBrusk (14th). But Senyshyn's stat line from last season doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. One year ago, he was a first-year player on a stacked team led by stars such as Darnell Nurse, Jared McCann and more. He spent the majority of his ice time in the bottom six, but still managed to put up 45 points with 26 goals and 19 assists in 66 games.

This year, however, is a different story.

This year, Senyshyn is official NHL property, a former first-rounder. This year, McCann is a Canuck and Nurse is an Oiler, less than one year removed from finishing their junior careers in the Soo.

Now, Senyshyn is the player primarily responsible for filling their shoes. Make no mistake: He is game for the challenge.

“It’s been a really fun experience, being able to take the reins on the offense, and being able to get a lot more opportunity this season,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, but I kind of expect a lot more out of myself and really hope to take the next step in this next half of the season and really be able to dominate in this league.”

Of course, there have been challenges. Senyshyn is known for his wheels and his natural ability to put the puck in the net, but he is still working on rounding out the defensive aspect of his game.

When it comes to stacking up against the top forwards in the OHL, however, he is definitely pulling his weight.

“It’s a lot more of a competition, and a lot more of a challenge for me on the ice,” he said, “but again, I think with my style of play, I’ve got to be a guy that is able to score goals in any situation and really be able to give my team a chance to win.”

Senyshyn certainly gave his team that chance last week, when he tallied two hat tricks in the span of four days — he scored four goals against the Sudbury Wolves on Dec. 2, then added three more against the Oshawa Generals on Dec. 5.

But true to Bruins form, he wouldn’t take much praise for it, instead deflecting the credit to the teammates who created opportunities for him. Then, Senyshyn talked about all of the chances he had to do the exact same thing — put up crazy offensive numbers — and wasn’t able to close the deal. He talked about how he is capable of doing much more than he has shown, about how he expects much more from himself, particularly as one of the players wearing an A on his sweater.

“I’m expecting a lot more out of myself this year, and kind of stepping into being a leader, on and off the ice — learning from guys like Darnell Nurse last year, and the way they took the reins and the leadership with the team, and trying to follow in their footsteps and be able to lead on and off the ice,” he said. “Whether that’s putting pucks in the net or playing good D, that’s kind of what I’m looking to do this year.”

But of course, it is only natural to derive a little extra confidence, a little extra pep in his step, from a seven-goal performance over two games. In the OHL, that isn’t easy.

In any league, that isn’t easy.

“It’s a little bit of a confidence booster, for sure,” Senyshyn admitted. “It really helps [in taking] that next step, and just gives you the confidence that you’ll be able to have those big games again and know that they’re going to go in, eventually.”

Even at the age of 18, Senyshyn has proven that he tends to thrive when the stakes are highest. He proved it last year — his draft year — when he had to establish himself, his worth, on a stacked team. He proved it coming out of the draft and into Boston’s development camp, when he came to the rink every day with a smile on his face, eager to prove that the Bruins had been correct in drafting him. He proved it at the rookie tournament, skating in the Bruins’ top six, and again during main camp, when he took the ice alongside the likes of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.

There is always pressure on every draft pick, and especially on every first-rounder — but there has been more pressure on Senyshyn than anyone, mostly due to circumstances outside of his control.

But that’s just it with him: If he can’t control it, he doesn’t worry about it. He can control his preparation, and his work ethic, and how hard he skates during any given shift. He focuses on those things.

He doesn’t pay much attention to what other people are saying about him, or writing about him, or thinking about him. That, he can’t control. So he shakes it off.

Plenty of NHL veterans have mastered the art of tuning out the noise. But not many 18-year-olds have, and that is perhaps what makes Senyshyn most impressive, more so than the wheels or the highlight-reel goals.

“It’s kind of a testament to the way I was raised by my parents,” Senyshyn said. “There was a lot of pressure going into that first development camp with the Bruins, and it was a lot of pressure at the main camp, and there was a definite adjustment period — kind of always having eyes on you and watching your every step — but I have to thank my parents for a lot of it and the way they’ve raised me.

“I think the biggest [reason] for my success, I guess, has to do with the character, the stuff I’ve had to go through in the past couple of seasons. I think it’s a lot to do with that, and how you look toward the next step, and being able to take on a lot and just focus on the little things.”

In the months since rookie camp ended, Senyshyn has reported to Sault Ste. Marie for the start of his sophomore season. He has turned 99 percent of his attention to the Greyhounds, and he speaks frequently with Bruins Development Coach Jamie Langenbrunner, who has guided him through his first few months as a B’s prospect.

He has focused on the areas in which he can improve in order to be successful at the next level, and that attention to detail has rewarded him, as the Bruins announced he had signed his entry-level deal on Nov. 2, calling it a “huge honor.”

“To be able to sign with the Boston Bruins — it meant everything to me,” he said.

But while the bulk of Senyshyn’s attention is focused on his own OHL progress, he has reserved some of it for the Bruins. He has followed his organization through the first two-plus months of the 2015-16 season, and not just sporadically.

“I try to follow it pretty closely,” he said. “I’ll watch whenever the Bruins are playing and I’m not on the ice. I’ll be watching the games and I’ll be keeping up with the stats and stuff.”

Senyshyn and Frank Vatrano both attended their first development camps with the Bruins this past summer. Now, Vatrano has been a member of the Boston Bruins for more than a month.

“I watched the game where he had two goals and the OT winner, which was pretty cool,” Senyshyn said. “Again, it’s pretty cool to know guys like that who have moved on, and they’ve kind of seen that process happen, which was pretty cool.”

Seeing it happen to Vatrano has driven home the point for Senyshyn: It can happen to him, too, and perhaps faster than he ever dreamed. But until then, there will be lots of work, and he knows that. He is prepared for that.

Every couple of days, he also makes sure his fellow 2015 first-rounders are prepared for it, too.

“I keep up a lot with DeBrusk and Zboril,” he said. “I like to text them and keep up with them, for sure — not even kind of what’s going on on the ice, but what’s going on off the ice as well, and just make sure that they’re doing all right. Again — with regards to all of the pressure that we’ve kind of gone through — it’s been huge to have them, and [be able to] talk through some of the stuff that we’ve been going through.”

Life has changed for Senyshyn over the last 12 months, but he has stayed the same. He is still the same kid, always smiling, always ready to work, always excited to be a hockey player.

Through tribulation and triumph, that will never change, no matter what transpires.

“It’s been kind of a whirlwind of a lot of different obstacles,” he said, “and I just try to put one foot ahead of the other.”

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