One of the hallmarks of this early season for the Boston Bruins has been the struggles amongst a number of their forwards.
While the Perfection Line continues to pace things offensively and Nick Ritchie has been outstanding as a big-bodied option around the net, a number of other Bruins forwards continue to underwhelm and underachieve for the Black and Gold.
Jake DeBrusk has one goal on the season and has been a minus player while serving as a non-factor most nights. Anders Bjork similarly has one goal and is a minus player in 19 games this season while getting pushed out of the lineup recently.
Chris Wagner was a healthy scratch last weekend in New York while not giving the kind of energy that Boston needs out of him as a fourth line spark plug.
Even a normally steady player like fourth line center Sean Kuraly has struggled badly while posting a minus-7 over the last five games and coughed up the puck in the third period of Wednesday night’s loss that essentially cost the Bruins a point in a 2-1 shootout loss. At this point, there’s a few Bruins forwards that realistically could benefit from watching a few games upstairs from the press box.
Bruce Cassidy admitted following Thursday’s practice that Kuraly “has leaked oil” in his overall game right now, and that’s manifested itself in a fourth line that really hasn’t been consistently effective this season.
“Sean has been a major part of our penalty kill which has been good all year, and he’s been very good on face-offs from the left dot,” said Cassidy. “But away from that some other parts of his game have leaked oil at times. Last night he had some turnovers where I just don’t think he was skating.
“A player will call them bad decisions, but I think you make better decisions when your feet are moving. [On Wednesday night] he had some turnovers, on the penalty kill and one on the goal against, where I don’t think he was thinking about getting the motor running first and getting up ice. I think that’s where he needs to be better, get moving and get driving.”
Clearly it’s more than just Kuraly as Cassidy believes the entire Bruins team isn’t playing up to their usual pace.
The Boston Bruins bench boss has introduced rookie Jack Studnicka into the lineup and mixed in guys like Greg McKegg and Karson Kuhlman when he wants a different look or is looking to send a message to struggling players. Some of the current lineup struggles may even abate when Ondrej Kase returns at some point and the Bruins have the lineup they envisioned to start the season.
But that may be a while to come, if it happens at all, with a player in Kase that’s essentially been out for the whole season.
So why not promote Zach Senyshyn at this point and give the former first round picks a chance to perhaps spark things offensively?
The 23-year-old Senyshyn is off to his best start at Providence with four goals and seven points in nine games along with a plus-3 rating and is tied with Samuel Asselin for the team-lead in goals scored. The 2015 former first round pick is showing the speed and scoring ability that he featured so prominently during his junior hockey career and appears to finally be making the necessary adjustments to the pro game.
Even better, Senyshyn is a natural right wing rather than a player shoehorned in there like lefty-shooting DeBrusk and Bjork have been to this point this season. Part of Senyshyn’s improvement comes from focusing on his shot off the rush and turning that into a weapon to go along with his Chris Kreider-like straight-ahead speed and solid size.
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“I think he’s really worked on his shot. It was something he’s done in the summer and consistently he’s hitting it in practice coming off the wing with some speed,” said P-Bruins head coach Jay Leach. “That’s his game. He’s got straight-line speed and he’s really built the shot in his repertoire and he’s looking to use it.”
None of what happens now is ever going to change the fact that the Bruins passed over Mat Barzal, Kyle Conner, Travis Konecny and Brock Boeser among others to select Senyshyn 15th overall in a surprise reach of a first round pick. But it would be pretty cool to see the much-maligned pick begin to author his own NHL story rather than be stuck with the narrative that’s been foisted upon him after three very average AHL season to start his pro career.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was spotted in Marlboro watching the P-Bruins game against Bridgeport on Thursday, so he’s also getting a first-hand look at what guys like Senyshyn are doing this season for the farm club. It feels like a shakeup wouldn’t be the first worst thing in the world for a Boston Bruins forward group that’s a little too comfortable with their cemented roles right now.
Clearly nothing has been promised at the NHL level to Senyshyn, but he should be pushing for NHL consideration given everything at play.
“Typically, a call-up is in an injury or you’re unhappy with certain players, and the other day we called up Kuhlman from the taxi squad to make a change and to say it’s not an automatic you’re going to be in every night. For Zach he just needs to worry about playing his best hockey every night and it sounds like is,” said Cassidy of Senyshyn, who just had a five game point streak snapped in Providence. “I know he’s scoring there, which is great. Some guys have to learn to change their game because they don’t have as many chances to score. I think that’s something he’s worked very hard on.
“Every time he’s been used up here [at the NHL level] I think he’s played fine, but unfortunately he got hurt when he was up here. So, he didn’t get an extended look. That’s hockey, sometimes you get some breaks and sometimes you really need to keep working for it. I suspect at some point if he keeps playing that way then he’ll get a look. I can’t predict the future, so hopefully he continues to play well.”
Now, a Senyshyn promotion certainly doesn’t come without some asset risk.
If things didn’t work out, then the Bruins would risk losing him on waivers if they sent him back down to the AHL (or the taxi squad} again. But realistically how much of a risk is there to losing on waivers an underachieving 23-year-old former first round pick that didn’t play particularly well during an NHL call-up?
It’s a low-risk proposition worth it if Senyshyn could bring his new-found offense to Boston’s forward group.
It would seem Senyshyn is finally toughening up his overall game and responding to watching others pass by him on the Boston Bruins organizational depth chart over the years. That’s a very good thing even if it took a few years to happen, and perhaps a call-up would end some of the DeBrusk flybys on the fore-check that have become all-too familiar.
So why not reward the 23-year-old for a strong start to his AHL season and potentially shake up the mix amongst the forward group with a Bruins team that appears to have some dead wood in their lineup right now?