Prospect Faceoff: Zacha vs. Senyshyn, other 2015 picks compete, plus high profile AHL matchup

By David Hahn
Alexandre Carrier - Gatineau Olympiques; Samuel Montembeault - Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Photo: Gatineau Olympiques forward and Nashville Predators prospect Alexandre Carrier, and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada goaltender and Florida Panthers prospect Samuel Montembeault go head-to-head this weekend in a QMJHL matchup of NHL prospects (courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images and Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)



It doesn’t get much better in the NHL prospect world when two draft selections taken just nine picks apart other go one-on-one. That is exactly the situation in Sault Ste. Marie this weekend, where Pavel Zacha and the Sarnia Sting travel to Sault Ste. Marie to take on Zach Senyshyn and the Greyhounds.

Also featured this week is a former Greyhound currently enjoying a great start in the AHL, two other high-end 2015 draft picks, and two veterans who combine for over 225 games played in NCAA hockey.

Pavel Zacha (Sarnia) vs. Zach Senyshyn (Sault Ste. Marie) – OHL

In this week’s feature faceoff, two 2015 first round picks go head-to-head in a premier OHL matchup of potential franchise players. Pavel Zacha, the sixth-overall pick of the New Jersey Devils, will be with Sarnia for their first game in Sault Ste. Marie this weekend. They will be opposed by a surprising Boston Bruins pick in Zach Senyshyn, who went 15th overall.

Pavel Zacha’s return to Sarnia was a bit of a surprise, as the New Jersey Devils have a desperate need for offensive skill. However patient they may have been, Zacha is off to a nice start back in Sarnia alongside of Nikita Korostelev (TOR). The duo has been downright nasty at times, both with their imposing physical game and tremendous puck skills. Zacha, in particular, looks to have shaken off any issues leftover from last season to start with three goals and two assists in five games. His value is more than just on the scoresheet, however, as Zacha is counted on for defensive zone draws and to bring a veteran presence to a resilient and younger club.

The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds graduated a staggering amount of offensive talent this offseason, and for Zach Senyshyn, that is just fine with him. Stuck behind talents like Justin Bailey (BUF), Nick Ritchie (ANA), and Sergey Tolchinsky (CAR), Senyshyn quietly waited in the wings for an opportunity to play. His time has come, and Senyshyn hasn’t wasted any time getting after it. Through 10 games, Senyshyn leads they Greyhounds in scoring with six goals and three assists. The prolific offense of years past is long gone, but the team’s resolve through growing pains is admirable. Senyshyn is part of the new core of players up north, and his production must continue this weekend in order to stave off a hungry Sting squad.

Sergey Tolchinsky (Charlotte) vs. Andreas Athanasiou (Grand Rapids) – AHL

The Charlotte Checkers are off to a hot start, and are currently on top of the Central Division with a quality 3-1-0-0 record so far. Part of their success can be attributed to the influence of a few newcomers, most notably that of Sergey Tolchinsky. The super-talented Russian recently joined the organization after back-to-back 90-point seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. They certainly miss him, but the Greyhounds’ loss is the Checkers’ gain. Tolchinsky excels with the puck on his stick, and can make even the best of opponents look silly. He is currently tied for fourth in AHL rookie scoring with one goal and four assists.

If almost counted, Andreas Athanasiou would be playing for the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately for him, the numbers game caught up to him and Dylan Larkin’s play in the preseason forced the team to keep him instead. Athanasiou was electric during the preseason, and was among the NHL’s leading rookie scorers. He was assigned back to Grand Rapids, who started the season slow with a 0-4-0-0 record. Perhaps missing new Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill, the Griffins are missing their scoring punch, having assembled a roster with just two players who have more than one point through four games. Athanasiou certainly has the ability to light the lamp, and the Griffins need him to wake up from his early-season slumber in order to get in the win column.

Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current) vs. Giorgio Estephan (Lethbridge) – WHL

Taken just one slot ahead of the aforementioned Zach Senyshyn, Jake DeBrusk is off to a hot start of his own. DeBrusk, who was recently named to the WHL’s squad competing in the CHL Canada Russia Series, has scored four times and assisted on seven others through his first eight games with the Swift Current Broncos. While he is not known for his father’s pugilistic tendencies, DeBrusk’s power-forward game is full of grit and determination. His effort level both with and without the puck has been high so far, and is part of the reason why teammate Jon Martin is currently tied atop the WHL’s scoring charts.

Perhaps a bit of a surprise pick in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft, the Buffalo Sabres added Giorgio Estephan to the fold. Estephan notched 23 goals and 28 assists in 64 games last season, and showed glimpses of becoming a well-rounded talent. He doesn’t particularly do any one thing well, but has many facets of his game that are under-appreciated. Entering his third year in the WHL, Estephan is putting it together and playing more of a complete game so far in 2015-16. The former fourth overall pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft has two goals and 11 assists in eight games, which has him on pace to beat his career-high point totals.

Alexandre Carrier (Gatineau) vs. Samuel Montembeault (Blainville-Boisbriand) – QMJHL

Alexandre Carrier (NSH) is entering his fourth season of competition in the QMJHL, but the experienced and trustworthy defenseman may have his sights set on international competition. Carrier enjoyed a caree year in 2014-15 with the Gatineau Olympiques, finishing with 12 goals, 43 assists, and a +17 rating. He has been a consistent performer and has not missed a game due to injury throughout his QMJHL career. He has 11 points in 11 games so far this season, and has the poise and control that a player approaching his 200th league game should display. He is on Hockey Canada’s short-list to participate in the upcoming World Junior Championship, where Canada might be able to best utilize his puck-moving skillset.

When the Florida Panthers picked Samuel Montembeault 77th overall this year, it represented the highest pick the team had used on a goaltender since Jacob Markstrom went 31st overall in 2008. It is a rare show of faith by a team that prefers to land netminders in later rounds of the draft. The Panthers opted to take a fiercely competitive 6’3”, 180-pound Quebec native who posted a 2.59 goals-against mark with a .891 save-percentage in 52 games last season. The 2015-16 season has been a bit of a struggle for Montembeault, who is playing behind a much weaker Blainville-Boisbriand Armada team that saw well over 100-goals graduate. With that said, he has the ability to keep a game within reach for his team and is hoping to earn the timeshare in net ahead of the Armada’s third round rookie pick, Mark Grametbauer.

Tony Cameranesi (Minnesota-Duluth) vs. Mario Lucia (Notre Dame) – NCAA

If it feels like these two have been around forever now, you are right. Tony Cameranasi is embarking on his senior season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who have high aspirations this season with a veteran-laden lineup. As a fifth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Cameranesi is going to need to impress the new management group in Toronto if he hopes to earn a contract after finishing this season. Part of his success can be attributed to his intelligent puck-moving skills and tremendous vision. It has happened time and time again, a Cameranesi assist setup virtually out of nowhere to feed fellow Maple Leafs pick Dominic Toninato. Cameranesi already has three assists in his first three games, and is hoping to surpass his best point total of 34, which oddly enough occurred in his freshman season.

The University of Notre Dame has been blessed with some tremendous talents throughout in recent seasons, and one of the most consistent and beloved student-athletes in team history is still there doing it day in and day out. Mario Lucia, son of legendary NCAA coach Don Lucia, is finally entering his senior year in what feels like an eternity spent in the Compton Family Ice Arena. Lucia posted back-to-back 31-point seasons over the last two years and figures to be among the top scorers in all of collegiate hockey in 2015-16. The Minnesota Wild selected Lucia in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft, and will likely be patiently awaiting his graduation to add this polished, battle-tested winger to their prospect pool.

Prospect Faceoffs from 10/16-18

Auston Matthews (ZSC) vs. Jason Fuchs (HC Ambri-Piotta) – NLA

The Zurich Lions scored early and often in their 5-2 win over an outclassed HC Ambri-Piotta. Auston Matthews continued his torrid scoring pace by adding an assist on a power play goal by Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Fabrice Herzog. Former Guelph Storm forward Pius Suter scored twice for Zurich and added an assist for first star honors. On the other side of the equation, Jason Fuchs’ scoring woes continued, as he did not register a point for the ninth consecutive game.

Evgeny Svechnikov (Cape Breton) vs. Conor Garland (Moncton) – QMJHL

There was plenty of scoring in this weekend’s tilt between the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Moncton Wildcats, but neither Evgeny Svechnikov nor Conor Garland found the back of the net. The game finished 7-4 in favor of Moncton, who were paced by the Klima twins’ 5-point total combined effort. Dillon Boucher responded for Cape Breton with two goals and one assist. Overall, Svechnikov finished a disappointing -2 and took a costly boarding penalty late in the game. Garland picked up a lone assist midway through the second, but was otherwise quiet.

Joe Hicketts (Victoria) vs. Mathew Barzal (Seattle) – WHL

Mathew Barzal factored into three straight goals before the Victoria Royals responded with one of their own, and by that time, the game appeared to be decided. Barzal scored once and assisted on goals by Ryan Gropp (NYR) and Keegan Kolesar (CBJ), and was named as the first star of the game. Joe Hicketts setup a quality breakout play and was credited with an assist on Jared Dmytiw’s first goal of the year, but it wasn’t enough as Victoria fell by a final score of 4-2.

Dominik Masin (Peterborough) vs. Juho Lammikko (Kingston) – OHL

Dominik Masin continued right where he left off and finished +2, displaying his incredible defensive acumen and strong play away from the puck. Unfortunately for Peterborough, that wasn’t enough to pick up the victory as the team lost in a shootout by a final score of 4-3. Greg Betzold paced the Petes with one goal and one assist, and Conor McGlynn added two points of his own before scoring the game-winning shootout goal to end it. Juho Lammikko assisted on Roland McKeown’s (LAK) first goal of the season, but was otherwise quiet.

Jake Guentzel (Nebraska-Omaha) vs. Liam Coughlin (Vermont) – NCAA

The University of Nebraska-Omaha traveled over to Vermont for a pair of weekend contests and headed home with a pair of victories, 4-3 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday. Both games demonstrated a quick start by Nebraska-Omaha, who started off both games with a two-goal lead, putting Vermont on their heels. Jake Guentzel had himself a weekend, totaling five assists in the two-game series in a strong playmaking effort. Liam Coughlin took advantage of power play ice-time and picked up an assist in the first game, but finished -2 and was held without a point in the second.

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey