CIBC Canada-Russia Series: Senyshyn boosts stock for WJC

Taylor Raddysh scored twice to help Team OHL down Team Russia 5-2.

HAMILTON, Ont. — An annual fixture on the hockey calendar, the early-season tour of a Russian under-20 select team across the Canadian Hockey League is not quite a facsimile of the world junior championships.

Still, it serves a real purpose, namely an opportunity for Hockey Canada to evaluate talent available for the WJC. They will have a lot to consider after Game 4 of the series Monday night, when Team OHL beat Russia 5-2 at First Ontario Centre. The win levelled the series at two games apiece with the Russians heading to Chicoutimi and Baie-Comeau for the last leg of their trek.

No doubt a few players from Team OHL made strong cases for invitations to selection camp. You wouldn’t even have had to see the game to put a check mark beside Taylor Raddysh’s name. The scoresheet would have sufficed. The Erie Otters right-winger scored twice in less than a minute in the second period, first on a surgically finished penalty shot (albeit a dodgy call that could have been just a minor penalty) and then a smoked top-shelf one-timer from the edge of the circle right off a faceoff win by Mississauga’s Michael McLeod. It’s easy to see how he has racked up 18 goals in 19 games so far this season with the Otters.

In the third period, Raddysh ended up in a small melee when Hamilton’s Will Bitten was jumped by a couple of Russians, Bitten having just dealt out a quite mean but fairly clean hit. Hockey Canada officials usually frown on that sort of thing but recent struggles at the under-20s track back to a lack of finish, and you figure it was a bit of an outlier given that Raddysh had only 18 penalty minutes last season. Thus it’s a safe bet that Raddysh, a Tampa Bay second-rounder in June, will get be getting a call early next month.

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Raddysh might not have needed a strong performance Monday night to work his way in the U-20 mix, but Soo Greyhounds right-winger Zach Senyshyn probably did. The 15th overall pick by Boston in the 2015 draft, Senyshyn has had an inauspicious start to his 19-year-old season with five goals in 14 games. That’s a big drop from last year when he scored 45 goals in 66 games. The production is down but his strongest asset is constant: speed.

Denis Alexeev, likely the Russians’ best player in Monday night’s game, opened the scoring at 6:30 of the second period and the OHL looked pretty scattered—something that you might attribute to the fact the players were coming off weekend action with their league teams and didn’t even have a chance to get in a practice ahead of Game 4. But in a single shift eight minutes after Alexeev’s goal, Senyshyn changed the direction of the contest. He came down the wing in a one-on-one, seemingly a non-threatening situation, a straight lock-up. But Senyshyn was in dead flight and beat Russian blueliner Artem Chmykhov wide—he couldn’t even grab or hook Senyshyn, who cleanly deked netminder Anton Krasotkin. Senyshyn had a strong game, but that much-needed goal might have earned him an invitation to the U-20 camp.

Two 1998 birthdays, Senyshyn’s Soo teammate Boris Katchouk and Hamilton’s Bitten, rounded out the scoring for Team OHL in the third period. Raddysh drew an assist on Katchouk’s insurance goal and Bitten threw one into the empty net with seconds left. Said one NHL scout in attendance: “They’re undersized guys but I’d like to see both of them on the Canadian team. I don’t know how many 18-year-olds they’re going to want to carry, but every time they got the puck on their stick, they picked up the pace of the whole game.” Just guessing, but there’d probably only be room for one of them in camp or the Canadian lineup. Katchouk, another 2016 second-rounder of the Lightning, might be a bit of a stretch even though Bitten was selected later by Montreal.

For the first half of the contest the best player on the ice for the OHL was Owen Sound goalie Michael McNiven. The Russians could have easily run out to a three- or four-goal lead, but McNiven bailed out a leaky blueline for the home team. In fact if Hockey Canada were looking to stock the U-20 D-corps last night they might have come up dry. Said one NHL scout: “If that had just been a regular OHL team out there, looking at them, I’d say they were just average in the league at best.”

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