While the Ottawa Senators took it on the chin, losing a 4-0 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a preseason tilt, Wednesday, was a day Zack Ostapchuk will never forget.
The Senators 2021 39th overall selection signed his entry-level contract with the club prior to suiting up in his first game that same evening.
Despite the loss, the 18-year old felt great about the entire experience.
“Obviously, it’s a really cool experience for me – really eye-opening – get to see what the pace is like. I know it’s not a regular season game, but I mean there were a couple of vets in the lineup for them and us,” said Ostapchuk postgame.
If the youngster was nervous, he certainly didn’t show it. “No, I think it made me more excited, honestly. I think, just kind of being an official part of the team in a way. I think that was really cool for me.”
Mainly skating line with left-wing Parker Kelly and Kole Sherwood on his right, the centre earned 10:56 of ice time, and was credited with one hit, one shot attempt, was 0-for-4 on draws, while picking up two minor penalties.
Ostapchuk was happy with his performance but realizes he has a ways to go to make it at the professional level.
“I think it’s a mixture of the speed and strength in just the way they move the puck. Everything happens so quick. When you move on the d-men, everyone is so smart with their stick. They’re so strong. I’ve got to adjust to that,” the centre added.
Ranked by most scouting agencies to be drafted in the late second to third round, Ostapchuk turned heads during development and rookie camp, and hasn’t slowed down at main camp.
Senators head coach D.J. Smith told Full Press Hockey Saturday morning, Ostapchuk had been one of the camp’s early surprise players along with forwards Ridly Greig and Roby Jarventie.
“Another guy that’s been surprising at camp, is probably Ostapchuk. From this year’s Draft, it’s a heck of a pick it looks like. It’s early, but from watching him out there, his pace, his work ethic, his size, his ability to cut to the middle of the ice and make plays – it looks like we got ourselves a good player,” noted Smith.
General manager Pierre Dorion was equally proud of the six-foot-three, 205-pound Ostaphuk.
In a team release Wednesday, the Senators GM commented, “Zack has had an exceptional camp and we are excited about watching his development this season. He possesses the necessary tools in terms of size, skill and skating ability that we feel are key attributes in today’s NHL. Zack’s strong hockey sense and work ethic will serve him well as he trends towards becoming a full-time pro. Credit to Trent Mann and his amateur scouting staff who identified a prospect we feel is well on his way to helping the future of the organization.”
— Sens Communications (@Media_Sens) September 29, 2021
Fresh off a shortened season in which he recorded 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 22 games, Ostapchuk was named the Western League’s Vancouver Giants Most Improved Player in 2021.
Ostapchuk explained to Full Press Hockey how he earned this recognition.
“It was a Covid year. I had a lot of time to spend in gyms. So I think I got a lot stronger. And I got a lot more confident in my game. I filled in my size a little bit. I got that extra step. Basically, I turned into a little of bit of a man there.”
One thing is for certain, Ostpachuk isn’t lacking confidence and has his eye on cracking the Senators’ roster down the road.
“I think I’ve played really well. I’m really happy with my training camp so far. I think I came out here with a goal to go as far as I could, and I’m really proud of myself. I think I’ve worked hard and played well.”