Bruins would welcome another Winter Classic

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Bruins would welcome another Winter Classic

WILMINGTON, Mass. It would be a Herculean chore to find a member of the Bruins willing to utter anything negative about their experience playing the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park two years ago.

The Bruins won itin overtime, the packed Fens went home joyful and jubilant after Marco Sturm won it with one of his handful of dramatic goals in Bs history and thenational hypeput Bostons love for hockey in the national spotlight 17 months before the Stanley Cup parade drew 1 million people strong in June.

So theres certainly enthusiasm about participating in another Winter Classic when Boston is concerned."It was a really neat and very cool experience," said Andrew Ference. "Playing in it every once in a while it would be awesome. The city gets super excited and I've really thought it's an event for the fans at the end of the day. We get excited to play in it, it looks awesome on TV and the coverage is really cool. But it's reallyabout putting on a show for the fans that love hockey."There is alsoprecedent withseveral US teams taking part in multiple classic appearances within the first handful ofyears inits existence. If its good enough for the Penguins and Flyers getting multiple chances to play in the NHLs January showpiece event, then why cant it also be true for the Black and Gold?

The massive TV ratings achieved by the Bruins both locally and nationally could be the kind of lure NBC is always looking for during the Winter Classic events. They're alsoa natural choice after captivating the hockey world on their runto the Cup last spring.

TheClassicwas a great experience. All of the stuff we went through with the preparation and the day before, and then the day of the game. It was a great experience for our entire hockey club, said Bruins coach Claude Julien, who also looked the picture of an old school hockey coach in his winter classic fedora. Obviously there are certain teams that have had two opportunities at it: Philadelphia has it this year and Pittsburgh played in their second classic opportunity as well. Maybe well get another crack at it?

Whispers circulating around next years Winter Classic have Detroit and Washington DC as the two most likely settings for the January event.In both instances the Bruins could make an excellent road opponent for the Wings or the Capitals. The Bs and Red Wings showed what kind of entertaining Original Six draw they could be while facing off in the Thanksgiving Showdown in November. It was the Caps and Bruins that were supposed to be the original combatants at the Fenway game three seasons ago before the Flyers horned in to face the B's.

The eventual game against the Flyers on Yawkey Way ended up serving asthe high water mark for B's goaltenderTim Thomas while battling through hip problems that ultimately forced him to give way to Tuukka Rask in the playoffs three seasons ago. So the 37-year-old gets a warm feeling in his heart when the conversation turns to the Classic.

For me personally the Winter Classic was the probably the highlight of that season, said Thomas, who had some loftier highlights last yearwhile winning the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup in one fell swoop. That and going to the Olympics really saved that year for me. It was a lot of fun playing in the outdoor venue. As an American playing in a baseball stadium it possibly meant more to me than it would have meant to a Canadian or a Finnish guy. "As an American you have thosedual dreams growing up of not only being a hockey player but also a baseball player too. It was cool and being a history buff playing in a historical ballpark like Fenway Park was also great. I didnt expect to get another chance to play in a Winter Classic, but well see if we do.

Thomas saidhed gladly take part in another Winter Classic after assuming the Fenway game would be his only crack, and a chance to play in his home state of Michigan against the Wings would be the cherry on top of the Winter Classic sundae.

It's the kind of thing he never dreamed off while growing up in Flint, Michigan and then watching Tigers games at Tiger Stadium back during the 1984 season Sparky Anderson's crewcaptured the World Series. It would obviously be something a little extra special for the Flint, Michigan nativeto face the Wings.

Comerica Park would be different for me. I went and watched plenty of games at the old Tigers Stadium and the only year I lived in Detroit the Tigers won the World Series in 1984, said Thomas. It would be cooler if it had been in the old Tigers Stadium, but Comerica Park would be great too.

Of course everybody knows something special seems to happenwhen Thomas gets inspired by the hockey environment around him. Come to think of it that might just be another selling point for the Black and Gold in an outdoor Original Six showdown next season.

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold. 

Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

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Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

CHICAGO – Well, the Bruins are certainly opening themselves up for a little second-guessing.

The B’s were trying to move their first-round pick, but ultimately made the selection in Finnish D-man Urho Vaakenainen, who is described by scouts as a classic stay-at-home defenseman type without much offensive upside.

MORE - Report: Bruins among several teams interested in Wild's Scandella

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Vaakenainen had a goal in six games for Team Finland at a disappointing World Junior tournament, and didn’t post anything eye-catching while playing for JYP of SM-Liiga where he appeared in 41 games, tallying two goals and four assists along with a plus/minus rating of plus-five. He spent the 2015-16 season with Blues of SM-Liiga, scoring a goal and five assists in 25 games.

Some scouting reports cast him as strictly a stay-at-home D-man with limited offensive skills while other scouting reports give him a little more credit for his two-way game and smooth puck-moving abilities without any big holes in his game.

“Has an uncanny ability to get his stick in shooting and passing lanes. Just don’t expect offense,” said Sportsnet anchor and prospect aficionado Jeff Marek leading up to the draft in one of his mock drafts. “He won’t be out there late in a game to tie it up, but you’ll love him out there protecting a lead.”

Vaakenainen said he was surprised to be taken by the Bruins given that he had just one conversation with them at the NHL Scouting Combine, and hadn’t really talked to any Bruins scouts throughout the hockey season. On the plus side, Vaakenainen said he models his game after Nashville defenseman Roman Josi and prides himself on his skating, his passing and shooting and his ability to play the two-way game.

“I think I’m a great skater…good with the puck,” said Vaakenainen. “I have a great first pass. I’m a complete package and a two-way defenseman, steady guy. My expectation was to go in the first round. I wasn’t expecting to go Boston, but the first round was my expectation. I met them at the combine, but that was it. That was the only meeting in person.”

Clearly, it remains to be seen how a young, raw prospect like Vaakenainen develops over time and there were plenty of mock drafts and scouting services that him getting selected in the first round. Still, once in a while it wouldn’t kill the Bruins to go with a player holding larger upside like Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen or dynamic, undersized winger Kailer Yamamoto.