Boston Bruins

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. 

Haggerty: Bruins' young forwards answering challenge so far in camp

Haggerty: Bruins' young forwards answering challenge so far in camp

BOSTON – Brad Marchand hasn’t dressed for a preseason game yet for the Bruins this month, but the excitement level in the Nose Face Killah’s postgame tweet said it all for the Black and Gold.

The Bruins were hoping that their talented group of young forwards would step up for them in training camp this fall and so far, so good a couple of games into the preseason. Youngsters Ryan Fitzgerald, Danton Heinen and Austin Czarnik all scored second-period goals in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden on Tuesday night and joined with fellow prospect goal-scorers Anders Bjork and Jesse Gabrielle from the preseason opener Monday night in Quebec.  

Clearly, it’s going to need to continue with a couple of weeks still remaining in the preseason, but it looks like there is going to be some major competition for NHL jobs in this camp by a Bruins forward crop that’s ready to be harvested.

“I would like to have some very difficult decisions when training camp is over because players have pushed and played well. That is the hope," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Hopefully, you have a difficult time because guys have done what they’ve been asked. You’d hate for it to be the other way where you’re looking at the waiver wire. I think guys understand that there is an opportunity and they’ve really pushed hard so far. We are only two games in, a week in, but I like that these young guys [have stepped up]. Who is hard on the puck? Who is winning pucks? Who can keep their pace up? I think [the forward prospects] are all capable of making plays, the young skilled guys, you can probably list seven or eight that have talent and could make NHL plays. Maybe not consistently, I can’t say that after two weeks, but that’s what we are looking for. Who can play against the men, and compete and win the pucks?”

Given the lack of free-agent signings or game-changing trades for the Bruins this summer, the hope from the organization is that some of these aforementioned young forwards would be ready for an NHL graduation. It might not quite be time for early camp standouts like Gabrielle and Fitzgerald, but Bjork and DeBrusk have given plenty of reasons for optimism while placed into prominent spots in the top-six.

“They’re just pushing us as the veterans to be better and that’s what you want from the young guys. They keep us honest,” said David Krejci. “We knew they were going to come in in good shape, and so did we. It’s good, it’s a good mix...Some veterans and some young guys [with the] young guys playing well.”

On Monday night, Bjork was arguably the best player for the Bruins in their win over the Canadiens. He flashed the speed, skill and confidence that’s set him on track to potentially win the right wing job with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. DeBrusk didn’t get on the scoreboard with Krejci and David Pastrnak on Tuesday night vs. the Wings, but the 20-year-old did give a preview of what he could do at the left wing spot. DeBrusk won puck battles down low below the goal line to prolong possession in the offensive zone and he regularly crashed the front of the net doing the big-bodied dirty work while skill guys Krejci and Pastrnak danced around him.

Those are the exact kind of qualities that make DeBrusk a little bit of a throwback for a young player and perhaps give away his rich hockey background with a dad, Louie, who had a long NHL career with plenty of lessons to give his son.

“I thought he did a nice job around the net, the goal line. He was trying to attack the net, did a couple of times and made some plays. He’s another guy who is hard on pucks. His pace is better than it was last year [after] a year pro and being around it. It goes to the hard decision part,” said Cassidy. “He’s really pushing it and understanding [the competition]. I mean put yourself in his skates. You show up and you’re playing on the left side of [David] Krejci and Pasta [Pastrnak], I think you’d give it your all too, and I think you want that opportunity. Now, we’ve said we were planning on moving people around in camp [and giving] different looks. We put him there to start, and I think he’s fit in nicely.”

The best part is that it’s not just Bjork and DeBrusk, but other young forwards. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson looked solid on the PK and made a nice play to set up Heinen’s goal before getting tumbling into the boards in the second period. Heinen looks like a much more confident, explosive player this season with a year of pro hockey under his belt. Fitzgerald has been strong in camp thus far after making the jump from Boston College. Krejci even said postgame that he had some “Brad Marchand-like qualities” to his offensive game.

Czarnik had a penalty-shot goal, a couple of points and has enjoyed another energetic, productive camp after winning an NHL job with the Bruins last fall with the same kind of preseason performance.

Clearly, it needs to keep going for the young guys to win NHL jobs once camp breaks, and perhaps 32-year-old Teddy Purcell was feeling that pressure to keep up when he also scored late Tuesday night. But in a camp where the Bruins were hoping and planning on their young forwards blossoming into productive NHL players, the early returns are very good for the Black and Gold. 

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Krug, Forbacka Karlsson suffer upper body injuries vs. Red Wings

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Krug, Forbacka Karlsson suffer upper body injuries vs. Red Wings

BOSTON – The Bruins ended Tuesday night’s preseason home date with another feel-good victory over the Red Wings, but it may have come at a cost.

Both Torey Krug and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson were injured in the second period of the B’s 4-2 win over the Red Wings at TD Garden, and didn’t return to the game. Krug was hit in the face with a puck in the defensive zone during the second period, and quickly exited the ice with Bruins trainer Don DelNegro after the impact of the puck hitting his face initially took his feet out from under him.  

“[Krug] clearly didn’t finish the game, and took a shot up in the facial area,” said Bruce Cassidy of Krug, who had a couple of shots on net in 9:10 of ice time while largely playing with Charlie McAvoy in an offensive-minded pairing. “We’ll probably have an update tomorrow.”

Forbacka Karlsson took a hard tumble into the end boards in the game’s middle period, and never returned after serving up the primary assist on Danton Heinen’s goal earlier in that very same period. JFK tried to return to Tuesday night’s win over the Red Wings, according to Cassidy, but was kept out of the game with an upper body injury that has his status as questionable moving forward.

“He went into the boards late in the second. He’s day-to-day, upper body. I think wanted to – he did come back and try [to return to the game],” said Cassidy of JFK, who put up an assist and a plus-1 rating in 8:37 of ice time before leaving the game. “I don’t think it’s serious, but I can’t speculate. We’ll get another update tomorrow. It didn’t look good, but I don’t think it’s as bad as it looked. We’ll know more [about JFK] tomorrow.”

It certainly sounds like both Krug and JFK could miss a day or two of practice moving forward after the injury wear-and-tear of preseason action, but the hope is that the Black and Gold won’t be missing a couple of key performers for anything more than that.  

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