Haggerty: Development camp continues to illustrate B's success

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Haggerty: Development camp continues to illustrate B's success

WILMINGTON, Mass. The members of the first Bruins Development Camp six years ago still walk down memory lane with the Boston front office about it from time to time.
Milan Lucic will still casually mention to Bs assistant general manager Don Sweeney just how tough that first development camp was prior to his solid rookie season with the Boston Bruins.
Clearly that first class of prospects including Lucic and David Krejci was a big success, but the Bruins continue looking for bigger, better, greater ways of doing things in the world of player development.
Weve tried to improve and tweak, and find areas on and off the ice that we can improve on, said Sweeney. Ive talked with Milan Lucic in the past a number of times about how hard the first one was. We didnt have any kind of blueprint to go off of, but our goal was to see how far we could push these kids to get them ready for training camp in September.
What weve found in some of these camps is that the kids emerge from them ready to compete, and have won jobs with the Bruins as a result of it. Thats the ultimate goal.
The Development Camp is the brainchild of Sweeney and has continuously done a remarkable job of getting wave after wave of young players ready for potential calls to the NHL level. Power skating, drills centered around effort and toughness near the net and off-ice bonding sessions have always been staples of the program, and the results are difficult to ignore.
Lucic, Krejci, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Jordan Caron, Vladimir Sobotka and Matt Hunwick have all developed into NHL players as Bs development camp alumni, and that speaks to both the commendable job drafting by the Bruins scouting department and noticeable improvements in the player development process.
Its an ever-evolving project for the Bs organization, but both the camp and its results speak to the rising stock Sweeney is enjoying while contributing to a Boston brain-trust that includes Peter Chiarelli, Jim Benning, Cam Neely and a group of trusted advisors and scouts.
It may not be this season or even two years from now, but its not difficult to see the Harvard-educated former Bruins defenseman running an NHL program as a general manager.
Nobody makes a team out here this week. Weve been very consistent in saying that, but the impression they make on us and hopefully we make on them is very important. Torey Krug is a good example of that, said Sweeney. He hadnt been at a camp, but we certainly followed and recruited him as a free agent. Thats a good example of how we set up the camp, keep it small in numbers and get to know these kids on a personal level.
Hopefully they get to know us as well, so they can get to know us, get comfortable with us and use us as resources. The questions that they may have should be answered.
Unfortunately Harvard prospect Alex Fallstrom is unable to participate in the on-ice drills due to an injury suffered late in the season while playing for the Crimson, but the other 22 Bs prospects were out on the ice showing the future is indeed bright in Boston while enjoying continuous success at the NHL level.
Dougie Hamilton looks, sounds and acts like a cornerstone NHL defenseman ready to learn at the feet of Bs captain Zdeno Chara, and capable of becoming the same kind of offensedefense hybrid producing 25 quality minutes per game.
Ryan Spooner might need some seasoning and strengthening at the AHL level, but his offensive skills, hands and playmaking were off the charts Thursday afternoon among the best and brightest Bs prospects.
Malcolm Subban was leaping and energetically flying from post-to-post while challenging shooters, and showing the kind of competitiveness and fire Boston is used to seeing between the pipes as six goalies compete throughout camp.
Alex Khokhlachev might have been the most promising forward of all as a 19-year-old Russian that will either be playing in the KHL or the NHL as a skilled scorer already ready to jump to the next level as a teenager.
That doesnt even mention Jared Knight, Matt Grzelcyk, Brian Ferlin, Torey Krug or Tommy Cross as Bs prospects that have stood out in the past, and are fully capable of developing into NHL players someday soon.
The development camp is perhaps one of the best examples the Bruins can put forth about all that they stand for as a hockey organization, and the tough-minded, proud mindset that is the Bruins Way the grinding, blue-collar, hard-edged philosophy that allowed them to win a Cup two seasons ago.
The hockey syllabus ranges from the way Bs players are expected to comport themselves on the ice, the dos and dont of Twitter as an NHL players, and everything in between.
The best part about this camp is that everybody in the organization pitches in, and pulls their own weight from the simplest things like getting lunch to guys running on-ice drills or John Whitesides running the off-ice stuff, said Sweeney. I love that aspect of the camp, and the kids take notice of that and they love it.
Im grateful the organization supports it and everybody chips in. Theres no one way to run it whether its with Matt Chmura preparing them for questions the media might throw at them, or the social media stuff which continues to be an important part of all our lives and has so many twists and turns to it that all these kids need to be exposed to and educated on.
Sweeney and the Bruins have come a long way from that first grueling week in July with a group of fresh-faced Bruins prospects that transformed into bearded Cup champions over the course of five years.
But one thing that will never change: the steady flow of hungry, young hockey players that show up in Wilmington every summer ready to make their mark on a Black and Gold organization ready to embrace them.
Theyre here again in July, and ready to be the next wave of Bruins stars like Lucic, Marchand, Krejci and Seguin before them.

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.