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. 

Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

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Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on Saturday night, which gave Boston four of a possible six points in its California road swing.
 
1) The kids stepped up at a great time for the Bruins. Boston needed some young players to step up and fill in for the injured veterans up front, and they got it on Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk was the main playmaker on both goals in the first period, and the Bruins got goals from rookies DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik and Danton Heinen. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL goal and the 10th point of the season for Heinen, who continues to show signs that he is going to be a productive, reliable winger  even though he didn’t start the season at the NHL level. DeBrusk finished with a goal and an assist and twice used his speed and aggressiveness taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances: On the first goal it was Cehlarik who finished the loose puck after DeBrusk’s net drive created a rebound, and on the second it was DeBrusk simply beating reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns to a race for the puck and then snapping it up and over San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell. Cehlarik became the sixth Bruins rookie to score the first goal of his NHL career with Boston this season, and it all shows tangible results of the youth movement they were fully embracing this season. There will be peaks and valleys with so many young players in the lineup, but Saturday night turned out to be one of those high-water marks.

2)  At their healthiest, the Bruins can be a fast-skating, skilled team that will be equal parts offense and defense in a hard-working style that features pace and creativity in the offensive zone. The Bruins aren't healthy right now, obviously, and aren’t going to find success that way as attested by the fact that they hadn’t won two games in a row this season until Saturday night in San Jose. With a number of players already out of the lineup, Torey Krug now injured as well and Tuukka Rask taking an extended rest in favor of a red-hot Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are actually playing a very different brand of hockey right now. With Rask not playing -- and not allowing the types of bad or soft goals he's given up so far this year -- they can play a little more conservatively and try to make a two- or three-goal output in a game actually stick as the game-winning margin. Just check the box score,  as the Bruins blocked a whopping 30 shots and conversely the Sharks blocked just 12. Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Robbie O’Gara all had blocked shots in the final few minutes, and Brandon Carlo stepped in front of a wide-open chance for Burns in the third period off a clean offensive zone faceoff win for the Sharks. Those are all gritty, tough plays in the D-zone that you don’t always see, and it perhaps comes a little more naturally when the Bruins are making the clear choice to feature their defense and goaltending right now. It may not be sustainable once Anton Khudobin inevitably cools off a little bit, but for now it’s pretty darn effective.


 
3)  After watching him stop 36 of 37 shots for the win on Saturday night, the Bruins need to see this thing through with Khudobin until he loses a game. Khudobin is 5-0-2 with this season, with a .949 save percentage in three appearances in November. He's playing the best he's played in the last couple of years. Right now Khudobin is actually leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage for the season, and that really contrasts to Rask's .897 save percentage. Certainly part of it is about the Bruins selling out defensively in front of him and blocking 30 shots in the win while knowing they didn’t have to play again until Wednesday night. But it’s also about the Bruins backup goaltender playing himself into a position where the B’s should ride him until he cools down a little bit, and give Rask some more time to figure out what is slowing him down between the pipes right now.
 
PLUS
-- DeBrusk made a couple of big plays in the first period that led to goals for the Bruins, and he finished with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net in 15:49 of ice time. He has a goal and three points in three games since being a healthy scratch last weekend against Toronto.
 
--Khudobin made 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were outshot 17-5 and it certainly seemed like they were going to get run out of the building. Instead Khudobin stood tall.
 
-- Heinen finished with two goals and three points on the three-game trip and iced the game for the Bruins with a backdoor strike in the third period after Kevan Miller had dashed up the right side of the ice to create the chance. Heinen is pushing up near the Bruins team leaders in some offensive categories and looks like he belongs in the NHL this season.
 
MINUS
-- Burns was burnt on each of the Bruins' two first-period goals, he actually missed the net with 12 of his 16 shot attempts, and he had seven giveaways in a pretty sloppy game managing the puck. Burns hasn’t had a great season to date, and Saturday night was a good example of things not going well for him this year.
 
-- Paul Postma finished with just eight minutes of ice time in the win, and was part of the poor defensive coverage on the Sharks goal by Joonas Donskoi in the first period that ended up getting overturned on video review. Postma didn’t show much else after that only playing a handful of minutes over the remainder of the game, and based on his early performance looks like he’s only going to be a seventh defensemen in Boston.
 
-- Here’s a hearty boo to the 10:30 pm West Coast starts on Saturday night that only the diehards, or those getting paid, are going to closely watch on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving. Congrats to you if you were one of the lucky ones that decided to stay up and watch a game that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. in the East.  

Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

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Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while battening down the hatches for Thanksgiving week.
 
-- When longtime Bruins follower Clark Booth opines about the Black and Gold, I tend to listen. And he's not happy with the Bruins' salary cap situation at this point in time. It should be noted that this was written before they won the last two games. But some of those truths still remain self-evident when it comes to the B’s.

-- Kevin Bieksa will never stop talking about former teammate Rick Rypien, or about the factors that ultimately led to his tragic passing.
 
-- Alex Ovechkin is truly living up to the “Russian Machine Never Breaks” mantra these days, which led to the creation of an entire blog about the Capitals.
 
-- This Saturday Night Live skit with Chance the Rapper playing a clueless hockey reporter was funny, even to people that have been covering the league for 20 years and still struggle to pronounce a name like Brady Skjei.
 
-- The good, the bad and the ugly courtesy of FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mitch Melnick from last night’s Montreal blowout loss to the Maple Leafs that probably could have just been called the ugly, the ugly and the ugly.
 
-- It’s 20 games into the season, and the Buffalo Sabres media are wondering what’s wrong with their team, and star Jack Eichel.
 
-- For something completely different: It sounds like some of the NFL rank-and-file players want to know why Roger Goodell deserves $50 million and a lifetime private plane.