Bruins

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. 

Tuukka Rask back with Bruins after 'making things right' with family

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Tuukka Rask back with Bruins after 'making things right' with family

BRIGHTON -- Tuukka Rask didn’t get into details about his leave of absence over the weekend other than to say it involved “making things right” in his family life, but says he's ready to get going in his role as goalie for the Boston Bruins.

Rask participated in a full practice with the B’s -- who sent rookie Daniel Vladar back to Providence -- ahead of their West Coast road swing, and said he’s excited to jump back into action.

Rask gave quick “yes” answers when asked if his family was okay, and if he believed the personal matter was resolved at this point. That’s all good news for both the player, Rask, and the team, and the goaltender was appreciative of the time the B’s allowed him over a three-day period to address his off-the-ice life.

“First and foremost I want to thank all the people that sent me messages, that contacted me and that supported me," he said. "Second I’d like to thank the Boston Bruins for giving me some time off to be with my family. I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this family with the Boston Bruins. We talk about it a lot that it’s a family and we take care of each other when times are tough.

“That being said, I have a job and my job is to be a hockey goalie for the Boston Bruins. I also have another job title and that’s a family man. This was a time that deep inside my heart I felt like I needed to take this time with my family and make things right so I could be back here and focus on my job. That took three days. I’m back here. I’m back to work and I’m ready to battle with these guys. At the end of the day I realized that the hockey career is a very short career, and your life afterward is a lot longer after that. I got the privacy and time I needed, and now I’m ready to move on.”

The Bruins goalie was confident that the issues were resolved to the point where they wouldn't be a potential distraction again. Rask also said he wouldn’t use the personal matter as an excuse for his performance this season, but he has absolutely looked distracted to this point in the season with 3.05 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage while losing playing time to the red-hot Jaroslav Halak.

“It doesn’t matter. It hasn’t affected my job,” said Rask, who said he never considered stepping away from the Bruins permanently or needing a change of scenery. “I’m not going to make excuses that I played good games or bad games because of my personal life. This was just a time where I needed to take some time for my family’s future and I’m glad that I did.”

Now Rask and the Bruins will move after things came to a head last weekend, and Halak will start on Wednesday night against a high-powered Colorado Avalanche group that boasts a super top line of its own. Bruce Cassidy indicated that Rask will get in there at some point on the road trip, but it won’t be at the sacrifice of playing Halak while he remains in the brick-wall mode that he’s been in for pretty much the entire season so far.

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Bruins trade rumors, contract talk and more in this week's Hagg Bag

Bruins trade rumors, contract talk and more in this week's Hagg Bag

The Bruins showed the best and worst of themselves over a four day period as they lost to Vancouver while giving up eight goals, and then swept the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights in a couple of back-to-back weekend games with Tuukka Rask on a leave of absence. Just another day in the life of the Black and Gold, so with that in mind let’s crack open the Hagg Bag mailbag. As always these are real tweets from real fans sent to my twitter account using the #HaggBag mailbag, real messages sent to NBCS Facebook fan page and emails sent to my JHaggerty@nbcuni.com email account. Now on to the bag:

Haggs,

No one expected the Bruins to get as far as they did last year. They squeaked past Toronto and were no match for Tampa. The playoffs showed they pretty much sank and swam by the production of the first line. Tampa stayed the same and Toronto upgraded big time and with the start of the season it’s pretty much the same thing thing with points coming from first line. I feel if they don’t make a move to help with the scoring they might not even make the playoffs, let alone go far in them no matter who is in net. If they don’t make a move and start to drop do you see them unloading any of the veterans? 
Thanks,

Chris

JH: Your analysis is pretty spot on, Chris. The Bruins biggest addition in the offseason was most definitely Jaroslav Halak as we’re seeing right now with him second in the NHL in goals against average and save percentage more than a month into the season. But they were too top heavy in the postseason last year and they didn’t make any significant outside improvements to change that while relying on kids like Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork to step up and fill the void. Instead they’ve been filling it with Joakim Nordstrom on the second line, which will do for right now but isn’t going to be a permanent top-6 solution on David Krejci’s line.

The good news is that it looks like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson may be ready to handle the third line center duties. At least it looks good after a couple of games, and it’s brought the best out of both Bjork and Heinen too. But that leaves the Bruins one top-6 forward short of a team that could do some damage in the playoffs, and leaves them with a need to make a deal at some point soon. It remains to be seen how they’re going to accomplish that, but they were in a similar spot last season and landed Rick Nash at the trade deadline. They were good enough to get 112 points, good enough to advance a round in the playoffs and would have been a deeper forward group if Nash had lived up to expectations. I think this is a playoff team as currently constituted right now mostly because that top line will allow them to beat most of the mediocre-to-bad teams out there. But they’ll need another established goal-scorer, and preferably somebody with some size and nasty to their game, if they’re going to be a real threat this season. They’re not there yet and Don Sweeney has some work to do.

All that being said, I don’t see the Bruins becoming sellers this season. No way they do that with the current talent level on the team, and no way they should based on where they are in the Atlantic Division pecking order. We’re talking about a team that’s 10-5-2 in their first 17 games and has the assets to make a deal to improve the team. All things considered, they’re not in a bad spot at all.   

Hey Haggs, 

Just wondering what you think about Charlie McAvoy seemingly always being hurt.  I love him as a player and think he has a great future ahead of him, but could this possibly affect how much he’ll make on his next contract.  Hopefully the Bruins can get him at a reasonable number this summer.  He’s a great player, but he’s not worth the 7-7.5 million I’ve been hearing so far.  He will be sooner or later, but I just don’t think he’s there yet.  I’m also wondering if Sweeney is regretting not bringing a veteran forward in over the summer to help the second line.  I wanted them to go after Skinner.  What do they do now that they sent Donato back to Providence?  It’s kinda earlier to start trading, but I’m not opposed to that at all.

Nick

JH: It’s too early to put any labels on McAvoy given his talent level and his youthful age. He was going to need a monster season to haul in that kind of a second contract, and it doesn’t appear that it’s going that way at this point. So perhaps a little bit of a silver lining to the McAvoy injuries is that it will cut down on his price tag coming out of his entry level contract, but that’s little reassurance to the Bruins. They want McAvoy on the ice where he can help them, and it looks like he’s headed in that direction now that he’s back on the ice again.

The Bruins are going to be okay for the time being riding the top line and plugging somebody into the David Krejci line. It’s a temporary fix, though, and it clearly paves the way for Sweeney to need to make an in-season deal for a top-6 winger. It is early to start trading, but we’ve also seen plenty of Anaheim and LA Kings execs/scouts at Bruins games over the last few weeks to think it’s completely dead. The Bruins are talking to other teams and know they could use more scoring punch and some more size up front, and perhaps can make a deal to address both of those before the burden becomes too heavy on Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

Hi Joe!

First, all Bruins fans should hope Tuukka will be fine as a person after his requested leave from team. 
Second, hopefully he comes back stronger as the ‘elite’ goalie that he has been......again, on his time.  We forget these guys are under the ‘spotlight’ and have other daily matters to deal with same as fans. Hockey players are the least attention grabbing of all other major sports athletes including college and amateur levels and yet, are the most professional and generous with their time!
Kanpai (cheers) to Tuukka and the Bruins!


Ron Saitama, Japan

JH: Well said, Ron. All you can hope for is that Tuukka Rask comes back stronger, more centered and all-around better after getting some time to deal with his personal affairs. I may take issue with his consistency on the ice and how much he’s being paid based on the performance, but I’ve always liked Rask off the ice. He’s funny, he’s pretty honest about things and he’s an interesting guy that has a lot of interests outside of hockey.

Joe,

Will the Bruins trade for a center or a winger?

--Michael Boldiga (via NBCSN Facebook fan page)

JH: Yes. I think they will. If I had to guess, I think they’ll eventually trade for a winger. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to give up assets for a third line center when they have both JFK and Trent Frederic in the minors as players that will be ready sooner rather than later. You look at Joakim Nordstrom’s spot on the second line as the place where the Bruins badly need to upgrade, and give Krejci another weapon on his line now that it looks like Jake DeBrusk is starting to get going.

I have faith in Heinen and DeBrusk to chip in more and more as the season continues. Not sold on Bjork or JFK. Need more sample size. But at least Backes has been moved. Next step is to buy him out.

--Matias Halluchuck (@mhall3333)

JH: Interesting to see the Bruins scratch Noel Acciari for the last few games, and install Backes on the fourth line where he’s actually been pretty good with Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly. It’s tough to see a player taking up a $6 million cap space on the fourth line, but it would be eased a bit if Backes could chip in some offense to that line and make some things happen by causing some havoc in front of the net. Do I see them buying out Backes and paying a portion of his contract for the next handful of years? No, I don’t see them doing that. But it’s also just simple reality that the number of concussions that Backes has suffered could begin to take their toll as he becomes a bit more of a slow-moving target on the ice at 34 years old. The Bruins made the right call moving him off the center position after trying him out on the third line, and now they need to let him find his game with a little consistency in both his linemates and his role. 

That’s all for the Bag this week. See you next week. 

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