BOSTON – Certainly there are a couple of forward spots that still need cementing for the Boston Bruins, and a few new players that the coaching staff wants to get a feel for during training camp.
Quite honestly, though, with a returning group of veteran players coming off a Stanley Cup Final run, there isn’t a ton to be answered in the preseason. So it becomes a showcase for the young players that may be ready a season or two from now, and that was what Jakub Lauko once again used an exhibition game for in Boston’s 4-3 win over the Flyers at TD Garden on Monday night.
The 19-year-old wunderkind only played 9:06 of ice time in the home preseason opener, but he once again flashed a breathtaking array of skills in a game-breaking play just as he did in flashes during last fall’s training camp.
This time around, it was a first-period play where Lauko flipped a pass to himself off the boards on a left-wing rush, sped past stumbling Philly D-man Mark Friedman and then sniped a bad angle shot under the bar for the game’s first goal. He finished with a couple of hits and just the single shot on net in his night’s work, but he left no doubt that the former third round pick continues to be on a trajectory that will lead him to Boston someday soon.
Jack Studnicka might be Boston’s top prospect given his size, strength, production and offensive pedigree, but Lauko sure ain’t far behind.
“That’s what he does. When he’s on his game, he’s moving his feet, he’s chipping and chasing, and he’s a tough guy to stop. He’s got a nice shot and can make some plays. He’s still learning the ropes away from the puck, when to… breakout situations, defensive zone situations,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think that’s perfectly normal at nineteen, that’ll be the challenge for him, to take care of the details. He’ll always be fast, he’ll always want to score, always be competitive and get under people’s skin.
“But for him, it’s learning how to play every night, maybe when the puck isn’t falling into those things that a lot of those young guys go through. So, it’s nice to have a guy like that. I don’t know where he’s going to end up right now, to be honest, as a 19-year-old where he’ll play exactly this year. But he’s certainly done a nice job for us in his time here.”
That’s a cold dose of reality for the Bruins fans that thought Lauko would whisk into training camp this fall, bowl over the coaching staff with his obvious skills and then emerge as a top-6 wing answer for Boston’s needs on the second line. Instead, he’s got work to do away from the puck as so many talented youngsters do just a year after being draft, and probably a couple of years away from being a candidate for a regular NHL gig.
Guys like Brett Ritchie, Karson Kuhlman, David Backes, Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen will be slugging it out for the winger spots on the second and third line with Oskar Steen as a guy that might be a young, dark horse candidate.
Clearly, Lauko has some work to do as evidenced by the way his ice time was modestly ladled out on Monday night.
Now is the question of where he’ll be doing his development work this upcoming season. Lauko could return to the Rouyn-Noranda junior hockey team where he scored 27 goals and 54 points in 63 games during the regular season and Memorial Cup run. Lauko really came on during the postseason where he finished with six goals and 13 points in 19 playoff games, but the 6-foot-1, 172-pound winger also clearly still has some work to do before he’s a finished NHL product.
Lauko could go to the AHL this season as a teenager as well based on his European hockey background, and that would allow the Bruins to tap into his exciting skillset if his development proceeds rapidly this season. Still, it’s a tough league for a kid like Lauko that wants to play in the edge and injuries could deter his development trajectory if things get a little too nasty at the American Hockey League level.
Regardless of where he goes, Lauko is still enjoying himself and clearly making a name for himself as a future player in Black and Gold.
“I think [Lauko] certainly has the ability to dazzle, it’s just for him it’s the everyday challenges of playing in the league and probably our roster,” said Cassidy. “He’s behind certain guys that are established NHLers right now.”
Other top prospects like Urho Vaakanainen struggled a little bit on Monday night with a shrinking number of opportunities to impress this preseason, but Lauko continues to shine in brilliant flashes like Monday night’s highlight-reel goal.
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