It wasn’t a slam dunk that 19-year-old Bruins prospect Jakub Lauko was going to play in the QMJHL this past season.
In fact, Lauko admitted he had a lot of reservations when it was first discussed that the best move for the Czech winger would be to come over for North American junior hockey where he could begin to adjust away from the European game.
Lauko wanted to go right to the AHL in Providence after scoring a couple of goals early in his first NHL training camp before suffering an injury in a collision during camp practice with Noel Acciari. Clearly it was the right move for the teenager to head instead to junior hockey for his development, though, and that’s the way things played out for him in a year where he got better as things went along.
It still was tough as Lauko adjusted to a different language and culture over the course of the hockey season, but the top B’s forward prospect had zero regrets when it was all over with this summer.
Lauko didn’t skate at all in Bruins development camp a few weeks ago because his junior season had just wrapped up after Rouyn-Noranda made it all the way to the Memorial Cup, but the Bruins prospect says that his experience in Quebec ended up making him a better player. It also showed him to be a big game player as he led the way with his eight points (two goals, six assists) in the five games it took Rouyn-Noranda to hoist the Memorial Cup.
“I hated it for the first month,” said Lauko, who was playing through a lower body injury toward the end of his team’s postseason run. “But at the end of the season, you just look up and see that you won two trophies. It was the right choice after that. I think I changed a lot as a player. I improved my English, and I think I’m a different player after this season, different person. I’m just happy I made the choice.”
“It was a really big experience for me, through the regular season, playoffs and to the Cup. It was hell of a ride for us and I really enjoyed it. Just happy to have two trophies over my head after.”
He was always pretty good to begin as evidenced by his standout performance at last summer’s development camp, and in last fall’s Bruins rookie training camp as well. The 6-foot-1, 172-pounder has speed, tenacity and goal-scoring ability as evidenced by his 21 goals and 41 points in 43 games for the Huskies during the regular season. Then he poured on six more goals and 13 points in 19 games during the Memorial Cup playoffs and showed off the skill that got him drafted.
Now Lauko heads into his second NHL training camp one year bigger, stronger and more mature in his hockey game. Will he finally get his wish to be in either Boston or Providence this fall where he’s already shown some of the hard-nosed and skilled traits he’ll need to eventually stick at the NHL level?
"I think he came in last year and had a good training camp, he did a real good job of coming over to North America and adjusting a little bit. It was a little bit of a challenge early on. Tough going into Northern Quebec learning English and French at the same time to a degree,” said Bruins Player Development Coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner. “It was tough living-wise for him early on, but his game continued to grow and he played his best hockey at the end of the year. That's what we were hoping for. We will see when September and October comes with him."
Certainly the Bruins could use another top-6 or top-9 winger after they never replaced the departing Marcus Johansson, but it has to be considered a longshot for Lauko with more finished prospect products like Anders Bjork, Peter Cehlarik and Zach Senyshyn in the running for any vacant forward spots.
Whether it’s next season or a couple of years down the road, however, it’s beginning to feel like Lauko is going to be in Boston sooner rather than later. And he will make an impact with his two-way game when he finally does arrive after the Bruins selected him in the third round (77thoverall) in last summer’s NHL Draft.
“It’s hard to say (where I will play this season),” said Lauko, who signed his entry-level deal with the Bruins at the tail end of training camp last fall. “I will go into the year and just try to find a spot in Boston. You never know what’s going to happen. I will just stay positive and whatever happens is going to happen.
"I will just arrive here humble and prepared. I will try to fight for a spot here. If it will not go well, just keep working and try to fight for a spot during the season and next seasons.”
Lauko certainly has the right attitude and he’s got the goods as far as his game goes on the ice. Everybody will just have to wait a few months to see if the 19-year-old has matured enough to the point where he could use those electric skills and tenacity to challenge for a B’s roster spot at a precocious young age.
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