B’s sign Berglund to ELC

Berglund

The Boston Bruins have signed Swedish defenseman Victor Berglund to a three-year, two-way entry-level contract at an annual value of $818.3k in the NHL.

The news, which broke Monday evening on social media, means that the 7th round (195th overall) selection from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is in the fold after spending the last two seasons playing in Sweden’s second pro league (Allsvenskan) with MoDo. He had signed with Lulea for the 20-21 season, which would have been a step up in the SHL, his country’s top pro league, but the signing means he will bring his talents over to North America.

We recently ranked Berglund 6th among Boston defense prospects in our 2020 pre-draft rankings, and 3 Amigo Reed Duthie posted this excellent analysis of what he brings to the table.

Here are a few additional notes and observations on a player who was a virtual unknown when the B’s drafted him late in Chicago three years ago, but has taken positive strides in his development since as a player former Bruin and current team European amateur scout PJ Axelsson had a major hand in.

What this means: Boston is putting the depth pieces in place for the upcoming 2020-21 hockey season. Berglund should be given every opportunity to spend his first full year in North America with the Providence Bruins of the AHL. He’s coming from a lower level of play in Sweden, however, so it’s not a given that he’ll be an AHL regular- we could see that he might see some time between Providence and Boston’s ECHL affiliate Atlanta Gladiators.  However, with his pro experience to date and sublime wheels and solid puck-moving ability, our money is on him being with Providence. After all- he played 4 regular season games a year ago with the Baby B’s to close out the 2019 regular season and didn’t look at all out of place there as an 19-year-old.

Don’t be surprised if: Berglund plays NHL games sooner rather than later. We don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but one thing that plays in the 20-year-old’s favor is that he’s a right-shot D, and the B’s don’t have many of those in their system right now, with the majority being left-shot types. For some, playing either the left or right side isn’t an issue, but that is not always the case. If the B’s run into some injury problems with their righties, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Berglund get a recall to see what he can do. His rookie NA year might be a tad early, but we never say never.

Realistically speaking: If he makes the NHL at some point, it may be more as a role player. What’s interesting is that he fit a specific Boston archetype for what they like on the back end: outstanding mobility, puck skills and vision/IQ in spades. He’s not very big- an average-sized 6-foot in height (if that), but if we’ve learned anything from this club in the past three decades, the B’s aren’t afraid to give smallish blue liners an opportunity- just as long as they can skate and think it, and Berglund certainly fits the bill.

With Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk currently entrenched on the Boston roster, they are proof that the team isn’t averse to having more than one smaller defender on the club- it all comes down to whether the player can execute within the system and produce.

We think Berglund has a shot at doing that- someday, someway.

 

Boston Bruins Prospects Pre-Draft Rankings- 2020

Here is the list of signed (NHL contract) or drafted (unsigned) Bruins prospects (all players must be under age 25 to be considered for this list). Their 2019-20 teams are listed below.

We will post new prospect profiles of the 2020 NHL draft selections and a new prospect ranking after the event.

Players signed to AHL contracts are not included in this list.

Forward

  1.  Jack Studnicka, C Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  2.  John Beecher, C University of Michigan (NCAA)
  3.  Trent Frederic, C Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  4.   Zach Senyshyn, RW Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  5.  Karson Kuhlman, C/RW Boston (NHL)/Providence (AHL)
  6.  Jakub Lauko, LW Providence (AHL)
  7.  Curtis Hall, C Yale University (NCAA)
  8.  Quinn Olson, LW University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
  9.  Oskar Steen, C Providence (AHL)
  10.  Cameron Hughes, C Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  11.  Matias Mantykivi, C SaiPa (Finland)
  12.  Joona Koppanen, C/RW Providence (AHL)
  13.  Pavel Shen, C Providence (AHL)
  14.  Jack Becker, RW University of Michigan (NCAA)
  15.  Jake Schmaltz, LW Green Bay (USHL)

Defense

  1.  Jeremy Lauzon, LD Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  2.  Urho Vaakanainen, LD Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  3.  Jakub Zboril, LD Providence (AHL)
  4.  Jack Ahcan, LD St. Cloud State (NCAA)
  5.  Dustyn McFaul, LD Clarkson University (NCAA)
  6.  Victor Berglund, RD MoDo (Sweden Div 2)
  7.  Roman Bychkov, LD Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (MHL)
  8.  Nick Wolff, LD University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)

Goaltender

  1.  Jeremy Swayman, University of Maine (NCAA)
  2.  Dan Vladar, Providence (AHL)
  3.  Kyle Keyser, Atlanta (ECHL)/Providence (AHL)

Off the top of the head: Pavel Shen

Pavel Shen2

Pavel Shen, C  6-1/185

Previous team: Salavat Ufa (KHL)

Current team: Providence Bruins (AHL)  Signed through: 2022

Strengths: Left-shot center with good size is a fluid skater with rapid acceleration and good open-ice speed. He has the agility and balance to make quick cut-backs and is strong on his skates, able to drive through contact and win footraces to loose pucks. Handles the puck well and is a deft passer; able to maintain possession on the cycle or in traffic- protects the puck with a combination of quick hands and an above average frame. Quick release and gets his shot off quickly, often hiding his release point- catches goaltenders unaware…just needs to show more of a willingness to use it versus looking for the extra pass.

Weaknesses: If he was more instinctive and demonstrated better vision and creativity, Shen would be a more highly-regarded prospect. His production reflects limited upside in this regards- skates like he has blinders on and doesn’t always pick up on where the lanes are, costing himself time and space. Doesn’t seem to see the shooting lanes quickly enough, learning that the windows close much faster in the AHL. Needs to show more “want to,” especially in the greasy areas, where a lot of puck battles are won and lost, and isn’t often where he has to be in terms of puck support.

Overall analysis: Shen looks the part of an NHL center: he’s got the size, speed and hands to make plays, but had trouble earning the ice time and role as a rookie to be an impact player. Part of it is the aforementioned limitations he appears to have in terms of his natural hockey sense/on-ice vision, and part of it is certainly his age/lack of experience at the pro level, not to mention he was adjusting to the North American game and smaller ice surface.

Be that as it may, 20-21 will be an important year to see if Shen can take a big step in his development and put himself on a path to be an NHL player. He’s an intriguing seventh-round pick who was nowhere near the sum of some impressive parts when the Bruins drafted him with the 212th overall selection, and has shown that he has some big-time offensive ability in flashes. Having said that. he also demonstrated that he was not ready for prime time, bouncing between center and wing this past season and not seeing an abundance of ice time as a spare part in a limited role under head coach Jay Leach.

Projection: The B’s recently parted ways with winger Peter Cehlarik, who despite putting up decent numbers at the AHL level, could never really get his details and habits in order to hold down a spot with the NHL team. Shen is a similar kind of long shot prospect who has the tools to be a player at the highest level, but has a lot of work to do in terms of rounding out his game to be more of a complete 200-foot player. Of course, Cehlarik had significantly more pro experience when he came over to North America versus Shen, but some of the same hurdles that the Slovak (who recently signed in Switzerland with Lugano) faced await Shen in an organization that has a lot of journeyman-type forwards jockeying for position on the farm but not a lot of high-end talent to break the logjam.

You can’t really argue with a seventh-round pick struggling to establish himself at age 20 in his first year overseas away from home. This is why we’ll reserve judgment on Shen for now and see how much of a step forward he takes as a sophomore. There’s quite a bit to like, but realistically, it’s hard to project where he would fit on the NHL roster based on the limited sample size thus far.

We wouldn’t bet the farm on him materializing into an NHL regular, but he does bring an impressive enough skill set for one drafted so late to remain patient and see what comes next.

 

Joona Koppanen: Then & Now

The Bruins prospects series is nearing its end- since late March, we’ve done updates on the players in Boston’s system in several different formats. Here’s the latest with a 2016 fifth-round draft choice from Finland.- KL

Joona Koppanen then:

March 15, 2017

Koppanen is not ahead of the developmental curve- he didn’t put up the big numbers (23 goals, 54 points in 38 games) by playing for the Ilves Tampere (Tuukka Rask’s old club) senior team- he was playing against a lower level of competition. 18-year-olds with high-end NHL potential tend to make those top pro teams at a younger age. So, while not raining on Koppanen’s parade- he deserves for credit for more than doubling his production in the same league from a season ago, it’s an apples and oranges comparison if you’re looking to make the ubiquitous upside argument- he’s a fifth-round pick who won a gold medal in last April’s U18 world tourney as a clampdown/defensive center (no points in 7 games), but with his 6-5 size and hockey sense, could one day work his way into the NHL mix. Just don’t expect him to do it as a top-6 option…at least, that’s not how he projects today, and that’s even with the impressive point totals in the U-20 circuit. Follow the Finns on Twitter and check out the Koppanen piece- it’s a solid review of a player who is lost in the sauce a bit among the many prospects in the Boston organization at present.

May 16, 2017

Joona Koppanen, C, Ilves Tampere (Finland)- The Bruins signed the first of two fifth-round picks from the 2016 draft after the season ended. There had been talk that the gi-normous 6-foot-5 Finnish forward would come to the U.S. to play NCAA hockey, but in the end- he opted to play pro hockey for Ilves and the B’s made the commitment (it won’t count against the 50-contract limit unless he’s playing in the AHL).

He’s coming off a productive season with the Ilves junior (Under-20) squad and while he doesn’t have the high-end talent to project as much of a scorer at the AHL and NHL levels, you can’t teach his size and reach, and he’s pretty fluid for such a big man. There’s a shot for him to one day compete for a spot on Boston’s fourth line and perhaps work his way up from there.

He’s more of a defensive, clampdown kind of guy who isn’t a hitting machine, but uses his size effectively in the faceoff dot and in the corners/along the walls. The production this season was encouraging, but it did not come against top-level competition- we’ll know more about Koppanen’s offensive potential after a year in the SM-Liiga, which is a talent level much closer to the AHL than what he was going up against this year.

Joona Koppanen now:

Koppanen signed with the B’s in 2017 and played one year in Finland’s top pro league before committing to come over at age 20. After a tough rookie season in North America in 2018-19 (2 goals in 45 AHL games with Providence, 1 assist in 7 ECHL with Atlanta), Koppanen rebounded with a solid second year- 9 goals, 18 points in 43 AHL games.

Always more of a defensive center project player who has great size, and is a good skater for having such a big frame, Koppanen was a fifth-round pick not known for much in the way of skill/offensive potential at the higher levels. A smart, instinctive player, he bounced back this past season after struggling to make the adjustment from Finland the year before. He’s strong on faceoffs and uses his long reach effectively in his own end.

Outlook:

Not on the tip of most peoples’ tongues when it comes to discussing prospects in the Bruins organization, Koppanen is a stylistic fit given his size, strength, skating and smarts. There isn’t much to get excited about in terms of skills and production, but he showed more of a propensity this past season to getting pucks on net and playing a more assertive game in all three zones.

A reliable two-way center who uses his big frame and savvy to win faceoffs and provide solid depth and contributions at the AHL level, he looks like more of a journeyman/role player type at the NHL level if he gets there. He’s won an IIHF championship at the under-18 level in 2016, and plays a heavy game even if there isn’t much flash to it.

All in all, he’s a long shot to ever make much of an impact in a Boston uniform, but we could see some spot duty from him going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Amigos + 1 Podcast: The Beat Goes on With Bruins Network

ZZTop

We got the 3 Amigos together again, but full credit to Anthony Kwetkowski of Bruins Network who suggested a joint venture, so we’re proud to unveil our first edition of the 3 Amigos + 1 podcast…4 Amigos…whatever you feel comfortable calling it.

As for us, we’re calling it a good solid near 3 hours’ worth of talk about various subjects from what the NHL playoff format might look like, to Jack Studnicka, everyone’s most interesting B’s prospect and then we answered reader-submitted questions on a host of topics from more expansion draft stuff to Tuukka Rask extension to Torey Krug’s chances of re-signing to Ondrej Kase and what the lines might look like, plus more. It runs long, but it sure felt like about 40 minutes to us.

But don’t take our word for it- give it a listen here:

As always- thanks for listening and thanks to those who provided questions!

-KL, RD, DT & AK

Tomahawk

 

Studnicka named to 2020 AHL All-Rookie Team

IMG_1906

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

The AHL released its 2019-20 All-Rookie team this afternoon and to the surprise of no one, Providence Bruins center Jack Studnicka was the first Bruins prospect named to a top-rookie squad since Austin Czarnik and Frank Vatrano both made the 2016 version.

Studnicka’s numbers were solid- 23 goals, 49 points in 60 games to lead the Baby B’s, but his league-leading 7 shorthanded goals is eye-opening because it speaks to his potential to create offense in any situation.

The 53rd overall pick in 2017 has performed like a first-round selection since the B’s tabbed the former Oshawa Generals captain who finished his OHL career with the Niagara Ice Dogs.

For more on Studnicka, Eric Russo published a detailed article on Providence head coach Jay Leach, sharing the B’s bench boss’s observations on some of Boston’s top prospects playing on the farm. It’s worth a read if you haven’t seen it, and check it out here. Leach had this to say about Studnicka:

“Studdy, for all intents and purposes, had a terrific year. Twenty-year-old kid jumps right in, plays every real scenario. Down the stretch, I was really leaning on him and Cameron Hughes as the guys to seal some games out for us. His competitiveness, his speed, his hockey sense really shone through and was able to be very productive on both sides of the puck. I think he had a terrific year.”

While we’re not sure about the ‘Studdy’ thing (Studs has a much better ring to it), there is no denying that he’s been nails in his first full pro season and that the Bruins were aces in their scouting of him.  Full credit for them recognizing that he was trending up after a strong playoff and U18 performance and was undervalued after struggling to meet expectations early in the season. Sometimes, scouts will move on from a player if he disappoints early on, and if they don’t catch him at the right time when he peaks, could end up missing the boat.

Russo followed up with another piece on Studnicka’s season, interviewing the man of the hour here.

A few highlights:

“There’s not older and younger guys, it’s just more team atmosphere and everyone loved coming to the rink and loved playing together. I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that I really think we had something special down there, the way it was a team-first mentality. Everybody was happy with each other’s success. At the end of the day, we just wanted to win the hockey game.”- Studnicka

“I’m not as strong as a lot of the players in pro hockey,” said Studnicka, who named Patrice Bergeron, Charlie Coyle, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane as players he has tried to learn from. “We kind of keyed on ways to get around that in the offensive zone, whether that’s protecting the puck or holding onto the puck or taking space that you have to separate from your guy in the offensive zone.

“[The organization] just wanted to make sure that I was always approaching the game to play a 200-foot game and not cheating on offense, just making sure that I’m playing the right way and taking care of the defensive zone and the offense will come.”

It is our firm position that Studnicka is ready for the NHL full-time in 20-21 and in a few years, is going to end up being one of Boston’s more respected and productive players. That’s the prediction and we’re sticking to it.

We’ll have more on Studnicka and his selection in the next 3 Amigos + 1 podcast coming soon.

3 Amigos + BN Podcast coming soon

The 3 Amigos will ride again- it’s been nearly 2 months since our last podcast, so we figured we would get together and talk some hockey.

This time, we will be joined by Bruins Network’s Anthony Kwetkowski, so you will all get 4 for the price 1!

As we did before, we are interested in answering your questions, so if you have any for us, please submit those questions in the comments section of this post, or feel free to contact us via Twitter.

We plan to record in the next couple of days, so if you have a question you want us to answer, we’ll need those by Wednesday morning.

 

Cameron Hughes: Then & Now

Cameron Hughes, C Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)

Hughes then:

March 25, 2016

He stands only about 6-foot and has an extremely light frame that won’t fill out all that much as he matures, but Hughes is gritty and willing to stick his nose in. He’s not ultra speedy, but moves well laterally and brings shifty elusiveness, especially in traffic. Hughes only tallied five goals, and has been more of a passer/playmaker at every level, but his vision and creativity are impressive attributes.

May 5, 2016

Entering the 2014-15 season, Hughes was thought of as top-three round prospect after starring with Spruce Grove of the AJHL, but he was underdeveloped physically and playing for a poor team in the Wisconsin Badgers. Things improved for Hughes this past year (5 goals, 25 points in 32 games), though Wisconsin was still below .500, costing head coach Mike Eaves his position. The Edmonton native is an above average playmaker who sees the ice beautifully and sets the table well. Watch for him to take the offense up a notch as a junior, but he needs to keep adding weight to his skinny frame, and will likely be asked to shoot the puck more.

June 11, 2016

A highly creative and skilled playmaking pivot, Hughes impressed RLR staffers going back to the 2013-14 season when he was a standout in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. Unfortunately, Hughes had the double whammy in his draft year of playing on a poor Wisconsin Badgers team, coupled with being physically under-developed in going up against the bigger, stronger, older NCAA competition. Hughes had a better offensive season as a sophomore and showed some flashes of NHL-caliber ability (he could work his way up to second-line center one day, as crazy as that might sound today), but the consistent production wasn’t there for him. Under a new coach and perhaps being a year older and a better surrounding cast, watch Hughes to open up some eyes this coming year.

May 16, 2017

Hughes has always been more of a set-up man than finisher, but with his offensive potential, it makes sense to hold onto him, put him in Providence and see what happens next. Of course- with so many prospects in the pipeline and a 50-contract limit for Sweeney and cap/roster management-centric assistant GM John Ferguson Jr. to work against, it’s also possible that Hughes might not make the final cut.

The key thing here is that Hughes has taken positive steps every season since being drafted, and as long as he continues to produce and play well as one of Wisconsin’s veteran leaders, there’s the chance that even if the B’s have to make a tough decision regarding his future in Boston, they can still leverage him for a future asset(s) they can kick down the road. Or- Hughes will play so well this season that the team keeps him and moves another player(s) out to give the team enough of a buffer to sign him and keep him in the system.

It’s one of those things you file under: “a good problem to have.”

Cameron Hughes now:

The Wisconsin Badgers former captain signed his ELC with the Bruins at the conclusion of his senior season in 2018, and he’s had modest offensive success at the AHL level. His rookie season (28 points in 52 games) was better than this past year when his production fell off (16 in 44), but that was impacted by a concussion he suffered taking a big hit (from former Providence and Bruins D Tommy Cross)  that forced him out of the Providence lineup for a time. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 4, playing in one scoreless game with the Bruins against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A high-end playmaking/passing center, it’s hindsight now, but Wisconsin didn’t do him any favors by bringing him into the B1G 10 as a 17-year-old true freshman. He was physically underdeveloped, and it took him some time to get going- a year in the USHL would have likely served him much better, but it’s water under the bridge. Had Hughes gone to the ‘U’ there’s a good chance he would not have fallen into the sixth round, where the Bruins got a pretty good value pick after he was projected to be a top-3-round pick entering the 2014-15 season.

He still has the wheels, pure skill and brains to create offense. He’s a shade under 6-feet in height, and is still pretty light on the scales at about 170 pounds. His shifty, crafty style of play is noticeable on the ice, as he sees the ice well and is often able to elude checkers to find seams in defenses. Unfortunately, he’s also susceptible to taking big hits and this past season, it caught up to him.

Outlook: 

Hughes has the talent and IQ to be a solid depth forward at the NHL level, but isn’t likely ever going to develop into a top-2 line guy. Our biggest question with him has always been: is he a ‘tweener?

Hughes was not a prolific goal scorer even at the lower levels; not once in four years at Wisconsin did he ever produce double digit tallies (nor did he have a point-per-game season in Madison). Nevertheless, he’s always tallied some strikes that are jaw-dropping in nature, and so he has it in him to score a bit at the highest level, even if it’s not going to be a regular occurrence.

He moves his feet, skates with his head up and has some impressive net-drive moves to get to pucks and put them away. His best attributes are his vision, hands and work ethic. He was captain at Wisconsin and is a respected member of the teams he’s on.

At this stage of his development, he’s got an opportunity to make more of an impact at the AHL level as he continues to gain pro hockey experience. If he can use his positive attributes to play an effective three-zone game, he could make a push to establish himself on the lower lines in Boston at some point.

Realistically, it’s a pretty crowded field, and the impression we’re left with is that he might be more of a journeyman player who will need a change of scenery to set himself up best to be an every day NHLer. For a sixth-round pick, he’s done well, but we’d be surprised if he beats out other centers in Boston’s system (including his Wisconsin and current Providence teammate Trent Frederic) to carve out a niche in the Black and Gold.

 

Here’s a replay of his greatest NCAA goal, scored against Boston College in the fall of 2016. Warning- Filth factor is an 11 on the 10-scale:

Here’s a fun video from Wisconsin days with Frederic…

Reed Duthie: Off the top of the head- Oskar Steen

Reed Duthie is back with another deep-dive on a European Bruins prospect- this time, Oskar Steen, who just completed his first North American pro season. The Off the top of the head and Then & Now prospect series are exclusive to The Scouting Post and we hope you are enjoying the analysis of B’s futures. -KL

oskar-steen-2020-32

In the 6th round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the Boston Bruins used the 165th overall selection on an exciting talent from Karlstad, Sweden who had seen a breakout year jumping from Farjestad BK U20 in the SuperElit to Farjestad BK senior side in the SHL.

Immediately upon his selection Oskar Steen became one of the most intriguing prospects in the Bruins system.

As a 17-year old in the 2015-16 season, Steen was outstanding in the U20 circuit, collecting 8 goals & 24 assists for 32 points in 33 games finishing 2nd on his team, behind only August Gunnarsson who was playing his 19-year old season. Steen earned a callup to Farjestad BK in the SHL for a 17-game run where the diminutive but offensively gifted 17-year old would register 6 assists and even appear in five SHL playoff games.

Beginning the 2016-17 season, Steen clearly showed the brass for Farjestad BK and the Bruins that they had something special, recording 11 points in just 8 games at the U20 level before spending the rest of the season in the senior ranks, skating in 47 games for Farjestad BK and another 4 for legendary Swedish side MoDo in Allsvenskan (where he played with future Bruins draft pick Victor Berglund) and appeared in all 7 playoff games for Farjestad BK. Steen would spend he 2017-18 devleoping in the SHL recording 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points in 45 games for Farjestad BK and appeared in another 5 playoff games for the club but was able to strut his stuff at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships recording 4 points across 7 games playing a key role as a #2 center in Sweden’s silver medal performance.

It was the 2018-19 season that would see Steen kick his game into another gear, leading Farjestad BK in points by a forward with 37 and finishing 2nd on the team to Joakim Nygard in goals with 17 across 46 games following it up with 7 points in 14 playoff games. That run was enough for the Bruins to transition the centerman to North America for the shortened 19-20 season but Steen would show signs of the type of player he can be, finishing his AHL rookie campaign with Providence scoring 7 goals and 16 assists for 23 point, good for 8th on a fairly loaded Providence roster, while showing his durability playing in 60 games (only Ryan Fitzgerald & Josiah Didier played in more, 61 each).

Assets:

Hockey IQ – An incredibly intelligent player, Steen has the ability to read the play well ahead of the pace and react quickly because of it. His advanced mind for the game has allowed him to successfully transition from the junior level to the senior level in his home country of Sweden and then transition again to the AHL all while still being an effective contributor in multiple facets.

Versatility – From using his tremendous intelligence for the game and from his developmental time with Farjestad BK, Steen has developed a very well-rounded game. A contributor for all 200-feet of the ice, Steen is a danger with and without the puck and can play in both power-play and short-handed situations and excel in any situation on the ice.

Speed – Excellent skater with quick acceleration, though his stride will begin somewhat short Steen quickly accelerates and lengthens his stride relying on his low center of gravity and powerful legs to drive him to full speed (think Sami Kapanen).

Vision/Distribution – Though not afraid to shoot the puck, as evidenced by his 17-goal outburst in his final SHL season, Steen is at his best with the puck on his stick locating his teammates with pinpoint passes to free them into open ice and scoring opportunities. Many of Steen’s scoring opportunities have come from defenders overplaying the pass and allowing him to use an ever-improving shot and release to find the back of the net.

Weaknesses:

Size – Not as big of a hindrance as it once was but standing 5’9’’ & 187 lbs, Steen is certainly not the biggest bear in the forest. Steen is able to use his bowling ball-like frame effectively, though he won’t go out of his way for contact he won’t avoid it either, relying on his strong balance, low center of gravity and smarts to win battles. Against larger defenders Steen can be simply outsized but is crafty enough to be able to beat them one-on-one.

Organizational Depth – If Steen were a natural winger his path to the Boston Bruins would be much clearer, however as a center he finds himself in a logjam behind the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle & Sean Kuraly at the NHL level with fellow Providence teammates Jack Studnicka & Trent Frederic knocking on the door and 2019 1st Round Pick John Beecher a little further away.

Future:

A steal of a 6th round pick, Don Sweeney and the Bruins staff (*cough* P.J. Axelsson *cough*) must be commended for finding such a talent late in the draft and for having a hand in quickly developing him into a player who could knock at the door of an NHL spot as early as the 2020-21 season. Steen profiles as a player who could contribute in the middle-6, and brings the type of versatility the Bruins like with a serious offensive flair. With the depth at center in the organization, it would likely benefit both Steen and the Bruins to transition to the wing. A natural right-hand shot, Steen has the intelligence and versatility to excel on either wing and would very quickly cut down his time to an opportunity with the Bruins.

He is a player to keep an eye on, a versatile and skilled  forward with jam who could be another late-round, homegrown talent that could contribute in multiple faces of the game moving forward as the Bruins look to develop their next core of talent.

Oskar Steen with a nice shorty in his final Swedish season before signing with the B’s

 

Urho Vaakanainen: Then & Now

The prospect series returns on Tuesday with a then and now look at Boston’s top selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.- KL

Urho Vaakanainen: Then

June 24, 2017:

A smooth-skating defender who describes his own playing style of one similar to NHL All-Star Roman Josi, Vaakanainen has spent the last two seasons playing pro hockey in the Finnish SM-Liiga. Tall, with a thin build, the 18-year-old was a member of Finland’s gold medal and silver medal-winning U18 teams in 2016-17, and also played on the 2017 WJC (U20) squad that woefully underperformed in Canada last winter.

Described by one NHL scout as a player whose “skating is first-rate; he can pivot and cut decisively in tight spaces and change direction on a dime,” the same talent evaluator also said that Vaakanainen “may not possess the high-level hands and offensive hockey IQ to be a top scoring presence on an NHL blue line.”

In going with Vaakanainen, the B’s bolstered the left side of their blue line while passing on some popular names up front who were projected to be good fits in pre-draft analysis, namely the big and talented Vesalainen (whose slide ended with Winnipeg at 24), Ryan Poehling (Montreal) and Robert Thomas (St. Louis).

“I’m a great skater, I can move the puck, I have a great first pass,” Vaakanainen said after his selection. “I’m a complete package- a two-way defenseman and steady guy.”

August 9, 2018:

Talent Analysis

Although not overly tall and having a relatively lean build, Vaakanainen plays with a long stick and uses his reach effectively. He’s got fluid feet: very good initial burst, an effortless stride and is crisp and balanced on his edges. This is a player who can move well in all directions- what is known as a “compass skater” in scouting parlance- and has the explosive first couple of steps and quick, smooth direction change that translates well in the short area game, something becoming more and more critical for NHL defenders going forward. Forwards who try to drive wide on him with speed will almost always run out of room to the far wall before they can make that sharp net drive- his feet are simply too good for that.

Intelligent and poised, UV sees the ice and is capable of defending the rush and keeping opponents away from the front of his net with an active stick. An economy of motion player, he is patient and will often allow skaters to take themselves out of lanes because he moves so well and keeps his stick in passing lanes.

Vaakanainen is not an exceptional player with the puck on his stick. When we scouted him at the U-18s two years ago, he moved pucks efficiently, but kept it pretty simple with higher percentage breakouts, a style in stark contrast to Charlie McAvoy, who is dynamic when in possession of the puck and can carry it out on his own when he has ice in front of him. This is not to say UV doesn’t have any skill, but he tends bring a simplified approach- he gets back quickly on retrievals and can then move the puck to the right areas. Where we have seen him get into trouble is when an aggressive forecheck either with an explosive F1 or 2-skater attack gets in on him quickly and forces UV to make faster decisions. In order to maximize his impressive skating, he’s going to have to be more decisive and avoid the temptation to hold onto the puck too long or just try the blind rim, which can lead to d-zone turnovers. He doesn’t have a heavy or overpowering shot- he tends to score by using a quick-release snap shot that he gets off his stick quickly versus an exaggerated windup and clapper. We’d like to see him try and get more pucks to the net, however.

Not a physical defender, UV manages his gaps well, using his lateral agility and long reach to angle effectively and close off skating lanes in the middle of the ice, where attacking forwards are at their most dangerous. The lack of physicality and bulk means that he’ll likely need support from his forwards when the puck gets down low and along the walls.

Overall, the offensive projection is still a work in progress- the B’s don’t need him to shoot the lights out or rack up assists as long as he can help speed the transition game to break pucks out while also keeping the opposition to the outside. His pro experience gives him a refined game, maturity and poise beyond where  many of his peers are- he doesn’t turn 20 until January and many of the guys picked in the same draft are going back to junior for one more year.

Urho Vaakanainen now:

Two years into his North American pro career, Vaakanainen has been a mixed bag so far.

His rookie pro season, split between Providence of the AHL and Boston was derailed with concussion issues, but he showed promise, putting up nearly a half a point per game in the AHL with the Baby B’s- solid production for a player in his first campaign. That was likely a reflection of his several years in the Finnish SM-Liiga, which compares favorably to the level of play seen in the AHL, so unlike junior players who face a transition to pro hockey, Vaakanainen’s transition was more in line with the smaller ice surfaces here versus what he competed on at home.

He made his NHL debut, playing sparingly in Boston before getting hurt (thanks to a dirty Mark Borowiecki elbow when Vaakanainen went to the net looking for a rebound), and missing a bulk of the 18-19 hockey season, with just 32 total appearances split between the show and minor league.

He played more games in 19-20 with Providence, getting into 54 before the AHL season was postponed in March due to COVID-19 (it was officially canceled yesterday). His production. however, was down significantly from where it was the year before, with the same amount of points, but with 24 more games played. He got into five NHL games with the B’s, again playing sparingly as a depth piece during his call up.

When drafted, Vaakanainen was talked about by the team as a 2-way defenseman and other hockey sources touted his offensive upside, but to be frank- we never really saw it. He’s more of a smooth, efficient defender who can chip in offensively and is mobile in retrievals and breakouts, but isn’t the prototype 2-way defender who joins the rush, quarterbacks the power play and is a consistent impact performer at both ends of the ice.

That is not a knock on him, but at the same time, he was not a significant offensive presence in 84 pro league games with JYP and SaiPa in his native Finland, and we’re doubtful that his point production is going to be all that significant at the NHL level. That is not to say that he won’t be a successful defenseman, but expectations should be tempered.

He can skate and move pucks, and has a good stick- those attributes will all help him establish himself as an everyday D at the highest level. We would like to see more of a competitive side and edge to his play- at times, the pace looks pretty average and he’s not all that tough a player to go up against. There are some intriguing positives, and his superb skating is a top carry tool. But we’d be lying if we said we didn’t expect more from him in year two. Granted, the injuries have set him back, but at some point, potential needs to translate into tangible results.

Outlook:

At this stage, he looks to project as more of a middle-of-the-roster depth player than a true blue 1/2 NHL D. You can certainly take that, but given where he was drafted and what some of the other options were at the time, if we redid the 2017 draft’s 1st round, he’s a bubble guy in our view.

The 20-21 is going to be a critical one for Vaakanainen. Smooth and efficient is fine- but on a relatively crowded Boston blue line, you’d like to see some more assertiveness and pop to be comfortable projecting that he’ll develop into an NHL regular. He’s still plenty young and there’s a lot to like, but he’s got his work cut out for him.

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Sportsnet Clip then: When B’s selected Vaakanainen (note the comments after the pick- not much about offensive upside- all about his defense/stay-at-home acumen as Miro Heiskanen’s D partner in international competition)

NESN video on his 2018 development camp

Here’s the Borowiecki elbow- no call. Bravo to Billy Jaffe for calling out the officials’ incompetence on this one. Ladies and gentlemen- your moern NHL referees- where they can stand mere feet away and watch a flagrant foul but since it happens to some unknown Finnish rookie? No call. But boy- hook some 1st class NHL citizen away from the play with no impact, and you’d better believe the whistle is coming out…gross.