The Boston Bruins passed on several high-profile players including touted Finnish forward Kristian Vesalainen to select countryman and left-shooting D Urho Vaakanainen in the first round of Friday’s NHL Entry Draft in Chicago.
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.”
The newest Bruin said he expected to be a first-round selection but admitted that Boston was a surprise in that he’d had little contact with the team outside of the draft and scouting combine interview he had with the club in Buffalo late last month.
“Just try to get some strength and get my shot better,” he said when asked about areas of improvement. “Working on the offensive blue line.”
His 2 goals and 6 points last season speaks to some of the reasons Vaakanainen might have been under the radar as a 2-way defender, but he had a productive U18 tournament this spring and you can bet that the B’s are banking on him to perhaps develop a more prolific offensive element this coming year when he is expected to play a key role with SaiPa in his third pro season before his NHL teams looks at possibly bringing him over.
Vaakanainen has the measurables of a modern NHL D-man, and in fairness was ranked as a first-rounder in several draft publications and lists while also finishing (no pun intended) as the 8th European skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service. He might not have had some of the buzz surrounding some of his other peers, but the Bruins quietly tabbed him as their man and were able to get him.
Day 2 begins at 9 local in Chicago with the B’s currently set to make 5 more selections in the 2nd, 4th, 6th & 7th rounds (they own Florida’s seventh pick in addition to their own).