By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson
Urho Vaakanainen was drafted in the 1st round 18th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. When Vaakanainen was drafted, it was said, that he was not only the most NHL ready defenseman but also the best all-around defenseman in the entire draft. He already at a young age possessed elite skills as a stay-at-home defenseman. He was even getting compared to NHL Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer. Now those are some giant skates to fill, so let’s dive into the player and see why he had such a lofty comparison.
The 2017-18 season was Vaakanainen’s first since being drafted. Being such a young player, he decided to stay in Finland and play for SaiPa of Finland’s top hockey league Liiga. This was important because one of the few major knocks on Vaakanainen was that he lacked experience. In 43 games with SaiPa Vaakanainen netted 4 goals while dishing out 7 assists for 11 total points and a +/- rating of +8. He also played in the teams 9 playoff games where he didn’t find the back of the net, but he did dish out 1 assist for 1 total point and a rating of +1. Overall it was a very successful season for Vaakanainen. The Bruins were very high on his defensive skills, and skating ability. So much so that they signed him to an entry-level contract, and he was slated to play the 2018-19 season in Providence.
Coming over into his first professional season in North America there was some buzz around Vaakanainen. Vaakanainen added to an already deep young defensive core and a prospect pool that included Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, and Jeremy Lauzon. Those guys are good and have a bright future ahead of them, but even with how good they currently are and could be Vaakanainen may end up being the best of the bunch. He possesses elite skills as a stay at home defender. To top that off he has great vision on the ice, is a mobile defender, and he’s also elite on the penalty-kill. His play is wise beyond its years. He doesn’t have any major glaring weaknesses either. A few things that the Bruins did want him working on was improving his shooting skills, and playmaking ability. These are things that can come with time.
Vaakanainen impressed in preseason this season but ultimately began the year in Providence because of the depth the Bruins had at defense. How he did flash that defensive ability and showed that he was close to being NHL ready. Vaakanainen played in 6 games for the Providence Bruins. He registered 0 goals and 2 assists and a rating of 0. Even bigger than those stats, however, was the fact that he had 14 shots in those 6 games. Showing that he was trying to improve the areas of his game that the Bruins wanted him to. The Bruins were very impressed, and with early injuries to the defense, Vaakanainen was called up to Boston. He played in 2 games with Boston where he didn’t register a point and had a rating of -1.
Unfortunately, in that second game, he suffered a vicious elbow to the head and got a concussion. He has been out since October 23rd. He has skated a little bit since, but there is no timetable for his return. It was unfortunate that Vaakanainen did get injured because even in the limited sample we saw he looked good. He looked like he belonged in the NHL. Ultimately, Urho Vaakanainen has shown a reason for us as fans to be excited. The Bruins have many young, exciting defensemen either currently in the NHL or waiting in the wings in Providence. A few years down the road the Bruins could have one of the best young defenses in all the league anchored by Vaakanainen, and that is something to be excited about.