It was announced on Monday morning that Urho Vaakanainen was named as the AHL’s Player of the Week. In two games over the weekend, the defenseman had two goals and three assists and registered a plus-six rating. This was an offensive breakout for Vaakanainen, who had just two points in his first fifteen games with Providence. He recorded two assists in an overtime loss in Springfield on Saturday, then scored his first two goals of the season and added an assist on Sunday in a 6-3 win over the Hershey Bears.
Vaakanainen was assigned to Providence on Saturday after playing five straight games with Boston, in which he registered zero points and a plus-two rating and averaged just under seventeen minutes per game. He showed no signs of fatigue after over a week of playing and practicing with the NHL squad and finished out the weekend strong, with Sunday’s game being his third in four days. His call-up to Boston seemed to give him a boost in confidence which translated nicely into an all-around effort on both Saturday and Sunday.
Today marks the second two-goal game of Urho Vaakanainen’s career! pic.twitter.com/jXhEiNJXCk— Providence Bruins (@AHLBruins) November 24, 2019
Vaakanainen has been lauded as a prized prospect since he was chosen 18th overall by Boston in the 2017 NHL Draft. There has been tight competition within the organization to fill spots on the blue line, with the Bruins prioritizing the acquisition and development of defensemen in recent history. Vaakanainen was picked in the third of four straight years that the Bruins used their first draft selection on a defenseman (the others being Jakub Zboril, Charlie McAvoy, and Axel Andersson).
This is the 20-year-old’s second season in North America, though his first was significantly shortened by a concussion sustained in his second NHL game when the Ottawa Senators’ Mark Borowiecki caught him in the head with an elbow. The injury kept Vaakanainen out of game action for months. He returned in time to help Team Finland to a gold medal victory at the 2019 World Junior Championship in January, then headed back to Providence to finish out the season.
The Bruins are hoping that Vaakanainen continues to find his game in the AHL. After a slow start, he has been steadily improving on both ends of the ice. Sunday’s contest was a perfect example of his two-way potential, as he put in a solid defensive effort as well as registering the second two-goal game of his professional career. He is on pace to beat last year’s point total of 14 (4 goals, 10 assists) in 30 games. His play in Boston has also proved that he can be relied upon as a call-up when injuries arise.