By Carrie Young | Follow me on Twitter @carrieyoung512
With the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs coming to a close, Bruins fans are starting to look ahead to next season. A lot of uncertainty remains regarding the timeline, start date, and number of games. The Bruins are also currently in a transitional period after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the second round. Facing the probable loss of second-pairing defenseman and power play quarterback Torey Krug, Boston has some work to do in free agency this fall, but there are plenty of young players with potential in the system. One of those prospects is Urho Vaakanainen, who is aiming to improve his all-around game and fight for a spot in Boston.
Vaakanainen was selected 18th overall by the Bruins in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Hailing from Joensuu, Finland, he was with Saimaan Pallo of the Finnish Liiga before transitioning to North America for his professional career in the Bruins system. He has also skated for Finland’s national team in the IIHF’s U18 and U20 World Junior Championships. His four points and +5 rating helped Finland to a gold medal in the 2019 WJC.
Vaakanainen has completed two pro seasons, appearing in 7 games with Boston and 84 games with Providence. He has yet to register a point at the NHL level. In the AHL, he scored 14 points each season, both times in a limited number of games (due to injury in 2018-19 and the suspension of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019-20). Decision-making at both ends of the ice and consistency have been major areas of improvement.
Looking ahead, the 2020-21 season will be a very important one for the 21-year-old. Barring any unfortunate injuries, it will be his first chance to play a complete season in the AHL. He will also be a top candidate for call-ups if the Bruins are in need of an extra defenseman, but it’s likely that he needs another year in the minors before he’s ready to make a difference in Boston. Vaakanainen was signed to an entry-level contract in 2018 and will become a restricted free agent in the 2022 offseason.
Fans should keep an eye out next season for Vaakanainen’s strong skating, ability to manufacture breakouts, and transitions up the ice. The Providence coaching staff will likely give him big minutes in crucial scenarios (such as protecting a lead late in the game) to boost his confidence and prepare him for the pressure that comes with playing at the highest level. Fans can expect him to keep piling up accolades and praise from Bruins management if his development takes another step forward in 2020-21.
Congratulations to Urho Vaakanainen on being named the @CCMHockey / AHL Player of the Week with two goals, three assists and a +6 rating in just two games!— Providence Bruins (@AHLBruins) November 25, 2019
📰 >> https://t.co/xJVPNwRNNM pic.twitter.com/wBVWxg0Pzu