Boston Bruins finally get consistency from Urho Vasakanainen

It is not easy to draft in the NHL. It’s one thing to be able to identify your raw abilities and talents and how that might translate into the NHL. However, it’s quite another to see how those tools and abilities translate into the NHL when the game is more challenging and faster. It is difficult to wait to see if a player turns into the player you expected on Draft Night.

Urho Vaakanainen is the perfect example of “patience is a virtue” based on his play with the Boston Bruins this season. (Amy Irvin/ The Hockey Writers

The Boston Bruins seem to be finally seeing the fruits of their patience with Urho Vaakanainen. They drafted the Finnish-defender 18th in 2017 and got what seemed to be a great puck-moving, minute eating defender with little offensive upside. Vaakanainen, who was playing against men with more experience in the Liiga playoffs in 2018, averaged around 30-minutes per match.

Vaakanainen was able to combine that with a gold Medal at the World Junior Championships in Finland with an impressive start of his AHL career, with four goals and 14 point in 30 games.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound blueliner, though. Vaakanainen was once the ideal pairing to go with Charlie McAvoy on top-pairing the Bruins for the next decade. However, Vaakanainen found himself constantly being shuffled from the list due to inconsistency while learning the North American-style style game.

It wasn’t that Vaakanainen was a bad player or was playing so poorly that he was to be immediately considered a bust. He was drafted in the top 20 NHL draft players. This made it more difficult to criticize him for his inconsistent play and blunders. Because he was selected by Boston’s highest expectations, he is also in the top-20.

Vaakanainen’s inconsistencies were a constant problem. He only received sporadic callups during his first four years of NHL hockey. He’d play in two games in 2018-19, five the following season, nine last season and four so far this season. Nearly all these call-ups were due to injuries. However, this latest one can be attributed to his performance in Providence this year.

Though offensive upside still isn’t a strong point for Vaakanainen, the fact that he had scored one goal and eight points in 23 games certainly didn’t hurt his case. He looked more confident than ever on a nightly basis, and finally seemed to be the minute-eating defensive defender who could be in charge and defend well.

Vaakanainen Turning Into a Regular NHL Contributor

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Vaakanainen has also seen his minutes increase with each and every game this season. Vaakanainen’s season debut began at 16:06 against Tampa Bay Lightning. The following night, Vaakanainen would skate for 16:56 against McAvoy before accelerating to 21:03 against Montreal Canadiens. 23:17 against Philadelphia Flyers. This was McAvoy’s 25:48 mark, which was second on the Bruins. On the season, he’s averaging a career-high 19:21 of ice time.

Urho Vaakanainen Boston Bruins
Urho Vaakanainen has flourished in every role he’s been given this season with the Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin/ The Hockey Writers

Bruce Cassidy has been impressed with Vaakanainen’s confidence and solid play during these games. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Vaakanainen is finally starting to see some results offensively as well. He’d record three assists in his first three games this season, though the third assist was originally credited to him as his first NHL goal before later being After the game ended, things changed.

If the goal would have been credited to him, Vaakanainen would have been only the second Finnish defender in Bruins’ history to score a goal. Jarno Kuultanen still meets this criteria, scoring two goals in 2000-01.

His play hasn’t just been noticed by his coaching staff or fans, either. Brad Marchand would speak about Vaakanainen’s performance in the match against the Canadiens.

“Vacks got player of the game. This is well-deserved. He’s been great since he’s been here and a big goal for him tonight, Marchand spoke of his teammateBefore the scoring changes. “So very well-deserved.”

Related: 4 Breakout Candidates to the Bruins in 2022

That’s high praise from not just one of the best players on the Bruins, but one of the best players in the entire league. Vaakanainen’s form is starting to improve and he is proving that he can do what the Bruins need. This is true whether they use him on the third pairing, the second pairing or even the first pairing where he’s played in Matt Grzelcyk’s absence. He’s also gotten penalty-kill time which means his defensive ability is getting rewarded.

At just 23 years old and only 20 games into his NHL career, it’s important to remember that players develop at different rates. It’s important to identify what a player can do early on so they can capitalize on their value, but it’s also dangerous to give up on young talent too early. It’s a fine line, but it’s one the Bruins are finally getting some return-on-investment from in regards to Vaakanainen.