Urho Vaakaninen impressed the Bruins brass enough to earn a spot on Boston’s opening night roster. Yet, the 19-year-old saw himself as a healthy scratch during the Black and Gold’s two-game road trip to open the 2018-19 season.
Rather than slow his development from the get-go, the Bruins sent Vaakaninen down to Providence in time for its season-opening tilt in Hartford on Oct. 5. The 2017 first round pick wasted little time making an impact as he tallied a secondary assist on Mark McNeill’s late third-period goal during the team’s 3-2 loss to the Wolfpack.
One night later, Vaakanainen saw himself skating on the top power play unit and skated with Jeremy Lauzon on the top defensive pairing during Providence’s home opener. He recorded a plus-1 rating during the P-Bruins’ 3-2 loss to the Laval Rocket at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Despite his initial adjustments to the North American style of play, Vaakaninen’s professional development is well ahead of schedule.
“I feel like I have adjusted well here,” Vaakanainen said about playing in the North American-sized rinks. “It’s a bit more physical and I think I’ve adjusted to the fast game.”
Vaakanainen spent three seasons in Liiga, the highest professional hockey league in his native Finland, from 2015-2018. The young defenseman recorded seven goals and 16 assists in 109 games while skating for three Finnish teams; the Espoo Blues, JYP Jyväskylä and SaiPa.
The Jonesuu native represented his home nation in international play, dawning the Suomi jersey in the U-17, U-18 and World Junior Championships, appearing in each tournament twice and also skated in the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. His most notable accomplishments in international play include helping Finland take home the gold medal in the 2016 U-18 Tournament and then capturing the silver medal in the following year’s tournament where he recorded six points (three goals, three assists) in five games.
All this, combined with his training camp stay, makes Vaakaninen a prime candidate for a call-up from Providence. Adjusting to the North American game while making improvements to his game (most notably his shot) and helping the P-Bruins win will go a long way toward a future I-95 trip.
“I just have to play good here [in Providence] and have to be ready all the time because you never know when the call comes. So it’s kind of exciting but at the same time, you have to take it day by day and can’t just think about it. You just have to improve here and when the call comes, be ready,” Vaakaninen said.
“I just have to work my shot every day. I try to skate every day. Sometimes I get caught gliding so I have to work hard all the time.”
The Bruins organization hope they found a diamond in the rough when they selected Vaakanainen with the 18th overall pick last summer. But when a player has played in Finland top-tier league since his mid-teens has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer — via Bruins assistant general manager Scott Bradley during last year’s development camp — and performed solidly during the preseason, it’s kind of hard not to get excited about a player like Urho patrolling the blue line for Boston.
For now, Vaakanainen will work on his game down on the farm. The P-Bruins faithful should surely cherish every moment they have watching him before his NHL arrival.