Urho Vaakanainen has seen an uptick in his ice time, and it payed off Saturday for the Boston Bruins in overtime.
With things tied up against the Nashville Predators, he and Charlie McAvoy were the last line of defense in front of goalie Linus Ullmark on an odd-man rush almost two minutes into the extra period. But Vaakanainen broke up the Predators’ attack and got the puck to Taylor Hall.
Hall and David Pastrnak did the rest on the other end to net the OT winner.
“It’s really good to see a guy come in, play like he belongs right off the bat,” Hall said of Vaakanainen’s contributions.
“That speaks to probably his offseason training, his development as a player throughout the last couple of years and, you know, a guy that comes into the lineup and plays to the best of his abilities. That’s all you can really ask for is just be the best version of you. And he can see the ice, he’s a really good penalty killer, he’s physical when he needs to be and it’s really good to see guys like that, especially young guys come into the lineup.”
The 23-year-old has logged three consecutive games with at least 20 minutes played, and the first-round draft pick from the 2017 NHL Draft appears to be gaining a great deal of confidence.
Against Nashville, Vaakanainen was with McAvoy on Boston’s first defensive pairing and he added his fourth assist of the season — all of which came since his season debut on Jan. 8 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s nice to see him step in and do well,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Vaakanainen.
“Because we’re kind of at that point where you’re wondering after a few years, he’s not a kid anymore, where he’s a first-year pro. He’s been out, he’s seen it. Time to start doing it. Opportunity arose, and some guys kick the door down. Other guys kind of gently step through it and I think he’s somewhere in between there and he’s doing a good job. He’s gonna make it. Difficult decisions when we’re 100% healthy and that’s what we want as an organization and, you know, you need that circle of life for those young guys coming in. So good for him, but again, it’s consistency, right? And so far so good with that area.”
The Bruins now have won five games straight with their home stand continuing against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.