By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Odds are that you’re not going to see Jakub Lauko this season.
Hell, the Bruins aren’t even sure where Lauko, drafted in the third round back in 2018, is going to play this season.
But with a highlight reel goal scored in Boston’s 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers on Monday, the 19-year-old is undoubtedly making a case as the next — and perhaps most exciting player — to watch emerge from Don Sweeney’s Prospect Factory.
With the Bruins and Flyers scoreless, Lauko blasted through Nicolas Aube-Kubel at the red line, bounced a self-pass off the boards and around a falling Mark Friedman, and found the crack above Brian Elliott’s right shoulder to put the B’s on the board. And naturally, Lauko, never short on energy, slid his way into a celebration typically reserved for May and June.
“That’s what he does,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy remarked.
A reminder of what Lauko doesn’t do, however, came when he committed a woeful turnover that kept the Bruins pinned in their zone and got the Flyers on the board with the game-tying goal off the stick of Carsen Twarynski in the third period.
“When he’s on his game, he’s moving his feet, he’s chipping-and-chasing, he’s a tough guy to stop,” Cassidy said. “He’s got a nice shot, and can make some plays. He’s still learning the ropes away from the puck, breakout situations, defensive zone situations. I think that’s perfectly normal at nineteen, that’ll be the challenge for him, to take care of the details.”
It’s all part of what makes Lauko such a fascinating project for the Bruins.
Many of the B’s best — especially on the wings — are already here. Get beyond the high-ceiling David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk and utility man Danton Heinen and Zach Senyshyn is still looking for his NHL breakthrough four years after being selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. 2016 sixth-round choice Oskar Steen is probably next in line, at 21 years old. Then there’s the tweener group headlined by Anders Bjork, Karson Kuhlman, and Peter Cehlarik.
I’m not sure any of them possess the raw offensive skill, as well as the game-breaking dynamic, Lauko has already shown.
It just needs to developed properly, and in the setting that fast-tracks him to the Bruins. Maybe even as early as 2020, too, with the Bruins constantly in search of that next middle-six winger to bolster their team’s offensive punch.
“He’ll always be fast, he’ll always want to score, always be competitive, get under people’s skin,” Cassidy noted. “But for him, it’s learning how to play every night, maybe when the puck isn’t falling into those things that a lot of those young guys go through. So, it’s nice to have a guy like that. I don’t know where he’s going to end up right now, to be honest, as a nineteen year-old, where he’ll play exactly this year. But he’s certainly done a nice job for us in his time here.”
And if he can improve his play away from the highlights, his time here is only beginning.
Here are some other thoughts and takeaways from a 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers…
Urho Vaakanainen seems close to NHL-ready, but some more AHL time is required
This preseason has given us a great look at 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen. If the Bruins weren’t so loaded on the left side, even with John Moore (and Kevan Miller) expected to begin the year, I have a feeling we’d be talking about Vaakanainen maybe making this team out of camp. He’s really looked like a legitimate NHL-ready prospect most nights.
Monday night against the Flyers, however, didn’t appear to be one of those nights for the Finnish defender.
Given time on Power-Play 1 with the B’s big guns (the Bruins dressed a left-side featuring Zdeno Chara, Jakub Zboril, and Vaak, making him the most ‘offensive’ weapon available to Cassidy’s club), Vaakanainen noticeably struggled to keep pucks alive, and his offensive decision-making appeared off throughout the night. It could have gone a lot worse for Vaakanainen, too, had the Flyers been able to capitalize on his turnovers and turn it into goals against Tuukka Rask.
“I don’t think he skated well enough to skate people, to break out pucks,” Cassidy said of Vaakanainen, who finished with a secondary helper and two shots on goal in the win, following Monday’s game. “One of his strengths is his foot speed, and his defending with his foot speed. He got beat wide once tonight, that’s not typically his game, he’s pretty good that way.
“So, I thought his feet weren’t engaged tonight enough in the game. The penalty kill goal, he got caught in the wrong side of that battle down low, that’s going to happen. Those are things that we can work with him on, but his feet need to be moving every night and I thought he could have been better in that area tonight, being a little bit more of a factor. I thought [Jakub] Zboril did a pretty good job that way, breaking out, getting up ice, supporting the rush. Not as much for Vaak tonight.”
It’s a strong reminder that there’s still a ways to go when it comes to jamming ‘Vaak’ into the Big B’s lineup.
Brett Ritchie didn’t seem to be much of a factor without David Krejci
I’m still having the hardest time figuring out what Brett Ritchie is and/or will be for this Bruins team. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the 26-year-old is an absolute mountain of a man. He has all the physical tools and banger mentality (Ritchie’s 14.85 hits per 60 minutes of all-situation play last year was the ninth-best rate among NHL forwards with at least 500 minutes of time on ice last year) to be something of value to the Bruins, but where exactly does he fit on the Black and Gold’s roster?
“To me he’s as advertised: A big man that will play down below the circles with the puck,” Cassidy said, “he’s not trying to make something happen that isn’t there. Certainly he’s been responsible for us, the puck hasn’t found him a lot unfortunately, when you play with [David] Krejci it tends to so it would have been interesting to see how that played out with him and Jake [DeBrusk] but didn’t happen tonight as much. I think he’s been a good steady player for us.
“Physical on the forecheck a couple times today. Those things are what he brings and that’s what he’s done for us.”
Now, the Bruins’ plan to see how Ritchie, who scored a career-best 17 goals in 2016-17, fit with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci blew up in their face by way of Krejci’s lower-body injury, as mentioned by Cassidy. But Ritchie’s disappearing act without No. 46 on the ice is slightly alarming considering the J.V. squad the Flyers brought to Boston. And given the heated internal competition for minutes and opportunities — Ritchie is battling with Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman, two players with cups of coffee at the NHL level compared to his 241-game resume — it almost borders on inexcusable.
One game isn’t worth a total panic over a $1 million signing, I know. But Ritchie was given the fourth-highest ice-time among all Boston forwards and finished with just two shots on goal (and two missed shots), the closest of which came from 28 feet away from Brian Elliott. He did not register a hit, and he did not take a hit. There just wasn’t a whole lot to his game.
And in a lineup already trying to jam David Backes in as a big-bodied, bottom-sixer, having to do the same with Ritchie — and potentially at the expense of a Bjork or Kuhlman — likely isn’t something this offensive attack is equipped to handle in 2019.
Early thoughts on a ‘new’ TD Garden
Not going to lie: It felt a little weird to be back in TD Garden. Looking around during the pregame warmup, I really couldn’t tell that I was in Boston. With the all-black seating, it felt like you were in Any Arena, USA. We’ll all get used to it, I’m sure, but here are some quick thoughts on what it’ll be like for those making their way to TDG for a game this year.
- Brad Marchand admitted that it was a little bit more difficult to see the puck when it was up in the air. He did note that some of that may have had something to do with the number of empty seats tonight, but it’ll be curious to see if and how this impacts what would have previously been safe, easy plays and dump-in plays.
- Talking with some friends and readers located around the arena, it would appear that the balcony may be a bit of a tight squeeze if you’re a person of size. If your ancestors hailed from The Shire or Munchkinland like ‘ya boy, it’s probably like a studio apartment in there. I’d offer to do the squeeze-test, but that won’t tell you anything.
- I’m pretty sure the loge has every food option one could dream of ordering. I ate the donut cheeseburger last year, so if they still have that and you hate yourself, please get it. The Cheetos Popcorn — for what it’s worth — is amazing.
- The scoreboard appears to have a much crisper image. Solid viewing experience if you’re in an end of the rink that isn’t perfect for all-situation viewing of the ice (I’ve always found this more difficult the closer you get to the glass).