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Boston Bruins

TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 15: Urho Vaakanainen #58 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s decision to go all in on a youth movement on the backend has certainly paid off through the first quarter of the 2021 season.

Entering tonight’s NHL Outdoors meeting with the Flyers at Lake Tahoe, the Bruins rank second in goals against per game (2.20), and have allowed a league-best 25.5 shots per game.

The emergence of Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril has had a lot to do with that. And Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy thinks that Urho Vaakanainen, who will make his season debut tonight with the Bruins down three regulars on the backend, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

“I thought in camp he was as good as Lauzon and Zboril,” Cassidy said of the 22-year-old Vaakanainen. “We could only put two of them in the lineup because Gryz was definitely going in. There’s a lot of different reasons for why we picked them. But knowing in the back of our mind that Vaak was that close, [and that he] came ready to play at camp, was good for us.”

A first-round pick in 2017, Vaakanainen has appeared in seven NHL games to date, with his last one coming with a 13:44 effort against the Sabres back on Nov. 21, 2019.

The Finnish-born defender hasn’t been asked to save the world in his seven-game NHL sample (and he won’t be asked to do that tonight), but the Bruins do want to see the 6-foot-1 left shot bring a complete game to tonight’s season debut.

“I think he knows that he’s a good defender, [has a] good first pass,” said Cassidy. “We’ve never had him come up in the games he’s played for us — exhibition or over in China, whatever it was — and have him try to do too much. For him, it’s be consistent with what you do well every shift. Which is defend well by having a good stick, positionally use your feet, and protect the middle of the ice.

“It’s always a good problem to have when you know you have guys you feel can play. But now it’s up to him to prove it. It’s a little bit of a different stage for him, but at the end of the day that’s the hand he’s been dealt.”

Up front, Jack Studnicka will center a line with Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork on the wing, while Nick Ritchie will slide down to the B’s third line with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith. That will move Trent Frederic back down to the Bruins’ fourth line with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, while David Pastrnak will reunite with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the first line.

The Bruins will turn to Tuukka Rask in net. Rask is 6-2-1 with a .906 save percentage this season, and made a season-high 38 saves in his last outing, a losing effort against the Islanders back on Feb. 13.

The Flyers counter with Carter Hart. Off to a 5-2-3 start in 2021, Hart has struggled mightily against the Bruins this year, with 14 goals on 104 shots (.865 save percentage) in three meetings with Boston.

The Bruins have captured victories in all four of their 2021 head-to-heads with the Flyers this season, and have outscored them 16-to-9 over that four-game series.

Oh, and the Bruins will debut their Reverse Retro jerseys in tonight’s contest.

Here are the full expected lines and pairings for the Bruins… 

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk – Jack Studnicka – Anders Bjork

Nick Ritchie – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith

Trent Frederic – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner

Jeremy Lauzon – Charlie McAvoy

Urho Vaakanainen – Brandon Carlo

John Moore – Connor Clifton

Tuukka Rask