Observations from NHL Bruins 2018 Development Camp
PROVIDENCE, RI: Less than a full week after the NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins brought their most recent draftees to Warrior Ice Arena for organizational brass and media alike to evaluate. Providence coach Jay Leach and NHL Bruins head of player development Jamie Langenbrunner put draftees from 2016-18 and skaters on an invitational basis through a four-day evaluation. High-profile draft picks Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Studnicka, Daniel Vladar, Jakub Lauko, Axel Andersson, and Jeremy Swayman headlined the event consisting of three days of drills and one day of scrimmages. Through the next few paragraphs, we’ll touch on a handful of observations and coaches remarks as well as Don Sweeney’s thoughts if any.
In 2017, the Bruins drafted Urho Vaakanainen in the first round (18th overall). The mobile defenseman intelligently reads the play, always has his head up, and makes quick decisions with the puck according to Future Considerations. Director of player development Jamie Langenbrunner was optimistic about the Finnish defenseman on Wednesday, echoing the smarts of Vaakanainen. When asked what excites him about Vaakanainen’s game, Langenbrunner replied: “His steadiness…and transition and skating with the puck is smooth, as well as his ability to skate and get up-ice rather easily. That should transition well [to the North American game]. Especially In the World Junior tournament he really showed how active he can be and encouraged to do so while here [at Development Camp].” Further, Langenbrunner also pointed out Urho’s confidence level was noticeably higher than the year before, but cautioned that Urho needed to get his urgency level up.
Bruins GM Don Sweeney took Langenbrunner’s urgency comment about Urho a step further in his presser on Friday. “[Urho] will need to understand how much more competitive things will get…once rookie camp starts.” Sweeney acknowledged Urho has been playing against men for the past two months and understands competition, but it seems Vaakanainen has a ways to go before making it to the NHL roster.
I had a chance to briefly talk to Vaakanainen, who sounded more excited to be attending camp this year than last; He admitted to being pretty nervous during his inaugural camp last year. Asking what’s improved while playing for SaiPa this past season, Urho listed his shot, strength, and honing his overall [hockey IQ] have been his focus. At camp, Urho has been working on further refining his skating, by way of a new skating coach within the Bruins organization. Asked about who he models his game after, Vaakanainen replied: “Roman Josi. He’s good at everything. I try to be like him.” Lastly, Vaakanainen seemed pretty confident about how his game would translate to North American play. “There are fast players in Europe too; it’s more about the size of the rink. You learn to work with the space you are given.”
2017 second rounder Jack Studnicka and 2018 third rounder Jakub Lauko need little introduction. Both were camp highlights all week, with Jamie Langenbrunner showering Lauko with praise: “[Lauko’s a] Smart player. I give him the hockey player designation because he finds a way to make plays in traffic. His skating definitely looks above average. He’s got some strength to him [too].”
Don Sweeney had high praise for Lauko as well; after the scrimmages Friday, Sweeney praised Lauko’s “Straight ahead speed, his ability to get behind the defenders through the neutral zone.” Further, “[Lauko] gets on top of pucks, shows finish [around the net] as he did today.” Sweeney was then asked whether Lauko might be a candidate for joining the Providence Bruins. “He’s a candidate…but we’re never going to get ahead of ourselves in terms of where we’re placing a player.”
Tecumseh, Ontario native Jack Studnicka was highly competitive and visible all week. The 6 foot, 171 lb. center engaged each drill as if it were game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and embraced the scrimmage in the final day enough to take a substantial hit to make a play. Despite his determination to prove to the Bruins he’s ready for a spot on the big club, Studnicka needs a little more pepper on his shot. On Studnicka, Langenbrunner said: “I think he’d say it: He needs to keep improving [his shot]. He is a bit of a pass-first guy. I think his stats would show the same.” Langenbrunner ended his remarks noting the shot will get better as Studnicka puts on some muscle. “He’s still a skinny kid. He’s going to put on some strength, and as he does his shot will improve.”
Shifting away from big-name prospects, youngster Dustyn McFaul seemed to be soaking in the experience despite some first-time jitters. “For sure, excited, nervous. Looked forward to getting down here to meet some people, showcase my skill.” The Clarkson University commit is probably the furthest of the crop from the NHL, and will need several years to hone his craft.
Dustyn may be a raw product that was at times taken advantage of on scrimmage day, but has youth on his side. With an August 2000 birthday, McFaul was the youngest skater on the ice for Bruins Development Camp. “I haven’t been treated differently. Everyone’s been helpful and [welcoming].”
For a youngster, McFaul has good self-awareness about his shortcomings. “My shot for sure…It’s definitely a big aspect of what I’m trying to work on.” Additionally, “My skating, to compete at the next level you need to be a good skater.” Dustyn went on record to say he likes his first pass out of the zone; however, during scrimmage day on Friday, a few of his passes became turnovers instead. To fully emulate his idol Brent Seabrook, McFaul will need to put considerable polish on his game.
With the 57th pick in the 2018 draft, the Boston Bruins picked Axel Andersson. Hailing from the Swedish Junior League’s Järna SK, Axel was a pleasure to watch at camp. Bruins management evidently thought similar, as Andersson was inked to his ELC a few days after the conclusion of Development Camp.
During development camp, Andersson was chosen by the Kitchener Rangers in the CHL Import Draft, opening the door to the possibility of playing in the OHL for the upcoming season. On his last day in Boston, I asked Axel about his selection with Kitchener, and he admitted he hadn’t given any thought to transitioning to the North American game. Later the same day, Don Sweeney helped his decision along firmly stating, “[Axel will] absolutely play back in Sweden.” “I know he’s drafted by Kitchener and that always garners some attention but from every indication he’ll play back in Sweden.”
Regardless of where he plays, Andersson had a strong showing. Coming in to Boston for this past week, his goal was “get to know the organization and learn something on [the North American] ice and off the ice.” Axel is a self-described two-way, above average skating defenseman who reads the ice well. From day one when he gave that description in a post-workout locker room interview, he excelled at living up to his own expectations.
Through each day of camp, Axel pushed himself in skating and consistently making the right play. When Don Sweeney said the goal of Development Camp was to see who could consistently perform at a high level day-in-and-day-out, there’s no doubt in my mind Sweeney was thinking of Axel. Unfortunately for Providence Bruins fans, I think his developmental curve will keep him away from the minor leagues based on the sampling we got at camp.
After his rights were traded from the St. Johns Sea Dogs to the Rimouski Oceanics of the QMJHL, center Cedric Pare is feeling optimistic despite the change of scenery. Last year the Sea Dogs were far outside of a playoff berth, and wrapped up their season in early spring. With a trade to Rimouski, the Bruins’ 2017 sixth round draft selection joins an impressively deep QMJHL team. Pare’s St. John squad was a very young team, and being one of the oldest, he saw first-unit powerplay, penalty kill, and first line center minutes on a regular basis. The bountiful ice time translated to an explosion on the stats sheet, as Pare almost tripled his goal output from 2016/17 to 2017/18, and more than doubled his assists total from year to year.
Looking ahead to his upcoming season with Rimouski, Cedric is excited for playoff hockey come next spring and a chance to win a Memorial Cup. In the present, Pare has been working on his speed and “explosiveness through his first two [strides].” His short-area game looks crisp, and hockey IQ is keener than the previous camp showing. If he continues following this impressive development trajectory, he’ll have a cup of coffee at the NHL level sooner than later. This isn’t to say I project the sixth rounder to play a top six role in the show, but he will at minimum be a valuable bottom six Swiss army knife.
For now, Pare is making the most of the ice time he is given to develop and shape his game on and off the ice. A second-time camp attendee, Pare was excited to see friends made the previous year and meet new Bruins draftees. While the abundance of ice time in St. John has been important for his development, Pare strongly looked forward to “being around the [Bruins] coaches, staff, and the Boston Bruins facilities.”
Lastly, Jeremy Swayman and Curtis Hall will be featured in individual articles in the coming month or so. Additionally, Kyle Keyser and Dan Vladar will also receive a joint article once I process more of the footage from the Friday scrimmage and re-listen to interviews and media scrums with the coaches. For now, the Bruins’ future remains bright, for either young professionals who will need extra development in the AHL with Providence, or the dynamic talent that may circumnavigate the farm club altogether.