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Bruins Notebook

Bruins reward Urho Vaakanainen’s consistency with more ice time

Defenseman Urho Vaakanainen has been getting into the swing of things with the varsity during his recent callup, including scoring his first NHL goal against Montreal, much to the delight of Tuukka Rask and Charlie McAvoy.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

At 6 feet, 1 inches and 198 pounds, Urho Vaakanainen doesn’t have the size of Derek Forbort, who is some three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier.

He doesn’t have the bold quickness that helps Matt Grzelcyk kill rushes and create stress at the other end.

He’s not as strong and confident a puck-mover as Mike Reilly.

But Vaakanainen is making the most of his recent call-up, showing that he just might be a full-time NHLer after all. Good thing for the Bruins, who faced the Ducks on Monday without Grzelcyk, whom coach Bruce Cassidy listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury.


Grzelcyk, who took an awkward hit from Winnipeg’s Pierre-Luc Dubois on Saturday, appeared to be favoring his right shoulder area immediately afterward. He finished the game, setting up David Pastrnak for the power-play winner, and logged 13:35 of ice time.

Vaakanainen, 23, was playing in his ninth game in a row. He had four assists (0-4—4) in his previous eight. He has become a regular part of the Bruins’ penalty kill, which has killed 25 of 28 since his arrival. The Bruins are not hiding Vaakanainen at even strength (23:09 TOI against the Jets, his sixth straight game playing 20-plus minutes).

“I still think there’s lots more evaluation to be done, but it’s been a couple weeks where he’s played against good players every night,” Cassidy said. “I think he’s done a really good job for us.”

Urho Vaakanainen jousts with Anaheim's Rickard Rakell during the third period of Monday's game.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Vaakanainen, 23, became an early contributor in the Finnish Liiga by playing steady. As an 18-year-old rookie in Finland’s top pro league, he led his team (SaiPa) in ice time per game. While he didn’t have the obvious flash to his game of a future NHL power-play quarterback, he was taken 18th overall in 2017 because his mobility and anticipation helped him keep tight gaps with opponents and close when necessary. Defenders like that — think Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin — are valuable.


At this stage of his NHL career, the Bruins are encouraging him to show urgency, both in practice habits and movement of the puck.

“We’re building in a first-pass mentality to be quick with it, move his feet. He’s done that well,” Cassidy said. “At times, I think, when he’s got stuck in his own end is when he’s pushed pucks around and not used his feet. Some of that’s confidence, some of it’s just reminding yourself that as soon as you have the puck on your stick, you don’t have as much time. Players reload better, they’re quicker, they have better sticks, so get going.

“We’re pleased with the way he’s played. He’s helped us win hockey games doing what we feel he does best. That’s all we can ask. Again, it’s early — you’ve got to see consistency from these younger guys over time. Especially with a schedule that can wear you down. How are you going to handle that mentally and physically?

“That part’s still early, I guess. But the fact we’ve seen him be consistent for a few games is a real positive.”

Against the Ducks, Vaakanainen skated 19:04 and was solid, if quiet. The Bruins killed his high-sticking penalty 26 seconds into the third.

Reilly, who missed the previous three games while in COVID protocol, returned to the lineup …Troy Terry, Anaheim’s leading goal-scorer (22-14—26 in 38 games), spent the previous four games on the COVID list … Nick Foligno did not play in the third period, ruled out with an upper body injury. He finished with 6:08 TOI. It’s unclear if he was injured during a second-period fight with Sam Carrick, which itself was of unclear origin. During a TV timeout, Anaheim goalie Gibson pushed Foligno from behind, as the latter jawed at the Anaheim bench. The goalie’s helmet off, he was shown berating Foligno. On his next shift, Carrick went looking for Foligno, who dropped the gloves. Officials broke it up quickly.


Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.