TORONTO — Four years into his pro career, Jakub Lauko, 22, still has age on his side. NCAA Division 1 hockey is stacked with seniors identical in age, kids who have yet to dip their boots into the day-to-day working world of skate and shoot.
Lauko, in the lineup for the Bruins Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs, suited up for only the eighth game of his NHL career. A third-round draft pick (No. 77) in 2018, he made his NHL debut on opening night (Oct. 12) this season, potted his first goal on Nov. 1, then found himself back with AHL Providence less than a week later.
“Worked on the defensive side of my game,” Lauko said prior to taking the ice at Scotiabank Arena, nearly three months after being demoted to Providence. “I think I improved a lot as the season went along, my plus-minus, my forecheck.”
Work along the boards, where Brad Marchand is a master craftsman, is often an area where newbie wingers such as Lauko must improve to turn promotions into steady NHL employment.
According to Lauko, assistant Providence coach Trent Whitfield made work along the wall a consistent point of emphasis.
“He loves those drills, so we did it every practice,” noted Lauko. “We had a meeting about it before the start of the season, and how Marchy works along the boards — the way he gets pucks and accelerates out with it.”
Lauko flashed his along-the-wall proficiency on the A.J. Greer goal that delivered a 3-1 lead early in the third period. He alertly won a puck race on the left wall, fended off one of the Leafs, and made a clever one-handed feed that sent Greer bolting up the wing.
“I knew I needed to make a play there,” said a beaming Lauko. “It was a great play in the end, and it happened I was on the puck, just skating north, saw A.J., and passed it to him. He sniped it. Good play.”
Lauko said he expects to join his Providence teammates Thursday or Friday. Then wait for the phone to ring from area code 617.
“I guess I’ll be joining them,” he said, referring to the Baby B’s. “But I don’t know yet.”
The Bruins won’t meet up again as a team until their practice next Thursday (2 p.m.) in Brighton.
Coach Jim Montgomery noted around the new year, some 15 games ago, that he might look to rest some of his older vets (see: David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Nick Foligno, etc.) through the thick of the season. He figured that some of his age-30-and-over crowd might not play on back-to-back nights, or possibly rest a game amid stretches when the Bruins play three games over four nights.
Thus far, however, it has been pretty much no days off — status quo for the oldsters.
“It all depends,” said Montgomery, asked how he will approach the rest issue once camp reconvenes, with 31 games between Feb. 11 and April 13 — a total of 62 days. “The salary cap factors into it.”
The Bruins are among the many clubs hovering very close to the league’s $82.5 million payroll max. Capfriendly.com as of Wednesday morning noted the Bruins had some $2.4 million in available cap space, a number that will be impacted when Jake DeBrusk (on the books for $4 million this season), returns from long-term injured reserve on the other side of the All-Star break.
Montgomery said earlier this week that he expects DeBrusk, who began skating again Monday of last week, will be available for the Feb. 11 game.
The dominant theme on how to spend the All-Star break for Bruins other than David Pastrnak, Linus Ullmark, and Montgomery: Head for the sun.
Brandon Carlo said he’ll be in the Boca Raton, Fla., area with his wife and young child.
“We like this one place, ground level, pool just outside the sliding doors, perfect,” said Carlo, adding that the family’s two dogs, one a Bernese Mountain Dog, will spend their time with a family friend in New Hampshire. “They love being up there, run around in the snow the whole time, and sleep for days when they come back to us.”
Jeremy Swayman will return to Alaska, of course? Everyone wants to be in Alaska in the thick of winter.
“Uh, are you nuts?” said Swayman when a visitor suggested he’d go home. “No way. Florida Keys for me.”
Swayman said a friend or two from Alaska will join him in the Keys, where he already has signed up for a fishing tournament. Desired catch: redfish and bonefish.
“Shallow water, kind of like flyfishing,” noted Swayman. “Got to get in shape for the summer.”
Swayman, born and raised in Alaska, during Alaskan summers often heads out to fish as midnight approaches, the sunlight available throughout the evenings. The late start allows him to catch his quota of salmon for one day, and still be out there after midnight to meet the next day’s quota.
Anton Stralman, a onetime Leafs defenseman who signed with the Bruins in October and was then waived on Nov. 28, recently returned to play with AHL Providence.
According to team president Cam Neely, who accompanied the team here, the working plan is for Stralman to return to the varsity for added depth come playoff time.
Stralman played in only two games, and performed well, before being waived. He was waived, in part, because his $1 million cap hit could make it all the harder for the club to make deals as the March 3 trade deadline approaches.
Meanwhile, the Bruins could not risk demoting young backliner Jakub Zboril, for fear that placing him on waivers would be tantamount to giving him away to another NHL team without compensation.
Zboril, again on the sideline here, last suited up on Jan. 7, one of his two games since Nov. 13.
Swayman appeared to be in a hurry when he left the Boston bench, never to return, early in the second period. Reason: He sought more elbow and knee space and watched the rest of the night from the dressing room. The Leafs have added more front-row seats in the arena this season, thus shrinking the bench size … The Bruins again were flat (0 for 1, one shot by Pavel Zacha) on the power play. They are now 0 for 13 on the PP across the last four games … Lauko made another nice play, firing toward the net off the rush, with defenseman Connor Clifton nearly tipping it home. Every Bruins D-man landed at least one shot and they totaled 11 of the Bruins 29 on Ilya Samsonov … Greer (now with five goals) got in a spirited bout with Wayne Simmonds … Zacha led all skaters with six shots on net … Mitch Marner scored his 19th of the season for the Leafs. He also finished the night with minus-4. Ouch … .Carlo led all skaters with five hits — a mark the coaching staff might appreciate even more than his goal.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.