BUFFALO — There is no standard conversion table, akin, say, to how kilograms convert to pounds, when trying to factor how European players will fit their games into North American-style hockey.
The rinks here are smaller, with sheet width slimmed from 100 to 85 feet, the action therefore faster, and the smaller frozen acreage usually leads to more physical contact. There is no room to hide. Timidity on the ice flashes like a pair of red lights at a railroad crossing.
No one is quite sure if Czech-born Jakub Lauko has all the goods yet to play for the Bruins in 2019-20, but it is apparent the rawboned left winger understands his way around the smaller ice surface and what it takes to score.
“He’s got some serious speed,” noted AHL Providence coach Jay Leach, who oversees all the Bruins’ kids again in this year’s rookie camp. “My biggest thing with him is that he’s not afraid to get things to the net.”
Lauko, 19, was Boston’s third-round pick (No. 77) in the 2018 draft, chosen in large part because he showed signs of a scorer’s acumen and ego. When it came time to assign him after last September’s training camp, Bruins GM Don Sweeney preferred he go to the Quebec League, where scoring ego is nearly as revered as the timber and mining industry.
Lauko’s season of 21-20—41 with Rouyn-Noranda didn’t rewrite the Quebec record book, but it did land him here, for his second swing through Black-and-Gold rookie camp, with a more assured, focused attitude.
“I think I’m a little bit different player,” acknowledged Lauko, reflecting on last season’s full immersion into hockey on this side of the Atlantic.
Leach, without a full frame of reference to compare the Euro-style Lauko to the one who’s finding his way around the smaller rink, was impressed by the candidate’s first game here on Friday afternoon. Lauko scored Boston’s first goal in what turned out to be a 4-3 win over the Penguins, and he repeatedly put himself in high-percentage shooting areas.
“I don’t see any reservation in his game, playing on the small sheet,” added Leach. “It doesn’t look like he’s looking to find open ice where no one is . . . he is going there. Some of the European players, when they come over . . . have to learn [open space] is really not going to be there now. Lauko, I don’t see that . . . I see him up and down the wing, I see him in [puck] battles, and I see him in front of the net, taking pucks to the net — more of a North American style than a conventional European would [show], in my opinion.”
Lauko was back on the job Saturday night for Boston’s 4-3 loss to the Sabres in the four-team round robin tournament with Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and New Jersey.
A dozen or more of the 27 players here will join the Bruins’ varsity camp starting Thursday at Warrior Ice Arena.
It’s a virtual guarantee that Lauko will be among the newbies who’ll get a look, along with the likes of Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Anders Bjork, Urho Vaakanainen, Oskar Steen, Pavel Shen, Cooper Zech, and probably at least two or three others.
Lauko played on a line with Frederic and Steen in the tourney opener.
“I’m not even thinking about junior,” said Lauko, asked how he believes his game projects for the upcoming season. “I’m [focusing] on the Boston roster and lineup — that’s my big goal. I am just working to get there.”
A year ago, when Sweeney was eager for him to go to Quebec, he had his heart set on playing either in Providence or back in Europe, likely for his Czech club, Chomutov Pirati. He signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Bruins in late September, at which point he had less say in his assignment, other than perhaps, “Oui, Monsieur Sweeney.”
It’s clear from talking to Lauko even now that he was somewhat less than thrilled about the assignment.
“The regular season wasn’t perfect for me — I struggled a bit,” he said. “I had some problem with the coach, a bit . . . but at the end of the season, in the playoffs and Memorial Cup, it kind of stabilized. I was fine . . . it was a satisfactory season.”
According to Lauko, the coach, Mario Pouliot “expected something else from me . . . but we found a way at the end of the season to cooperate. I would say it was very good at the end of the season.”
Steen strikes twice
Lauko picked up the primary assist on the first of Steen’s two goals in the 4-3 loss to the Sabres at KeyBank Rink.
Another Czech winger Matej Pekar, chosen 94th overall last season (17 picks after Lauko) connected twice in a three-goal outburst in the middle period when Buffalo moved out to a 4-1 lead.
Steen, a 2016 draft pick (No. 165 overall) who has yet to play in North America, added his second of the night on a power play with 9:30 remaining in regulation. Samuel Asselin , a left winger who had 86 points in the Quebec League last season, netted Boston’s final goal, another power-play strike, with 4:01 to play. Steen added an assist for his third point.
Dan Vladar (24 saves) took the loss in the Boston net. Undrafted invitee Taylor Gauthier is expected to see time in Monday morning’s tourney finale vs. the Devils. Leach is uncertain if Gauthier will go the distance, or share the load with Vladar or Kyle Keyser.
Getting their chance
Kirsten Welsh , 22, called the lines in Friday’s Boston-Pittsburgh game. Originally from the Toronto area, Welsh played defense the last four seasons at Robert Morris University and is one of four women — referees Katie Guay and Kelly Cooke plus linesmen Welsh and Kendall Hanley — the NHL assigned to work in rookie tourneys this September.
From his spot behind the Boston bench, Leach was impressed with Welsh’s work and fully embraces the idea that women can work NHL games.
“There are two important things,” said Leach after the game. “One is the ability to keep up with the play, which clearly, as we saw at the All-Star game, a woman did pretty well with that.”
In January, Kendall Coyne Schofield tore around the ice in San Jose at warp speed in the “fastest skater’” competition during NHL All-Star weekend.
“And No. 2 is communication,” added Leach. “My mother would tell me women are much better at that than men. I would agree . . . so I think it works out all right.”
On Saturday, Leach acknowledged that some women could be challenged to break up one of the few fights that still erupt in NHL games.
“That is certainly a safety issue,” he said. “Ronda Rousey [now of WWE fame] would probably be able to take care of it, I would say. Again, I don’t want to omit all females. Some females probably would feel uncomfortable in that situation, but a lot of males would feel uncomfortable, too.”