Time For another mailbag. I hope you’re finding them as entertaining as I am.
Matt via email asks:
Question – You don’t talk about Urho Vaakanainen much. I still believe he’s an NHL defenseman. What are your thoughts on him?
Answer: When the Bruins drafted Urho Vaakanainen 18th overall in 2017, I was told he wasn’t their first choice and the player they actually coveted was taken a couple of spots earlier. Then I was told that the majority of the scouting staff wanted a player who had number one centreman potential but one or two scouts pounded the table for Urho and here we are.
It’s not that Vaak didn’t have talent, he did. It’s been four and a half years since he’s been drafted and we know defencemen sometimes take longer to develop. But time for Vaak is soon running out. He is a restricted free agent at the end of this season and will need a new contract. He will certainly be given his qualifying offer so that the team retains his rights but the problem is that if he doesn’t make the big club next season, he will no longer waiver exempt and that means 31 other teams could grab him at no cost.
After five years in the organization, I get the sense he will be looking for a one-way deal similar to the one the Bruins gave to Jakob Zboril. I also think there could be a stalemate if that is the case. At that point, I would not be the least bit surprised if Vaak went back to his native Finland to play professional hockey back home.
So, what happened to his hockey? Honestly, I don’t know. Some blame the concussion he received back in October 2018. That was over three years ago. Some say the concussion he received has made him tentative. I’m of the opinion that if he is tentative and worried about the hit, then hockey isn’t the sport he should be playing.
On some nights Vaak has looked absolutely dreadful for the P-Bruins. There are times he has shown flashes of what he could be, but those are few and far between. Maybe his head isn’t into it like it was before his concussion. Or maybe he just doesn’t have the head most of us thought he had when he was drafted.
Raleighfer via HF Boards asks:
Question – Thank you for the mailbag. I look forward to this and your Monday posts. Can you address this more specifically?
There are a couple of examples in the system where a player wasn’t necessarily put in a position of strength and it’s hurt the player and the organization. That’s on the development side not the scouting side. (This was something I wrote in last week’s mailbag).
Answer – Sure I will. I probably should have gone into more detail. As I said last week, it’s up to player development to determine a player’s strength, put him in that position to succeed and then work on the areas of his game that need improvement. Rightly or wrongly (that’s not the debate here and now) the Bruins selected Zach Senyshyn back in 2015 as a goal scorer. As an OHL rookie, he scored 26 goals playing mostly fourth line duties and just under 12 minutes per game. And he followed that up with consecutive 40-plus goal seasons. Senyshyn was, to put it simply, a pure goal scorer who had no idea where the defensive end was because he was never tasked with those duties. Immediately upon his arrival in Providence, that changed and his task was to learn defence first. That was what he was asked to do (for more than a season) and his offensive game never took on the development at the pro level.
Jakub Forsbacka-Karlsson is another. Could never find his offensive game and when his contract was up, he went back home to re-try and establish his game. Didn’t happen and now he’s looking for someplace to play hockey.
There are other examples I’m sure you can find. But as I said, let them play to their strengths and use the old Detroit Red Wings model of working on the other parts of their game afterwards. Let them percolate in the AHL as long as necessary. And that, is on player development.
Annie via email asks:
Question – Hey Dom, long time HF lurker and a reader of yours outside of the forums as well. I’ll try to be brief and concise, but I suck at it: What exactly is it you believe the Bruins saw in Koppanen that led to them offering him that ELC so quickly? Was it simply asset management, or something they felt they saw in the player that early? The sort of minutes they try to feed him, situationally, make it seem to me they felt they had a player who could produce quite a bit more offensively in NA.
Answer – Great question Annie and the truth is I don’t know. I can honestly say I was surprised they gave Joona Koppanen his qualifying offer in the summer. I thought for sure they would let him walk to be honest. The timing of him signing his entry level contract is somewhat irrelevant since he signed as an 18- or 19-year-old his contract would slide unless he played in 10 NHL games, meaning they would get an extra year out of it (similar to Vaakanainen when he signed and Fabian Lysell this season).
As for whether they saw some offensive potential in him that’s possible. He did have a solid season statistically with Ilves Under-20 after his draft. But prior to that, he only showed offensive potential in Finland’s Under-18 league. It’s safe to say any offensive ability has not been seen at the AHL level, but you know, you have to ice an AHL team as well and you need different types of players to make a successful team. Maybe that’s why they kept him. I don’t realistically see the NHL as an option for him. He’ll end up an AHL player or more likely overseas.
Annie had a follow up a couple of days later:
Comment – I wanted to add a firm and sincere belief I have, also: I believe if Senyshyn had played the same number of NHL games with David Krejci, he’d have produced similarly to JD.
Reply – Sadly Annie, we will never know the answer to that. As odd as this may seem, Senyshyn, throughout his career, has always done much better with a right shot center. It’s odd because you would think his style would be better suited with a left shot making passes on their forehand rather than backhand. But I really don’t think Krejci’s slow the pace down and create space and opportunity would have meshed with Senyshyn’s fast paced skating. But like I said, we’ll never know.
Eugene via email asks:
Question – Hi Dom. Do you see if either Wolff or Senyshyn can still have a shot with the big Club? Also, it’s early but what do you think the possible trade targets are for Don Sweeney?
Answer – I just don’t think Nick Wolff is an NHL player. He may turn into one at some point, but not right now. If he’s skating for Boston at any point this season, then they have some serious injury problems and are doomed for the bottom half of the league standings. As for Zach Senyshyn, he is off to a good start with Providence but I’m not sure in his first 18 games he will surpass what he did in 18 games last season. That said, there are two issues I see in Senyshyn’s way: One, he can’t seem to stay healthy when he does get a shot with the big club and two, he has been passed on the depth chart as was evidenced by the Bruins calling up Oskar Steen instead of him this past weekend. He could still get a chance if there are injuries later in the season, but any callup will be based on injuries. There just isn’t any room on the 23-man roster for callups otherwise.
As for trade options, you answered that already. It’s early. Every NHL team is still in the process of determining needs and the future with the exception of the Arizona Coyotes. Let’s revisit it in December when teams have a better understanding of where they are.
David via email asks:
Question – *Pastrnak doesn’t count, he’s out of the world with skill and fell into their laps* Who is the last quality top 6 F the Bruins drafted? What’s the problem here? Are we drafting the wrong Fs or are we not developing Fs properly? Talk about a lack for secondary scoring the last few years… it’s almost like we shoot ourself in the foot to start.
Answer – Why wouldn’t David Pastrnak count? They could have passed on him and picked someone else, no? Or the fact that then General Manager Peter Chiarelli wanted to move up to select him only to be told be then Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney that he would still be there when they pick proves that Pasta is a player they recognized as being ‘special’ and were willing to do what it took to select him. I believe you’re closing the book on Jack Studnicka too soon. And of course, there is Lysell. And I am seeing some excellent things from Brett Harrison. While I agree the drafting has been a mixed bag, things can’t happen overnight. I think they did well with Jakub Lauko and Oskar Steen as middle sixers. But the Bruins are going to have to be at the top of their drafting game in 2022.
Not suggesting you are in this category, but with social media the way it is, this has become a fast-food mentality type of world and it applies to hockey as well. Everyone wants everything yesterday. Patience is required with some of the prospects.
William via email asks:
Question – My question is regarding the Bruins defense pairings – I think Cassidy is making a mistake by deviating from Grzelcyk-McAvoy, Reilly-Carlo, Forbort-Clifton. I get that they may not feel completely comfortable with Grzelcyk on the top pair, but he has at least shown himself capable of doing that job. (I shortened this because it was just too long).
GeeWally via twitter asks:
Question – First, what is the rule on if Krejci wants to come back and by when? Second, for clarity who is responsible for 23-man roster? Ups and downs. Thanks. Seems many don’t really know. One more- we know there’s annual Christmas roster freeze. Will there also be one during the Olympic break?
Answer – Normally Wally, the rule is that if a player playing in Europe plays in one game overseas after the start of the NHL season, and then signs an NHL contract, that player would require waivers before he can play in the NHL. However, under the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the NHL and NHLPA, item 56 (section 13.23) states: “CBA 13.23 amended such that it shall continue to apply to another Club’s RFA but it shall not apply to UFAs who play for a club outside North America after the start of the NHL Regular Season through and including December 15.” In other words, if Krejci signs with the Bruins on December 16, 2021 and plays even one game in Europe, he would require waivers.
As for your second question, it’s on the General Manager. But you’re fighting a losing battle as I have had this conversation countless times with people. The coach does not have the power to reassign or assign players. Obviously, he can make a suggestion but usually a coach doesn’t have the understanding of the CBA and salary cap to be making those decisions. And usually, management and the coach will discuss with their AHL coaches what the big clubs need is at the time and ask for input in who fits best and who is playing best at the time. For the Bruins, they have the luxury of Sweeney and Evan Gold getting to Providence games to see for themselves first hand. Many fans also miss the point that there is a 23-man roster limit and you can not exceed that (except after trade deadline if you are cap compliant). So, barring a player going on injured reserve, in the Bruins case – because they have no one waiver exempt on their roster – subsequent moves (waiver or trade) are required. That’s on the GM not the coach. In the end, you can’t just call up a player because you want to call up a player.
As for the Olympics, yes there will be a roster freeze during the Olympic break just as there was in 2010 and 2014 when the NHL sent players to the Olympics.
Randy via email asks:
Question – Awesome mailbag last week! Great detailed responses!
1) Why is Kevin Dean not on the bench tonight? At least I have not seen him. Looks like Sacco running the D.
2) An observation more than a question but if they kept icing stats, Gryz must be leading the way. Frustrating with the number of times he does it. Think he is looking for that long lead pass but seems to miss more than not.
Answer – Thanks Randy! I don’t know about Dean. Have not heard anything and really didn’t notice. I had the TSN feed and they never really scanned the Bruins bench much at all.
Interesting observation about Grzelcyk. I think that when you have a good faceoff team like the Bruins, they aren’t too worried about it. That makes the reward greater than the risk. But I am sure if that is the case, it is something the coaching staff (and analytics department) will have noticed and will try and address. You don’t want to keep playing with fire.
Thanks to everyone who submitted questions. We’ll do this again next week. If you want to get questions in early, you can submit them via email to firstname.lastname@example.org