The Boston Bruins were reportedly in the hunt for an established NHL defenseman in the lead up to the NHL Draft, even if that meant trading their first-round pick.
Instead, the team used the pick to bolster their blueline of the future by drafting Urho Vaakanainen on Friday, an 18-year-old from Finland.
The draft resumes Saturday with rounds 2-7. The B’s have five more picks to cash in or use as trade fodder, if general manager Don Sweeney can find the right deal.
In Vaakanainen, the 18th overall pick and the seventh defenseman chosen in the first round, the Bruins have a solid if unspectacular prospect.
Last season the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Finn tallied two goals and four assists in 41 games while skating for JYP in Finland’s top professional league.
He won a silver medal this year with Team Finland in the Under-18 World Championship (three goals, three assists in five games) and also represented his country at the World Junior Championship (one goal in six games).
Sweeney and his colleagues in the Bruins front office are hoping Vaakanainen grows into a reliable left-shot d-man who can eat tough minutes on the back end.
But drafting defensemen takes time, and Vaakanainen is almost certainly a few seasons away from contributing in Boston, if he even pans out.
Meanwhile, Sweeney’s search for immediate left-side defensive help for Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug will only get tougher as the offseason progresses.
With his first-round pick spent on Vaakanainen, Sweeney is left with limited draft assets to use Saturday in a potential deal.
The Bruins control one pick in each of the second, fourth and sixth rounds and two in the final round. The team sacrificed its third and fifth round picks this year in questionable trades for Zac Rinaldo in 2015 and John-Michael Liles in 2016.
NHL teams willing to trade a top-four defenseman might be more inclined to plunder Boston’s recently replenished prospect pool. Whether Sweeney is willing to part with a potential key piece of his ongoing rebuilding project remains to be seen, however.
There’s a chance Sweeney moves a forward from the NHL roster — hello Ryan Spooner? But that too would require future picks or prospects to sweeten the deal.
And of course there’s always free agency, which opens July 1 but comes with significant salary-cap risk. The diminishing returns of forwards Matt Beleskey and David Backes should be fresh in Sweeney’s mind if he’s once again tempted to fill roster cracks with pricey free agents.
The Bruins took another step last night in building their future defense. Now it’s time to see what Sweeney does about the present.