Zdeno Chara enters the 2018–19 season in what could be his last. The Slovakian defenseman will be playing in his 21st season in the NHL on a one-year contract. There’s no denying that Chara’s game has slipped over the last few seasons and he’s not getting any younger, which makes you feel that this could be his last ride.
If Chara is to hang the skates up after this season, he’ll leave a big hole on the left side of the Bruins defense. There’s no one that can fully fill the void that’ll be left from the big man. However, one way the Bruins can fill that void is by committee. And one man that can help fill that role is Urho Vaakanainen. It’s still yet to be seen where Vaakanainen will be spending most of his season this year. However, it’s easy to see that he’ll be an NHL regular sooner rather than later. The 2017 1st round pick has turned quite a few heads this preseason and has shown why he was a first round pick.
Vaakanainen will never fully replace what Chara was when he was in his prime and I don’t think the Bruins expect him to. What the Bruins do expect out of him is to play his style of hockey, which is to use his smooth skating abilty and heads up play to get the puck out of his own end. Those who have watched the Finnish defender play know about his ability to skate and his ability to make a heads up play with the puck. When he combines those skills, he makes it tough for opposing teams to keep the puck in his defensive zone.
Vaakanainen has and will never light up the score sheet. But points aren’t everything in hockey. What Vaakanainen does is help the scorers get their chance to score. He turns defense into offense. Watching Vaakanainen play, it’s easy to see that there’ll be many times in his career that he won’t get an assist on a goal, but his quick transitioning from defense to offense will be the reason his teammates found the back of the net. As we saw throughout the preseason, he doesn’t freak out when the puck is on his stick and he can really move both his skates and the puck.
As I said earlier, it’s tough to tell where the former first rounder will spend most of his season. His lack of North American playing experience makes it feel like he’ll see tons of time in the AHL. However, Vaakanainen had a tremendous preseason and could be NHL ready. More importantly, he’ll definitely be ready to help fill a void that’ll soon be left by Zdeno Chara.
Kevin Maggiore (@kevin_maggiore)