Boston Bruins: How will Vaakanainen and Gaunce contribute to the B’s lineup?

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 15: William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots the puck against Urho Vaakanainen #58 of the Boston Bruins during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 15: William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots the puck against Urho Vaakanainen #58 of the Boston Bruins during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Boston Bruins have seen an array of ill-timed injuries spoil the second month of the regular season. Finding themselves without stars like Patrice Bergeron or up-and-coming prospects like Zach Senyshyn, the Bruins have turned to Providence callups Brendan Gaunce and Urho Vaakanainen to tide them over in the meantime.

The injury list provided by head coach Bruce Cassidy after Monday’s practice was far from pretty. Bergeron‘s still out with lower body woes, and will most likely be a game-time decision on Tuesday. Brett Ritchie, out with an upper body injury, is also skating and may be a game-time decision.

Although it’s great that Bergeron may well be back soon, the Bruins will have to be more patient awaiting the returns of Torey Krug, David Backes, Kevan Miller, Karson Kuhlman and Zach Senyshyn.

These gaps in the lineup aren’t the end of the world; it’s really to be expected in an 82-game regular season, especially one coming off the heels of a long, brutal postseason. I’m normally an advocate for keeping one’s head down and focusing on the big picture, but let’s not be so calm that we forget that the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers aren’t eyeing the Bruins’ number one spot in the Atlantic Division standings.

This is where the callups come in.

Vaakanainen is a familiar face to most Bruins fans; he’d only just been reassigned to Providence on Sunday after playing three games up in Boston, and we’ve already commiserated over what we can realistically expect from him.

Although he didn’t make the score sheet, he pulled in a respectable amount of minutes for a young defenseman, with a high of 19:19 played in the recent tilt against the Washington Capitals.

It’s clear that he needs to add more polish to his game, but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed watching him the past three games he’s been up. I feel as though he anchors that third defensive pairing well and is capable of diverting momentum back into the Bruins’ hands.

In the Bruins’ win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he pulled off a neat play in from of the net to derail what could have been a deadly offensive moment for the Leafs.

Watch the clip provided by Boston Sports Journal’s Conor Ryan if you’re more of a visual learner. I was really quite impressed with his poise and control in getting the puck to Bergeron off of that play.

Should Vaakanainen get more opportunities like this to show off his collectedness, and he grows more into an NHL caliber defenseman who can really settle into the grunt work of the position, I should think he’ll handle third-pairing responsibilities beautifully. Especially playing with Clifton — they could well play some beautiful hockey together.

Gaunce, however, is more of an unknown.

He’s a summertime acquisition from the Vancouver Canucks, and the general consensus around him seems to be “that one guy who never really lived up to his potential.” Not a glowing endorsement, but we’ve all heard worse from our parents at some point.

He’s never played a full NHL season; the most time he’s spent with the Canucks is a 57-game stop, in which he scored five points and racked up 33 penalty minutes.

His last NHL game was just over a year ago today, suiting up for the Canucks against the Canadiens, who handed Vancouver their fifth-straight loss. Gaunce played 4:58 in this game, a near halving of what he’d played in his previous game.

However, it’s only fair to note that in 60 games with the Utica Comets that season, Gaunce scored 38 points and totaled 54 penalty minutes.

But the past is ancient history. Let’s pivot to the present.

Gaunce has seven points in 11 games with the Providence Bruins, and has evidently impressed the big club enough that they’re willing to take a shot on him. Given that he’ll likely be plugging into Senyshyn’s bottom-six role, it’s far from a high-risk placement for Gaunce.

I can’t predict what exactly he’ll bring to the Bruins, as it depends on whether he leans on being more of a classic grinder player (bringing in those penalty minutes and etc.) or if he tries to get his scoring hand going (as we’ve seen him do in the AHL). Knowing what we know about the Bruins’ concerning scoring problems, it’s safe to say that he might want to focus on the latter.

For what it’s worth, Krug, Bergeron and Miller might be back sooner rather than later, which might boot these two callups out unless they really impress this week.

Luckily for both Vaakanainen and Gaunce, they have plenty of chances to do so. The Bruins have a spate of three games this week: Tuesday against the uneven Devils, Thursday against the Sabres and Sunday against the Wild.

Related Story. Keep a close eye on Gaunce. light

These games offer a good mix of “should probably win” and “this will be interesting,” which should be a good enough range for these two callups to show the Hub what they’ve got.

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