Entering the 2021-2022 season, he had appeared in 16 games at the NHL level but failed to carve out a role. However, over the last two weeks, Vaakanainen has gotten another opportunity and taken advantage.
Since making his season debut on Jan. 8, Vaakanainen has recorded four assists in five games. The 23-year-old looks more comfortable in the offensive zone and has only gone one game without a point. He has stepped up with crucial pieces out of the lineup as the Bruins have gone 8-1-0 so far in January.
Additionally, the Bruins defenseman has landed five hits and blocked four shots. While averaging a career-high 19:42 of ice time per game, Vaakanainen only has two penalty minutes. In the Bruins latest win, he was paired with Charlie McAvoy on Boston’s first defensive pairing and held his own against the second-best team in the Western Conference.
Vaakanainen is making an impact in his short stint so far
Although his play has provided a boost, it has also impressed Bruce Cassidy. Due to his recent performance, Cassidy sees Vaakanainen as a player with a bright future.
"“Opportunity arose, and some guys kick the door down. Other guys kind of gently step through it and I think he’s somewhere in between there and he’s doing a good job. He’s gonna make it. Difficult decisions when we’re 100% healthy and that’s what we want as an organization and, you know, you need that circle of life for those young guys coming in. So good for him, but again, it’s consistency, right? And so far so good with that area.”"
As the Bruins’ offense improved, the defense has played a vital role. When McAvoy and Vaakanainen are on the ice, Boston has a 21-8 advantage in scoring chances. The Bruins have also outshot their opponents 30-11 when their new duo is on the ice. With Vaakanainen’s puck vision on full display, Bostons’ top defensive pairing has not been an easy matchup for opponents.
While Vaakanainen was promoted due to injuries, he is making a case to stay in the lineup. He has limited his mistakes while facing some of the best teams in hockey. He is showing up constantly on the score sheet, which was not the case in the past.
While the Bruins have had to be patient, the former first-round pick is showing that he belongs in the NHL.