Two young Boston Bruins defensemen have been loaned overseas this morning, with Urho Vaakanainen heading to SaiPa in Finland’s top league and Cooper Zech heading to HK Nitra in Slovakia. Both players are expected back in North America when NHL training camps open.
Vaakanainen will grab the headlines here, especially after his name was included in trade speculation recently. The 21-year-old defenseman was a first-round pick in 2017 but has played just seven NHL games to this point. That doesn’t mean his potential has diminished, but the clock is ticking on his opportunity to show he can be a legitimate top-four option for the Bruins.
For now, Vaakanainen will return to the club he played for during the 2017-18 season, the last before he came to North America. The 6’1″ defenseman scored 11 points in 43 games as a teenager for SaiPa that year, while also suiting up for the Finns at the World Juniors. The shine that surrounded his prospect status then has dulled a bit in the meantime, so this is a great opportunity to get back on the ice and prove his development has not stalled.
For Zech, simply getting into some more games is the most important part of his loan. The 21-year-old signed a two-year with the Providence Bruins of the AHL in the spring of 2019, leaving Ferris State after just one season of college hockey. He scored 14 points in 45 games for Providence this season but needs to produce at an even higher rate if he is to ever be considered for an NHL spot.