BUFFALO — Oskar Steen, the Bruins’ sixth-round draft pick from 2016, might need some time to adjust to the North American game before he can make the leap to the National Hockey League. But through just two games at the Prospects Challenge, the short and stout Swede has displayed a trait that’s highly valued by the organization: versatility.
In Friday’s opening 4-3 win against the Penguins rookies, Steen acquitted himself well while getting a look at right wing, a new position. Back at his natural center position in Saturday’s 4-3 loss, Steen stood out, scoring two goals and assisting the third.
“I thought he did pretty well there,” Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach said. “He was assertive. He’s obviously got a nice shot, as we saw on the power play, but overall I thought he was pretty good. He’s responsible. He gets pucks out, gets pucks in. It’s great that we can use him in both positions.”
While the 5-foot-9, 188-pound Steen doesn’t seem to mind playing wing – perhaps his fastest route to the NHL – he believes center is his better position, having played it his whole life. On Saturday, it helped him continue to adjust to the smaller North American rink.
“I have to get used to it,” Steen said. “You don’t have as much time. It’s more playing north and south. You you just keep going forward all the time. I like it, but I just have to get used to it and be better at it. I’m looking forward to playing here.”
This might be the 21-year-old Steen’s first North American season, but it’s not his first pro season. And it was his strong performance with Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League in 2018-19 that helped him decide now was the right time to take the next step on a journey he hopes will end in the NHL. He had 17 goals and 20 assists in 46 games, excellent numbers in the SHL. He had four goals and two assists in 45 games in his first pro season there two years ago.
“It was a huge season for me last year,” Steen said. “I had a big breakout, so this was a key for my confidence, and I feel much better now than two years ago when I was here (for the rookie tourney). I feel much, much more confident now.”
Steen, however, still knows he has a long way to go until he finds his comfort zone.
“I have to get faster, I have to think faster,” he said. “I have to get used to the rink. I have to be stronger on the puck and everything. It’s not just one thing, it’s my overall game.”
Still, he’s looking forward to his first training camp, which begins Friday after Thursday’s physicals.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” Steen said. “That’s going to be exciting for me. It’s going to be my first time, so it will be a new thing for me.”
It is fairly obvious that Urho Vaakanainen has all the tools to become a good NHL defenseman, especially his skating. But through two games at the Prospects Challenge, the 2017 first-round pick (18th overall) has yet to put his game together.
“I think he’s still finding it a little bit. He’s certainly not exactly where he wants to be – not to say any of them really are – but he’s fighting it a little bit,” Leach said. “I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself. He expects to be really good and, in a tournament like this, it’s tough to be really good. It’s so helter-skelter out there.
“We got on (Cooper Zech) a couple of times for complicating things, and then we look at the tape and there were no other options. He’s trying to make something out of nothing, so I can’t really blame him. I think Urho can be the same way. He wants to make a difference. There were certainly moments where I liked his play, and then there were some others where he tried to do too much. He wants to make a difference. It’s all part of the learning process.”
Surely adding to the pressure is the fact there could be an opportunity for him to start his season in Boston, what with John Moore and Kevan Miller injured and the uncertain contract status of both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
“It’s not a secret that there’s some opportunity there. He got a taste of it last year,” Leach said. “I remember back with Danton Heinen two years ago at this tournament and he was squeezing. We talked. You just have to put it in check a little bit. Understand the situation that it is.
“We know you’re excited about coming into camp and having that opportunity, but you might have to live with some mistakes at times and be OK with that. Hopefully, Vaaks will do that. The one thing is that Vaaks wants to be good and he’ll figure it out. It just might take him a little bit of time.”
Anders Bjork didn’t get on the board in Saturday’s game but created a lot of chances, especially while playing up top on the power-play. He appears ready to make a strong push to make the Boston roster.
“He’s definitely more assertive,” Leach said. “He looks just a little more mature. He’s certainly taken a step and hopefully he can continue.”…
The B’s rookies will play their final game of the tourney on Monday morning (9.:30 a.m.) against the Devils before heading home.