With the start of the new season comes the NHL debuts of young hockey players all around the league. During the Boston Bruins’ first game in Washington, DC against the Washington Capitals, rookie Jakub Lauko made his NHL debut.
Going into this past summer, it was obvious the Bruins needed to make a push to get younger. It was part of their reason for firing Bruce Cassidy and bringing in Jim Montgomery: the team had struggled in the previous seasons to get young guys in the full-time rotation. While most of it comes down to poor drafting by general manager Don Sweeney, it was also clear that young guys were struggling to find a place in the team’s system.
It was expected to see young guys make a push for a few open roster spots this season, but Lauko was not a name many had considered to be a frontrunner. But his impressive training camp and preseason got the attention of Montgomery and Bruins management, earning him his debut.
Road to the NHL Draft
Lauko is one of six Czech players on the Bruins, 20 percent of the Czech players currently in the NHL (there are 30 total). He was born on March 28, 2000, in Prague, Czechia. Prior to his draft, he played for Pirati Chomutov in the Czechia league. He joined the club’s U16 team and worked up to playing with the main team in 2017-18. In 42 games that season, he had three goals and nine points. But it’s important to note that he was a 17/18-year-old playing with full-grown men that season.
Lauko made his debut internationally with the Czechia U16 team during the 2015-16 season. In 12 games with the team, he scored three goals and had seven total points. He made the World Juniors team in the 2017-18 season, playing in six games and registering one goal.
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Going into the 2018 NHL Entry Level Draft, Lauko was lauded for his work ethic and attitude on the ice. Scouting reports also noted that he had great acceleration which created a threat on the rush. These qualities had the Bruins’ scouting department thinking he could go as high as the first round, but he fell to the third round where they selected him at pick number 77.
Transition to North American Hockey
Like all European hockey players, coming to play in North America bares not just the expected hardships of being far from home or in a country that speaks a foreign language, but the additional learning curve of adjusting to playing on a smaller-sized ice rink. Lauko, like many European players, came over the season after his draft to begin playing on NHL-sized ice. He joined the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and put together a phenomenal season where he had 21 goals and 41 points in 44 games. It was the most he had scored in a single season since his 2015-16 season with the Pirati Chomutov U16 where he scored 26 goals and 61 points in 24 games.
Lauko made his professional debut in the 2019-20 season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) and things were looking up for him after a strong preseason. He played 22 games that season, scoring five goals and nine total points. That year, he also made the Czechia World Junior team again but was injured during the first game, sidelining him for the rest of the tournament with an MCL injury.
He played 48 total games in 2020-21, 25 games with HC Energie Karlovy Vary in the Czechia league while the AHL and NHL seasons were delayed due to COVID-19. He had 10 points, including five goals, during that time. In Providence that season, he had an additional five goals and 19 points in 23 games.
“Hockey Rock Bottom” to NHL Debut
The 2021-22 season was not a good season of hockey for Lauko. In 54 games with Providence, he had only three goals and 16 points. While he had a good start to last season, scoring one goal and five points in the first nine games, he hit a wall. He didn’t just struggle to generate offense, but was a nightmare in his own end as well, ending the season at minus-28. In the previous two seasons, he ended the year at plus-3 and plus-11 respectively.
When speaking to the media recently, Lauko admitted that he struggled mentally last season, hitting his “hockey rock-bottom.” The struggles were what kept him off many people’s radars this summer when trying to guess which young guys would make the Bruins’ roster.
This offseason, Lauko focused on trying to have fun while playing hockey again and training with Jiri Zak, a Czech Muay Thai champion. With his focus on strength training and conditioning, he came into training camp in terrific shape. His speed, tenacity, and fearlessness were ultimately what caught Montgomery’s attention and earned him a spot on the final roster.
Lauko made his debut this past Wednesday, on Oct. 12. He played just over 11 minutes and had a shot attempt, but otherwise didn’t register on the stats sheet. However, there is still plenty of hockey ahead of him this season.
What Lauko Brings to the Bruins
The Bruins needed to revitalize their bottom six this season. With the return of David Krejci to the second line bringing some stability to an offense that saw a lot of movement throughout the lines last season, the team has a chance to really allow guys to settle into their best-suited roles, particularly in the bottom six.
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While A.J. Greer has gotten the most attention in earning his role amongst the bottom six during the preseason, Lauko quietly brought a lot of grit and speed, something that was lacking last season. He’s not going to necessarily be a highlight-reel goal-scorer, but the Bruins don’t need him to be. They need a guy who can play quickly, consistently and apply pressure to opponents. Lauko can be that guy. He’s not going to play a lot of minutes, but will definitely be a player to keep an eye on.
Given the Bruins’ contract situation, if Lauko plays well, he should stick around for the season. He’s in the final year of his entry-level contract, giving him a cap hit of $764,167. The Bruins are pushing right up against the cap right now and will need to make some moves in order to get Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand back in a few months. If he proves to be an equal or better option to guys with a bigger cap hit in the bottom six, the team would be crazy not to keep him around. With experience and a growing comfort level, he could turn into quite a nice addition to the roster.