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Bruins Will Be Well Represented in Europe Next Season

Four prospects to play overseas

by Chris Weyant @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - In sports like football or basketball, the prime development path for an up-and-coming athlete takes them through the collegiate ranks.

Hockey, however, is a much different animal.

Last week's Bruins Development Camp was a fine illustration of that. The roster was full of players headed in a variety of different directions to continue their trek to turn pro.

Of the 29 prospects that took the ice at Warrior Ice Arena for the camp, only 13 are committed to play college hockey for the 2017-18 season. The rest of the roster will be dispersed through various junior and professional leagues across North America - and even Europe.

Four Bruins prospects - Victor Berglund, Joona Koppanen, Oskar Steen, and Urho Vaakanainen - will all return to their native countries in Europe to sharpen their skills in the hopes of making the Bruins roster in the near future.

Though there are differences between the North American and European styles of play, everyone seems confident that they will be able to make a seamless transition when they make the permanent move across the Atlantic.

"I think it's a little bit faster here, and you go more to the net and shoot," Steen, who plans to play in Sweden's professional league with Farjestad, said of North American hockey.

"But, I think both styles fit me."

The 19-year-old forward has played in Farjestad's junior system since 2012, but has skated in 64 games with their professional team over the past two seasons. He has also had exposure on the international junior stage, and is making that a priority this year as well.

"I really want to play the World Juniors in Buffalo this year," said Steen, "and just play as much as I can back home in Sweden."

Steen had a strong week at Development Camp, catching the eye of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and Bruins Player Development Coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner.

"I'll take a kid like Steen," said Cassidy. "He comes in last year, the change in his body, the work he's put in to be a better-conditioned player. That's what you want to see out of these camps - the guys from year to year come in and mature physically as much as they can in one year."

"He's a gritty guy. He has a high motor…he doesn't play like a small guy at all," added Langenbrunner. "He plays hard and he looked to have a little more finish this year than he did last year which was good to see that he continues to develop the ability to continue to score goals."

For Steen, the decision seemed rather easy to play in his native country and get exposure to a professional setting. Vaakanainen, the Bruins first-round pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft, will do the same, headed back to his home country of Finland to play for SaiPa of Liiga.

"I think I'm going to play in Finland next year," said Vaakanainen. "I had a big role and big minutes there."

The slick-skating defenseman has appeared in 69 games in the Finnish professional league for the past two seasons and has goals in mind to improve his offensive game this season.

"I just have to get some strength, make my shot better, and work on the offensive blueline," said Vaakanainen.

Video: Urho Vaakanainen recaps first Bruins Development Camp

Vaakanainen's fellow countryman Koppanen will also return to Finland this season, though the choice for him was a little more difficult. Koppanen, a fifth-round selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, strongly considered moving to America and continuing his career at a university.

"Some indecision between the Elite League [Liiga] and going to school and he decided to sign there," said Bruins Player Development Coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner. "He played at the junior level last year because he had some thought of coming over to play in college this season. But, changed his mind and is now playing in the Elite League."

Despite the fact that he will spend this season in Finland, Koppanen has notified his team that this could be his last season in Europe.

"I told them that I might go to a university, so I can play here [in America]," Koppanen said.

While the 19-year-old forward has only played junior hockey in Finland, he is gearing up for the prospect of his first professional season with Ilves.

"I think the game is faster," Koppanen said of his transition to professional hockey in Finland. "There are bigger men and they have more strength and come faster to the wall."

While Koppanen was also quick to note the style differences between North American and European hockey, he also made clear that he is working in anticipation of his jump overseas.

"I try to play the North American style," he said of his overall game.

Victor Berglund, a Bruins seventh-round pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft, plans to return to Sweden to play for MODO for his fifth season.

The 6-foot, 165-pound defenseman has risen through MODO's junior ranks with success, giving him a legitimate chance to stick with their pro team for the upcoming season.

Whether it's Development Camp or overseas in Sweden, Berglund maintains the same focus that he hopes will help him take steps towards a career in the National Hockey League.

"I just try to think about what I can do on the ice and show them what I can and what I can prove," emphasized Berglund.

While Bruins fans won't be able to watch much of the four European-bound prospects this season, their past success indicates a bright future in Boston is ahead.

The 2017 Boston Bruins Development Camp is presented by AT&T.

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