WASHINGTON DC – It probably was too far-fetched to even be a goal for him, so it wasn’t surprising to see wonder in Boston Bruins rookie Jakub Lauko’s eyes as he talked about making his NHL debut on Wednesday night against the Washington Capitals.
The 22-year-old had just three goals and 16 points in 54 games for the Providence Bruins and rocked up a ghastly minus-28 last year, and admitted it was his “hockey rock-bottom” while it was happening. Lauko responded by changing up his mindset to find the fun in hockey again and to jump into some unconventional training methods back in the Czech Republic working with Olympic wrestlers and Czech Muay thai champion Jiri Zak.
The workouts were fierce and actually give the young bottom-6 forward more confidence that he can handle himself if things get out of hand physically, and it all led into a training camp where he outlasted many of his peers to land on the NHL roster.
“I was doing a lot of strength training and a lot of conditioning with wrestlers and with Muay thai,” said Lauko. “It was a hybrid of everything. It was really good and I will do that again this summer.
“The training was really, really hard. Some trainings with them, I was sitting in the locker room [afterward] saying ‘What the hell did I drag myself into?’ I couldn’t even lift my hands or stand up. It was hard, but I feel like it’s going to pay off.”
Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery pointed to the speed and tenacity as areas where Lauko can make his mark with the B’s, and there’s little doubt he’s going to be flying around full tilt in his first NHL game.
“His speed, his tenacity, and he’s fearless,” said Montgomery of Lauko’s attributes. “He’s fearless going to hard areas. We think he brings energy to our group, and that speed element is something we felt we needed in our lineup.”
Certainly the Boston Bruins hope that the combo of speed and fearlessness from Lauko and the incoming AJ Greer can make a big impact on their bottom-6. For his part, Lauko said he was “a little tired” after not getting much sleep on Tuesday night, but energized to be given his NHL shot sooner than he might have expected it was going to happen.
“I just feel a lot of excitement and that it’s a privilege to be here,” said Lauko, a third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. “Be hard on the forecheck, be hard on pucks and try to win every battle. Just play my game and not be nervous, even though the guys said it would be hard. That’s really all I can do.
“It’s kind of a strange feeling because it was hard last season. There were moments during the season that I thought it wasn’t going to work out for me here. But just being here for the first game of the season feels really good, and I am happy that I stayed and just kept working,
“I had lost all of my confidence that I had built up from previous years and I just hit let’s say ‘the hockey rock-bottom.’ It was hard to drag myself out of it, but I’m just happy I kept working. I literally hit the reset button and found the joy in playing hockey again.”
Here’s the Boston Bruins lineup for Wednesday night’s opener vs. the Capitals based on the morning skate at Capital One Arena with Linus Ullmark as the first goalie off the ice: