By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Daniel Bukac got the news toward the tail end of Bruins development camp in late June, and he was smiling from ear to ear in the Warrior Ice Arena dressing room.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound defenseman had just been selected by the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL in the second round (No. 96) CHL Import Draft.
Bukac knew a new potential challenge loomed, and last week he took the challenge by committing to the IceDogs.
“I’m really excited to come over there,” Bukac said at the conclusion of his second Boston development camp. “It’s going to be a new start, so yeah, I’m excited.”
The 19-year-old Czech, a Bruins seventh-round pick (No. 204) in 2017, felt like he needed a fresh start because of some struggles he had with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. After returning from a five-month absence following knee surgery, Bukac had eight assists in 39 regular-season games for the Wheat Kings. Things progressed for him in the playoffs with one goal and one assist in 11 games.
That postseason performance helped seal Niagara’s confidence that Bukac could come over and be a big part of a deep group of defensemen.
“We know that he came back from that and was very effective in the playoffs,” Niagara general manager Joey Burke said. “A guy that plays as hard as Daniel does, then obviously that’s bound to happen [getting injured] at times. But again we’re confident, we know he’s healthy and we expect the player to do a nice job for us this year.”
Burke said the IceDogs have 10 defensemen trying out this training camp. With Bukac’s particular playing style, size and experience, the Bruins draft pick should be a mainstay on the Niagara back end.
“He’s a guy that obviously we see as an every-night guy, big minutes,” Burke said. “Being a right-handed shot and as big and imposing as he is, I think he’ll come in as our strongest, pure defensive defenseman. It should be very exciting to watch.”
As far as his development, Bukac obviously felt like he was off track a bit during his recovery from injury. But since then he’s feeling better, and at this summer’s development camp he said he felt 100 percent for the first time in a while.
He felt good enough that his main concern was no longer getting healthy but working on the laundry list of improvements every teenaged prospect focuses on.
“Well still got to work on my skating,” he said. “I’ve got to work on overall myself, that’s what I’ve got to work on.”
He’ll be working on everything while playing a major role in Niagara. The Bruins hope he’ll take advantage of his fresh start.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.