Jakub Lauko is not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Once considered a roster bubble fixture last fall, Lauko has carved out a role as a bottom-six spark plug with the Bruins due to a potent mix of speed and snarl.
There’s little that Lauko won’t do when he hops over the boards — be it buzzing around on the forecheck, serving as a fly in the ointment against opponents after the whistle, or standing up for his teammates by way of a few right hooks.
“He’s a pretty relentless player,” Jim Montgomery said of Lauko on Thursday. “Allows us to play fast because he checks fast and even with the puck, you know he supports plays fast offensively.”
Lauko, who incorporates Muay Thai and Greco-Roman wrestling into his offseason regimen, has few qualms with dropping the gloves. For the 23-year-old winger, it’s a necessary measure in a game of controlled chaos like hockey — serving as both a deterrent against liberties taken against his teammates, and an avenue toward sparking both the bench and thousands of fans in the stands.
As such, Lauko opted to pull no punches in regards to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s (QMJHL) decision to ban fighting, starting with the 2023-24 season.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for hockey overall,” Lauko told Boston.com on Thursday.
According to the new safety mandates set down by the QMJHL, any player who engages in a fight will be automatically ejected from a game.
Any player “found to have instigated the fight” will get an automatic one-game suspension, while the player “declared to be the aggressor during the fight” will be handed a minimum two-game suspension.
New QMJHL commissioner Mario Cecchini stressed the need for a culture change back in March when the wheels were put in motion for these new protocols.
The new measures, per the league regulations, “provides for fights being
prohibited with more restrictive and dissuasive sanctions in order to emphasize a safe quality of play conducive to the development of players participating in QMJHL activities.”
But from Lauko’s viewpoint, curbing physical play and the ability to defend one’s self beyond league ramifications tends to do more harm than good.
“You’re playing hockey. It’s been a physical sport since day one,” Lauko said. “And I think that’s a big part of why the fans are coming to games. It’s what you want to see, right? They want to see the physicality. They want to see the fighting.
“You’ve got guys who are not as talented, they don’t have that given [hockey] skill since they were born, and they need to impress somehow differently. Some part of that is guys will go and fight. And now you will have a couple of good guys who are deserving [of pro opportunities] and they might not make it. Because it’s a big part of hockey. It was, and still is — and hopefully will be.”
Gone are the days of “goons” and “enforcers” in today’s NHL.
But even if line brawls and other bombastic scraps have dissipated as the game caters more toward speed and skill, even established players like Brad Marchand see the merit in players being able to take matters into their own hands when needed.
“I don’t think it should ever leave,” Marchand, who played for three teams in the QMJHL, said back in March after the news first broke about the league’s efforts to halt fighting. “Again, I think it does hold guys accountable still, to a point where cheap shots are allowed or big enough hits and you can go after guys, and I think it does keep guys in check a little bit more.
“If you lose that ability, then it does open the doors to a whole other … you’re completely relying on player safety [in the NHL office] for each and every play, and then that’s going to get out of control.”
Lauko agreed with Marchand’s sentiment. From the 23-year-old winger’s perspective, players not having the ability to police and deter opponents could lead to actions that put players on a stretcher, rather than five minutes in the sin bin.
“In those situations of addressing a high hit or stuff, you’ll get some idiots that are going to be running around and trying to just injure people without respect and any immediate answer,” Lauko said. “Guys are gonna hit high, hit from behind and they know the only consequences might be a suspension, 1-2 games.”
Lauko is not expected to routinely drop the gloves with the Bruins, especially not if he logs shifts on a line next to Milan Lucic.
But as he tries to entrench himself as a regular presence in Boston’s lineup, the pesky forward is ready to do whatever is necessary to earn his keep up at hockey’s highest level.
“Last year, I felt like I played really well defensively, [accepted] the role that I was given, just be hard, be first on the puck, win races. Try to play hard, hit people, get under their skin,” Lauko said. “l think I did it pretty well during camp and the start of the season. So that’ll probably be my role the next couple of seasons, so I am trying to build on it and be better at it.”