Tag Archives: 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers 2019-20 Season Preview

Florida Panthers

36-32-14, 86 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the postseason for the third straight year

Additions: F Noel Acciari, F Brett Connolly, F Joel Lowry, F Kevin Roy, F Dominic Toninato (acquired from COL), D Gustav Bouramman (acquired from MIN), D Tommy Cross, D Ethan Prow, D Anton Stralman, G Sergei Bobrovsky, G Philippe Desrosiers

Subtractions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea (signed with BUF), F Henrik Haapala (KHL), F Juho Lammikko (Liiga), F Derek MacKenzie (retired), F Maxim Mamin (KHL), F Vincent Praplan (NLA), F Riley Sheahan (signed with EDM), D Ludwig Bystrom (Liiga), D Michael Downing (signed with Florida, ECHL), D Jacob MacDonald (traded to COL), D Julian Melchiori (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Scott Darling (acquired from CAR, then bought out), G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (traded to CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Jamie McGinn

Re-signed: F Troy Brouwer (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Greco, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Dryden Hunt, F Denis Malgin, D Ian McCoshen, D Thomas Schemitsch, D MacKenzie Weegar, G Sam Montembeault

Offseason Analysis: The rules of the offseason are pretty simple. Don’t be that person that overpays.

But for Florida Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon, apparently the rules don’t apply.

Yes, fixing the hole in the net left behind by Roberto Luongo’s decision to retire was a good idea. No, signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract isn’t a steal.

A $10.000 million cap hit for a goaltender that’s 30-years-old and only getting older won’t exactly look too great by the fourth year of the deal, but by then it might not even be Tallon’s problem.

Tallon is in “win now” mode.

The Panthers haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Final since their lone appearance in 1996, in which they were swept in four games– the final two on home ice– by the Colorado Avalanche.

As it is, Florida hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016’s First Round loss to the New York Islanders in six games.

So they’ve bolstered their roster with Bobrovsky in the crease and three other players that were signed on July 1st– Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman.

Acciari’s a bottom-six forward who likes to hit and can hit clean, but at three-years and $1.667 million per season, might be a bit much to pay for someone who only had 14 points last season. Sure it was career-year, but his goal scoring production was down from 10 goals in 2017-18 to six goals in 2018-19.

Connolly signed a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and with a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the Washington Capitals in 2018, he brings more than just winning pedigree– he had career-highs in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) in 81 games for the Caps last season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft is finally coming around to his potential at age 27. Better late than never and that’s why the Panthers are taking this gamble.

An improved offense in the top-nine forwards to go with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano, as well as an addition to the blue line in Anton Stralman’s three-year contract worth $5.500 million per season has the Panthers with high hopes for the 2019-20 season.

Especially when you consider the fact that their new head coach behind the bench is three-time Stanley Cup champion, Joel Quenneville.

Tallon, Quenneville and Florida’s roster don’t just have their sights set on a First Round appearance.

What if they don’t pull things off right away and age catches up to their free agent signings from this offseason? Is it right back to square one as an older, slower, knock-off version of their intra-state rival up in Tampa?

Ten players on the current NHL roster are pending free agents of the unrestricted and restricted variety after this season.

Florida currently has about $781,330 in cap space with Hoffman and Dadonov as their biggest pending-UFAs next July.

Thanks to Luongo’s early retirement, the Panthers will be stifled with a cap recapture penalty that’s not as significant as the one the Vancouver Canucks will face, but nonetheless costing Florida $1,094,128 per season through 2021-22.

But Tallon is used to maxing out the books to put his team in a position to win sooner rather than later– just ask the Chicago Blackhawks how their Cup winning core worked out for them.

Offseason Grade: B

Florida going “all-in” in free agency is out of character for their franchise history, it would seem. While nabbing top-end talent at a premium price lands the Panthers as a winner of the bidding war for free agents, there’s a lot of risk involved.

Long-term growth may have been stalled by short-term planning for gains that may or may not pan out as the season has yet to begin. As such, Tallon’s offseason was “above average”, but now comes the time to prove whether it was all worth it or else risk becoming the more expensive version of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 trade deadline.

Detroit Red Wings 2019-20 Season Preview

Detroit Red Wings

32-40-10, 74 points, 7th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the playoffs for the third straight season

Additions: F Adam Erne (acquired from TBL), F Valtteri Filppula, D Patrik Nemeth, G Calvin Pickard

Subtractions: F Louis-Marc Aubry (DEL), D Jake Chelios (KHL), F Martin Frk (signed with LAK), F Axel Holmstrom (SHL), F Wade Megan (retired), F Dylan Sadowy (signed with Utica, AHL), D Niklas Kronwall (retired), D Libor Sulak (KHL), D Luke Witkowski (signed with TBL), G Patrik Rybar (Liiga), G Harri Sateri (KHL)

Still unsigned: F Thomas Vanek

Re-signed: F Dominic Turgeon, D Joe Hicketts

Offseason Analysis: The Red Wings have a new General Manager in Steve Yzerman and with that, an entirely new outlook on their rebuild, as well as internal philosophy.

Yzerman is a proactive general manager, identifying and fixing holes before, during and after they occur, as well as assembling his own crew inside the front office and around the world in scouts.

Though Detroit isn’t expected to smash through the roof of annual Cup contenders this season, Yzerman is determined to bring the team he spent 22 seasons playing for back into relevancy.

Yes, that’s right, relevancy.

The Red Wings have missed the playoffs for the last three straight seasons and haven’t had an easy time adjusting to life in the salary cap era since winning the Cup in 2008 with a core largely built of players before the salary cap existed.

There have been a lot of smaller departures this offseason, but Yzerman’s brought in a familiar face from his days at the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning, acquiring bottom-six forward, Adam Erne, from the Bolts in exchange for a 2020 4th round pick and the return of former Red Wing, turned Lightning, Philadelphia Flyer and most recently New York Islander, Valtteri Filppula via free agency.

Durable top-six defender, Patrik Nemeth was poached from the Colorado Avalanche in free agency and brings his up-and-down the defensive pairings style to an otherwise aging and oft-injured blue line.

Yzerman doesn’t get to lay claim to drafting Filip Zadina or Joseph Veleno, but he does get to reap the benefits of bringing them into the lineup.

One question that remains while the new regime in the front office continues to revaluate the situation and the long-term plan– what’s to become of current head coach, Jeff Blashill?

In four seasons with Detroit– albeit with a lackluster roster– Blashill has never led his team to higher than a 3rd place finish in the Atlantic Division and has a 1-4 record in the Stanley Cup Playoffs– dating back to his only appearance with the Red Wings in their First Round matchup with the Lightning in 2016.

There’s five pending-unrestricted free agents and seven pending-restricted free agents at season’s end, so things are very fluid in the Red Wings organization– especially with Yzerman in charge.

Offseason Grade: B

Detroit would have almost gotten an “A” grade for hiring Yzerman alone, but the fact that we have to consider the current roster and less than stellar free agent acquisitions– though still malleable and fitting for a team looking to speed up their transition from the basement back to the top– the Red Wings had a little bit of an “above average” offseason.

DTFR Podcast #159- Battle For Gloria (Part One)

Nick and Pete recap the Ottawa Senators coaching hire, two extensions, the latest rumors and the 2019 Western Conference Final while teasing their 2019 Stanley Cup Final preview.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #157- Play Gloria, You Jerks

Nick, Cap’n and Pete mourn the Columbus Blue Jackets, review the Vegas Golden Knights front office moves, Ken Holland to the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers new assistant coaches. Finally, the guys preview the 2019 Eastern Conference Final matchup between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the 2019 Western Conference Final matchup between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2018 Offseason Preview: Dallas Stars

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Dallas Stars and their outlook for the summer.

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Ken Hitchcock reunited with the Dallas Stars for one last ride in 2017-18, amassing 92 points on the season, finishing 6th in the Central Divsion with a 42-32-8 record. Despite missing out on a wild card spot by three points, Hitchcock announced his retirement from the NHL as a head coach.

General Manager Jim Nill brought in Jim Montgomery from the University of Denver Pioneers as the next head coach and the Stars are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016 next season.

With names like Ben Bishop, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, John Klingberg and Marc Methot on the roster, Dallas is looking for more than just another exit in the Second Round like in 2016, but they’ve got some work to do this offseason to make the jump from playoff bubble team to Cup contender.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Nill and the Stars have the 13th overall pick at this year’s draft and won’t have far to travel, thanks to American Airlines Center playing host to the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in a week.

Dallas will have plenty of talent to choose from in any of the best available players with a mid-first round pick in Isac Lundestrom, Joel Farabee, Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno or Serron Noel.

Similar to 2017 3rd overall pick Miro Heiskanen, the Stars won’t expect their 2018 first round pick to make the roster coming out of training camp this fall.

Pending free agents

The Stars have about $17.700 million to spend this summer, keeping in mind the salary cap ceiling is expected to rise.

By how much? That’s to be determined, so at least account for a little extra money to work with in all of these offseason previews, if you haven’t already figured that out on your own by now.

Nill has one pending-unrestricted free agent forward to consider re-signing in 28-year-old Antoine Roussel. His production was down 10 points from 2016-17 to 2017-18, notching 5-12–17 totals in 73 games with Dallas this season.

The Stars should likely pass on another year of Roussel, unless they view him as a fourth line winger with the potential to snag a third line spot from time-to-time.

Dallas has three pending-restricted free agents to sort out this summer in Gemel Smith, Devin Shore and Mattias Janmark.

Smith, 24, had six goals and five assists (11 points) in 46 games. That’s good enough over the course of a season as a fourth liner, but also might not be enough to stick around at the NHL level, depending on the team and how serious of a playoff contending run they intend on pursuing.

One good thing for Smith’s future with the organization is that he’s still young enough to sign on a small, bridge deal and give one more chance at NHL success (or scratch every night/send down the Texas Stars (AHL) if necessary).

Shore, 23, had 11-21–32 totals in 82 games played this season, falling short of last season’s offensive outcome by one point. If Dallas’s front office comes down to deciding between Shore and Roussel the choice is clear this offseason. Keep Shore for his consistency alone, let alone his five additional years of youth.

Janmark, 25, scored five points more this season than his 29-point rookie season. He had a career-high 19 goals and 15 assists for 34 points in 81 games played. It should be a no-brainer to keep Janmark around.

There’s two pending-UFA defenders in Dallas with 35-year-old, Dan Hamhuis, and 27-year-old, Greg Pateryn, possibly hitting the open market.

Hamhuis had his best season since 2014-15 with the Vancouver Canucks, scoring three goals and 21 assists (24 points) in 80 games with the Stars this season. At 35, he isn’t getting any younger, but he’s worth having as a veteran presence on the blueline.

Pateryn, in his first legitimate full-season, had one goal and 12 assists for 13 points in 73 games. If Nill is content with Pateryn as a top-six defender, then he should be back. Otherwise, there might be other options within the organization or outside of Dallas for the bottom-pair defense.

Pending-RFA Stephen Johns is the only pending free agent of the restricted variety on Dallas’s blueline. Johns set career highs in goals, assists and points with 8-7–15 totals in 75 games.

The problem with the Stars is they have a lot of lower pair defenders, meaning while Johns deserves a new contract, how new head coach Jim Montgomery envisions utilizing his defensive corps may play a hand in who gets renewed and who doesn’t.

In net, the Stars are looking at Ben Bishop as their presumptive starter through the end of his contract after the 2022-23 season with a cap hit of $4.917 million.

Bishop, 31, posted a 2.49 goals against average and .916 save percentage in 53 games played in his first season in the Big D, compiling a 26-17-5 record.

Backup netminder, Kari Lehtonen, 34, is a pending-UFA this July and secured a 2.56 GAA and .912 SV% in 37 games this season– his first as a full-time backup in Dallas. Lehtonen had a 15-14-3 record and improved in GAA and SV% as a result of the decrease in workload.

In fact, over his last few seasons as a starting goaltender, Lehtonen’s goals against average and save percentage were all over the place (2.94 and .903 in 2014-15, 2.76 and .906 in 2015-16 and 2.85 and .902 in 2016-17).

The main purpose of a backup goaltender is to stop pucks and give your starter a rest, while hopefully stealing more wins than losses in the meantime.

If Dallas can tighten up their defense, then Lehtonen can easily surpass the .500 mark as a winning backup goaltender next season– if he gets an extension, that is.

Considering how the Stars don’t have someone readily available in the system and the potentially weak market for goaltenders this summer (ignoring the hot commodity that is Stanley Cup champion Philipp Grubauer), Lehtonen should be back.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Curtis McKenzie (UFA), Andrew Bodnarchuk (UFA), Andrew O’Brien (UFA), Mike McKenna (UFA), Brian Flynn (UFA), Dillon Heatherington (RFA), Cole Ully (RFA), Jason Dickinson (RFA), Remi Elie (RFA), Philippe Desrosiers (RFA), Reece Scarlett (UFA), Brent Regner (UFA)

Buyouts on the books: Antti Niemi— $1.500 million through the end of 2018-19

Rangers, Vigneault will bounce back

Shortly after their last game of the season on Saturday, the New York Rangers relieved Alain Vigneault of his head coaching duties. In his fifth year with the organization, the Rangers went 34-39-9 (77 points) and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

It was Vigneault’s worst year in the Big Apple. It was a transition year for a team retooling on the fly– trading away Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and others for centerpieces in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov (among other assets).

Now it’s time for someone else to take the reins behind the bench of King Henrik’s team.

The clock is ticking in goaltender Henrik Lundqvist‘s quest for his first Stanley Cup. Vigneault was almost the man to do it having brought the Rangers all the way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in his first season with New York.

That was the closest Lundqvist has ever been– just three wins away– but the Los Angeles Kings had other plans, given it only took them five games to beat New York for the Los Angeles’s second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

It was the closest the Rangers had come to winning its first Cup since defeating the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.

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The 2014-15 season witnessed a franchise record 113 points in the regular season– good enough to notch the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best record that year. Vigneault’s team knocked out Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in the First Round in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then New York got behind in the Second Round series with the Washington Capitals, 3-1. Chris Kreider tied Game 5, McDonagh scored the game winner in overtime and the Rangers rallied back in the series to force the first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Rangers were to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Despite a decisive 7-3 victory in Game 6 on the road at Amalie Arena, New York was shutout, 2-0, in Game 7 on home ice.

They wouldn’t get another chance to come that close to the Stanley Cup Final with Vigneault behind the bench.

The 2015-16 Rangers finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and battled Mike Sullivan‘s Penguins in the First Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It only took five games for the Rangers to be eliminated in Pittsburgh’s tear through the playoffs to their first Cup since 2009.

In 2016-17, New York regrouped with a 102-point season, but was cursed by the NHL’s current playoff format.

The Rangers were relegated to the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference since three teams finished ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division with at least 108 points or more.

New York had four more points in the regular season than the Ottawa Senators (98 points)– who finished second in the Atlantic Division– and seven more points than the Boston Bruins (95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic) and Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, second wild card in the Eastern Conference by virtue of having three fewer regulation-plus-overtime wins than Boston).

Vigneault’s team got by Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens in six games of the First Round in what was touted as a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

Then they ran into the streaking Senators who had beaten the Bruins in their own six game series.

Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with home ice advantage– despite having the worse of the two teams’s regular season records, but the Rangers seemed unfazed having won Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden 4-1 and 4-1, respectively.

Kyle Turris ended Game 5 almost six-and-a-half minutes into overtime at Canadian Tire Centre and the Rangers found themselves in a 3-2 series hole heading home for Game 6.

Senators captain, Erik Karlsson, had a goal and an assist in Ottawa’s decisive 4-2 victory on road ice and New York hit the golf course after just two rounds of the 2017 postseason.

Time kept ticking. Lundqvist got older.

Management grew more frustrated with the lack of a direction.

Dead last in the Metropolitan Division after all 82 games this season and under .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, Vigneault’s dismissal comes as no surprise.

It’s what is expected of any organization that expects to finish first, but fails in a rather large fashion.

Even more so with the league getting younger, skaters getting faster and teams placing more of an emphasis on a constant attack, a constant barrage of offense.

Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Spooner, Namestnikov and crew have already showcased a new face of the game in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, while Vigneault’s systems might have been the only thing slowing them down in the waning days of the season.

It was time to shake things up and head in that new face of the game’s direction.

For the first time since the 1967-68 season only one coach was fired in-season (thanks to Mother Nature having played a part in extending the season by a day due to Boston’s rescheduled matchup from January with the Florida Panthers).

Unfortunately for Vigneault, he was that coach.

New York will be just fine.

They’re stockpiled with prospects and have already integrated youth, skill and speed into their lineup.

Now general manager Jeff Gorton will look to patch the blue line and give Lundqvist a high-caliber backup goaltender to ease the workload of the grueling regular season schedule.

It might not be the quickest turnaround, but it shouldn’t turn out to become an annual groan-fest watching the Blueshirts next season.

For Vigneault, there will be other opportunities.

He led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in the midst of President’s Trophy seasons. He led New York back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a generation. He’ll be studying hard, but he’s still in demand.

Somewhere there’s a team looking for his veteran coaching presence– like Buffalo– or a team that just missed the cut this season, but is on the brinks of a breakout year that very well might end up with their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970– like St. Louis.

But alas, this is all merely speculation.

More coaches will be fired for their team’s shortcomings (of their own fault or otherwise) this offseason upon diligent review in front office’s league-wide.

Rangers fans may be glad and it should be a mutual feeling of respect and good luck. They had a good run that lasted a while, but ultimately came up empty handed. Times have changed, players moved on and the game evolved.

Somewhere, Vigneault is that missing piece a franchise is looking for and it won’t just be a team finally getting over that mountain, but a head coach too.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #80- Depth and Taxes

Nick and Connor recap the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series, talk transactions and go long about the Boston Bruins. Additionally, the guys discussed the Radko Gudas incident and never actually say how much time he should be sitting out for his shenanigans.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

November 28 – Day 47 – This time, in the style of B.B. King

All good things must come to an end. That includes the extended Thanksgiving weekend. Even worse, that signals the end of heavy scheduling, with only two games being played this evening. At 7 p.m., Calgary visits the New York Islanders followed an hour later by Dallas at St. LouisAll times eastern.

It’s been a week since we’ve featured a Western Conference team, and even longer since we’ve been to a Western arena. Add in that tonight is a Western Semifinals rematch, and we have to make our way to the Gateway to the West!

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I’ll admit that I’m a bit partial when it comes to the Blues, but this is what I remember from last year’s playoff series:

Game 3, the game where Ryan Reaves shared the love with Dallas‘ bench, was not a good showing by the Stars, as they fell 6-1 that night. That contest was not indicative of their series-long effort though, as neither team trailed by more than a game in the seven-game series.

St. Louis ended up winning Game 7 by the same 6-1 score to advance to the Western Conference Finals, besting the Stars by a combined 25-14 score against the best offense in the league last year. Of course, they would fall to San Jose in six game to miss the Stanley Cup Finals.

Dallas enters tonight’s game with a 9-8-5 record, barely on the outside of the playoff picture that is slowly starting to form – we are after Thanksgiving, after all. The reason they haven’t broken into that bracket is simple: they let a lot of goals by. 72, to be exact, the second-most in the league.

Although time has been almost evenly split between the Stars‘ two netminders, Kari Lehtonen has spent a little bit more time between the pipes. In his dozen starts, he’s earned a 4-6-3 record on an .884 save percentage and 3.38 GAA, both ranking third-worst among the 48 goalies with six or more appearances.

Those numbers are exceptionally poor, especially for a team that has the aspirations Dallas does. He has to take responsibility though, because the defense playing in front of him has done a moderately OK job keeping pucks off his cage. Before Johnny Oduya was placed on injured reserve, his 44 blocks led the blueline. That responsibility now rests on Jordie Benn‘s shoulders, the active block-leader with 41. Those efforts have led the blueline to allowing only 30.8 shots-against-per-game, the 11th-highest in the league.

As one might expect, Dallas‘ penalty kill has faced similar struggles. They’ve negated only 78.7% of opposing power plays, the seventh-worst effort. Oduya was active on the penalty kill as well, notching 12 shorthanded blocks, but he has been forced to hand this mantle off to Benn, too, who has 11 to his credit.

Hosting them this evening are the 12-7-3 Blues. Sitting in second in the Central Division, the Notes have found their success scoring the puck, with 58 tallies to their credit.

Who else to be leading St. Louis‘ offense than Vladimir Tarasenko and his 22 points? How he fell to the 16th-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is beyond me. In addition to being the points leader, his nine goals is also tops for the club.

The success has carried into the special teams. St. Louis‘ power play ranks seventh-best in the league, successful on 21.3% of attempts. Kevin Shattenkirk joins Tarasenko with nine man-advantage points to lead the squad. The defenseman also ties for the team-lead in power play goals, but not with the right wing – instead, it’s Robby Fabbri who has also fired three extra-man goals.

The penalty kill has been even better than the power play. The Notes are second-best in the NHL at neutralizing their own penalties, refusing to yield a goal on 88.4% of opposing man-advantages. Captain Alex Pietrangelo tops the squad with 11 penalty kill blocks.

These teams have already met up once this year at the American Airlines Center, and the Stars took it to the Blues. They won 6-2, led by John Klingberg‘s two-goal night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include DallasTyler Seguin (15 assists [tied for third-most in the league] for 22 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & St. LouisJake Allen (10 wins [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Tarasenko (22 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]).

According to Vegas, St. Louis is favored by all accords to win tonight’s game as they have a -165 next to their name at most books in town. Seeing as they’ve done a good job keeping the opposition off the board, paired with an offense that will best Lehtonen, I’m confident the Notes defend home ice.

Hockey Birthday

  • Marc-Andre Fleury (1984-) – The 13-year veteran goaltender for Pittsburgh was the first pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Although he has two Stanley Cups to his credit, an emerging star in Matthew Murray has Flower’s future with the Penguins in question.
  • Mike Kostka (1985-) – Almost entirely an AHL lifer, this defenseman has played 85 NHL games with five different teams. His 35-game stint in Toronto in 2012-’13 has been his longest to date.

Ottawa must’ve read yesterday’s Game of the Day preview, because they didn’t seem to care for the high praise I was pouring on New York. They decided to spoil the Rangers‘ fun and shut them out for a 2-0 win.

The winning goal was struck after 21:54 of scoreless play. Second Star of the Game Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Tom Pyatt and Zack Smith) takes credit for the tally with a wrister. The lone insurance goal of the game found the back of the net with 3:49 remaining in the second period, courtesy of Third Star Mark Stone (Mike Hoffman)  on a power play wrister.

First Star Craig Anderson earns the victory and an extra shutout feather in his cap after saving all 33 shots faced, leaving the loss to Antti Raanta, who saved 18-of-20 (90%).

The roadies are pulling closer. After Ottawa‘s DtFR Game of the Day victory, the the home team has a 26-16-7 record, better than the roadies by only six points.

October 13 – Day Two – Trophy vs. Cup

*Editor’s Note: I wasn’t planning on doing a recap of any of the games last night, but I must simply state: Auston Matthews is very, very good.*

Yesterday might have officially been opening day, but tonight marks the first game of most teams’ seasons – read nine games being played this evening.  Three drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Montréal at Buffalo [RDS], the Islanders at the Rangers and Boston at Columbus), with two more getting started half an hour later (Detroit at Tampa Bay and New Jersey at Florida).  Another trio gets green lit at the top of the hour (Minnesota at St. Louis, Carolina at Winnipeg and Washington at Pittsburgh [NBCSN/TVAS2]) and Anaheim at Dallas, this evening’s nightcap, cleans things up 30 minutes later.  All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at New York: In addition to being the first Battle of New York of the year, the Rangers edged the Islanders by only a point last year. Even though the Islanders fared better in the playoffs, I expect the Isles to be unhappy by being barely beaten.
  • Detroit at Tampa Bay: A divisional rivalry and a rematch of a Eastern Quarterfinal for the past two seasons. This might be far from the best rivalry in the Atlantic Division all-time, but it might be pretty high on this season’s list.
  • New Jersey at Florida: In addition to being a good game, this is also the first official home game with the Panthers‘ new look.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: It’s a rivalry. It’s a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Semifinals. It’s the Penguins‘ banner raising ceremony. Should make for an exciting atmosphere in the arena and an emotionally charged environment on the ice.

I said it last year, and I have to say it again. There’s only one banner raising ceremony a year, so we have to head to the the City of Champions.

Washington Capitals LogoStanley Cup Final LogotIMcw8yl

After all the pomp-and-circumstance are done, a fantastic hockey game should commence. Washington, last season’s regular season champion comes in with probably the biggest chip on their shoulder possible, as this evening’s opponent forced them to settle for finding the bottom of 18 cups instead of hoisting the Cup.

That’s not the only thing they have going for them though. They bring back most of the incredible roster they had a season ago, led by future Hall-of-Famer Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams… you get the idea. Behind that firepower they have last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby. This squad is built to win now.

How many times have Capitals/Nationals fans heard that?

The Pens are also built to win now, but if you had picked them to win the Stanley Cup last December, many would have called you crazy. It took another coaching change and a hot run over the last month of the regular season to land them their fourth championship.

Like Washington, most of last season’s club will take to the ice tonight. Unfortunately, Sidney Crosby finds himself in street clothes due to sustaining a concussion at practice Friday – Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin will fill in leading the team during his absence. So does Matt Murray, the goaltending star from the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury retains his starting job unopposed for at least another week.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Pittsburgh‘s Fleury (35 wins [fourth-most in the NHL a year ago], five shutouts [fifth-most in the league last year], 2.29 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL last season] and .921 save percentage [10th-best in the league last year]), Kunitz (+29 [fourth in the NHL a season ago]), Kris Letang (51 assists [sixth in the NHL last season]) and  Olli Maatta (+27 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL last season]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (50 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league last season]), Holtby (48 wins [led the league last season], 2.2 GAA [fifth-best in the league last year] and .922 save percentage [eighth-best in the NHL last season]), Kuznetsov (57 assists [fourth-most in the league a season ago], +27 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL last season] and 77 points [tied for ninth in NHL last season]) and Ovechkin (50 goals [led league last season])

Vegas marks Pittsburgh at a +105, so the Caps are barely favored in this one. The last two NHL banner raising ceremonies have ended in disappointment, so we’re getting close to a trend. That being said, Pittsburgh has never lost a celebratory game in their history, so they’ve got that going for them.

Last season, in addition to beating the Capitals in the playoffs in six games, Pittsburgh also took the regular season series 3-2-0. All of this adds up to quite the contest this evening. I pick the Pens to defend their newly-named ice and come away with an early-season statement win.

2016 Mock Draft: The Complete First Round

By: Nick Lanciani

 

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Here’s a look at how I think the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will pan out. Of course, I expect just about every single one of these predictions to be wrong. Likewise, experts and draft rankings may say a player is going to go 11th overall, but there’s always a good chance that player could slip up or down on Draft day, so I’ve tried to take account for that as I see fit.

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of good players, but how often do we see them get drafted in the right order— especially when hindsight is 20/20 (I’m looking at you, 2010 NHL Entry Draft).

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1) Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Auston Matthews, Zurich (SUI)

If you read my mock draft from last month, you might realize that it seems not much has changed with my top-14 picks. This one should be self-explanatory. Hope is back in Toronto in the form of Auston Matthews. A 6’1”, 210-pound center, Matthews is a two-way player similar in nature to Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles or Patrice Bergeron in Boston. In 36 games with Zurich this season, he had 24-22-46 totals.

Matthews was named the Rising Star Award winner and finished 2nd in voting for the MVP of the National League A in Switzerland. Matthews is the franchise center that the Maple Leafs have been waiting for since the days of Mats Sundin. He led the United States to the bronze with 7-4-11 totals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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2) Winnipeg Jets–> RW Patrik Laine, Tappara (FIN)

Patrik Laine is the number one choice for number two. You read that right, folks. Laine is one of the next best things for the city of Winnipeg and Jets fans alike. The 6’4”, 206-poung right-winger is a treat to watch and could easily fill the hole left behind by Andrew Ladd’s departure around the trade deadline. We’re talking about the kind of player that could have a bigger year than Blake Wheeler’s already big year. Laine’s size and skill combined with his maturity provides some strength on an increasingly younger and talented Jets roster.

Laine had 10 goals in 18 playoff games with Tappara en route to being named postseason MVP and winning the championship in Liiga (Finland’s top professional league). He had 17-16-33 totals in 46 games during the regular season and led all Liiga rookies in scoring. As well, Laine tied Auston Matthews in goals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship while helping Finland win gold.

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3) Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Jesse Puljujarvi, Karpat (FIN)

It’d take a pretty sizeable trade to get Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen to give up the 3rd overall pick— and for good reason. Puljujarvi is the next best skater in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. His talent and hockey sense drive his offensive game as one of the better prospects on the wing.

Puljujarvi would easily contribute to the youth movement in Columbus as the organization looks to get back to competitive form with a dominant AHL squad in Lake Erie leading the influx of prospects.

The 6’3”, 203-pound forward had 13-15-28 totals in 50 games played for Karpat in Liiga as a 17-year-old. In addition, Puljujarvi was one point shy of Jaromir Jagr’s record for U-18 players at the World Junior Championship level, having scored 17 points in seven games en route to winning gold with Finland this year at the 2016 IIHF World Juniors.

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4) Edmonton Oilers–> LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)

Originally, I had Jakob Chychrun pegged at 4th overall as the Draft’s best defenseman, but after seeing a second half of the season fade out from Chychrun, even I am skeptical of what he can become. With that, I still have faith in him (see mu 8th overall pick), but while the Oilers could use a young defenseman (that they won’t let slip away— *cough, cough* Jeff Petry), they’ll be forced to take Matthew Tkachuk instead. Not that that’s a bad thing. He’s a talented forward with lots of grit at 6’1”, 195-pounds.

Tkachuk tied Auston Matthews in scoring for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with 11 points and hand 30-77-107 totals in 57 games with the London Knights this season. And, oh yeah, he scored the game winning goal in this year’s Memorial Cup Final for the Knights against Rouyn-Noranda. Tkachuk can also revamp a power play unit, given that 42 of his points this season with London came on the power play.

Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli can’t complain about this pick jumpstarting a quick revitalization in Edmonton with Connor McDavid receiving a skilled, young, winger on his line.

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5) Vancouver Canucks–> LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed it yet, but there’s a dumpster fire in the Canucks management office. All kidding aside, Vancouver has had bad asset management over the last few years. Trading Jared McCann was, well, not a smooth move on Canucks GM Jim Benning’s move. Granted, Erik Gudbranson is a better defenseman than half of Vancouver’s blue line, but that’s not saying much.

Okay, now that trade analysis is out of the way, here’s the hot take on Pierre-Luc Dubois: he’s good. Dubois is a smart and versatile forward that brings a level of flexibility to the Canucks lineup. He’s more than capable of playing alongside Bo Horvat. Dubois stands tall at 6’2”, 201-pounds, but don’t let his size fool you, he’s got great hands and can play on edge. He led the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles with 57 assists and 99 points in 62 games this season and was a plus-40 rating. Dubois also finished the season in the top-six in the QMJHL in goals and points.

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6) Calgary Flames–> C Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL)

Calgary has a youth movement that at times, seems to work very well, and at other times shows exactly the kind of thing you would expect from young players— inexperience. They’ve done a good job of building through the draft, though at times surprising with who they’ve selected. Their primary focus this offseason should be on a solid defenseman, but they’re not going to find the one they’re looking for at 6th overall in the draft (yes, I know Olli Juolevi exists, let me finish).

The Flames are going to have to be one of those teams that just goes with the best available player on the board, given their position, and since Logan Brown is just that. He’s also bigger than most of their defensemen, so there should be no problem with adding size to their offense without addressing their long-term defensemen needs just yet. At 6’6”, 222-pounds, Brown is a skilled center with speed and the ability to handle the puck better than any other. Think of Joe Thornton as a comparable, since Brown is apt to be a playmaker first, goal scorer second.

He had 21 goals and 74 points in 59 games with the Windsor Spitfires this season. He also had 29 points on the power play and won 53% of his faceoffs, so there’s that.

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7) Arizona Coyotes–> D Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)        

Olli Juolevi is one of the best defensemen in this year’s draft. Of course, hindsight is always better than foresight, but for all you Team Chychrun vs. Team Juolevi people, final rankings and second half of their season performance really separates the two from one another. Both are NHL ready, but one is clearly more ready than the other and has a bit more hockey sense to him.

The fact of the matter is that Juolevi fits the Coyotes style and brings an edge to their blue line that Arizona desperately needs, given the uncertainty of who they’ll bring back and for how long with plenty of pending free agents in the desert. While the Keith Yandle deal from the spring of 2015 paid in dividends for the Coyotes with the addition of Anthony Duclair, they still lost a defenseman that they put a lot of time and effort into forging. And Brandon Gormley wasn’t much of a success either, so much so that they sent him to Colorado. There’s plenty of cause to add another defenseman to forge and create some competition for a roster spot next season.

Juolevi comes ready-made at 6’2”, 182-pounds and provides some solidarity should the Coyotes part with Oliver Ekman-Larsson in any fashion in the coming years. Juolevi had nine goals and 42 points for the London Knights this season with a plus-38 rating. He also won gold with Finland at the 2016 World Juniors and transitioned from Finland to the OHL with ease.

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8) Buffalo Sabres–> D Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL)

Sometimes players fizzle out a little before the draft to only prove everyone wrong when the experts say they’re unsure of how that player will turn out. At least, that’s what I hope is the case for Chychrun. Look, he’s one of the best defensemen in the draft, given the fact that he is definitely a first rounder and years later we could be looking back on this draft saying that Chychrun was the best defenseman from this draft.

The point is this, he’s a 6’2”, 214-pound, two-way defenseman and is sure to fight for a roster spot on the Sabres come this October. While Chychrun ultimately fell in some draft rankings, he is still a cut above many other defensemen in the draft, given his size and familiarity with the North American style of the game. His physicality and awareness brings a solid foundation to Buffalo’s blue line. Chychrun had 11 goals and 49 points in 62 games along with a plus-23 plus/minus rating this season with the Sarnia Sting.

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9) Montreal Canadiens–> RW Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL)

Nylander had four goals, five assists and nine points for the Swedes at the 2016 World Junior Championship and blossomed as a skilled forward this year with the Mississauga Steelheads. He’s built for NHL stardom and could do so on one of the biggest stages in the sport in Montreal. Nylander is the 6’0”, 180-pound younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward, William Nylander, and is bound to jumpstart a Canadiens offense that was streaky at best (aside from being injured) this season. He had 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games in his first OHL season with Mississauga.

He’s a dynamic skater that is more than effective on the power play, notching nine power play goals for the Steelheads. Nylander can separate himself from any other skater on the ice with ease. If the Sabres overlook Jakob Chychrun, there’s a good chance he could go 8th overall, but since they probably won’t look past Chychrun, Nylander is best fit to go to another rival of the Maple Leafs— the Habs. I’ll say it again, he’s going to be picked by a rival of Toronto, but the question is which one?

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10) Colorado Avalanche–> D Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL) 

In light of all the rumors/actual evidence that the Avalanche are/are not shopping Tyson Barrie, this one seems self-explanatory. Colorado moves a defenseman to then take a defenseman (that they’ll have to start the process all over again with) at the draft. This seems to be a very Colorado move, but stay with me for a moment on this one. Mikhail Sergachev packs a punch— we’re talking Rob Blake style impact, but with an offensively minded side of the game.

Sergachev is a big 6’2”, 208-pound defenseman and was named the best defenseman in the OHL in his first season in North America this season. His two-way presence along the blue line brings enough of an offensive element to his game to satisfy anyone that likes watching someone hit someone along the boards with their size, then start a quick transition the other way (and execute it well). With Sergachev, we’re talking almost like an Erik Karlsson, but with more strength when it comes to playing defense.

He plays with confidence and speed and had 17 goals and 57 points in 67 games with the Windsor Spitfires in his rookie season. Add to that his 31 points on the power play and maybe the Avalanche are ready to take on a young, NHL-ready defenseman that might be able to help them figure out what the heck they are doing. Sergachev is the total package that the Av’s have failed to produce on their own, but desperately want, and brings balance to their youth movement all around.

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11) New Jersey Devils–> C Tyson Jost, Penticton (BCHL)

If you’re the Devils and you’re committed to Cory Schneider as one of the league’s best-underrated goaltenders, then you should be working harder than ever to prevent the current turnaround from lasting forever. You owe it to Schneider and his goalie equipment. Okay, rant aside, New Jersey could use younger talent and it might not be a bad idea if it does take them a few years to groom it properly. After all, letting another Zach Parise get away wouldn’t be good.

The fact of the matter is this— New Jersey isn’t going anywhere unless they figure out that they need to build around Adam Larsson, Adam Henrique, Schneider and the like. Yet the Devils seem pretty insistent on going where they want with what they have, which means it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add to their lack of strength down the middle. Ray Shero is a smart general manager knows how to add talent.

Tyson Jost is perhaps one of the best-underrated players available in the draft as a 6’0”, 194-pound center heading to the University of North Dakota next season. Jost could become a cornerstone forward for New Jersey as long as they’re willing to add to their foundation. He had 42 goals and 104 points in 48 games for Penticton this season, with 14 goals on the power play and seven game-winners.

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12) Ottawa Senators–> D Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL)

The likes of another Erik Karlsson in Ottawa wouldn’t be a bad thing considering their addition of the annual butt-end of a pylon joke, Dion Phaneuf this season. Jake Bean is a solid defenseman with a considerable offensive element of his game that with some work, could flourish in the NHL. Plus his name fits the Senators obsession with defenseman with short, four-letter last names, like Cody Ceci.

Bean is a 6’0”, 173-pound offensive defenseman with excellent wheels and smart puck possession. He can make excellent passes and carry his own weight. With proper training, Bean could strengthen up enough to become a force to be reckoning with on the blue line. His stick, body and talent is sure to be a great compliment alongside any of Ottawa’s defenders in the years to come. One more thing to note, Bean led the Western Hockey League defensemen with 24 goals in 68 games in his second full season in the league with the Calgary Hitmen.

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13) Carolina Hurricanes–> C Clayton Keller, USA U-18 (USHL)

First the Hurricanes made waves by landing Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason, next they’re going to make waves by selecting Clayton Keller with the 13th overall pick. Here’s why: despite what everyone tells you about size in hockey, you don’t always need size— you just need skill (and a lot of hard work). Keller is a skillful 5’9”, 168-pound center reminiscent of the likes of Martin St. Louis or Jonathan Drouin. Overlooked, doubted, under recognized, Keller is a smart, tactical, forward.

He led the USA’s U-18 program with 70 assists and 107 points in 62 games this season. As well, Keller recorded four goals and 10 points in seven games at the 2016 IIHF World U-18 Championship en route to a bronze medal. The Hurricanes need to retool down the middle in the post-Eric Staal era and Keller is likely to be their man. He’s committed to Boston University in 2016-2017 and was also selected in the second round (40th overall) of the 2014 OHL Draft by the Windsor Spitfires, proving that he’s got plenty of options for some development before making the NHL jump.

Carolina shouldn’t rush things with him, if they’re committed to the long term approach of success (though the same can’t necessarily be stated for the relocation rumors surrounding the team).

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14) Boston Bruins–> D Charlie McAvoy, Boston University (Hockey-East)

Boston needs a defenseman, so Boston drafts a defenseman they can keep their eyes on throughout his development, as McAvoy is across town at Boston University. Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney, has a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason just as he did last offseason and must look to add depth on the blue line both in the immediate future and down the pipeline.

McAvoy brings an excellent 6’0”, 208-pound frame with excellent defensive awareness. While he’s not NHL ready, a year or two of development looks to pay off in dividends with his 39 blocked shots in 37 games played this season as a freshman at BU. Likewise, McAvoy had three goals and 25 points and was a plus-10 rating in his first year as a Terrier. He had a plus-5 rating with the bronze medal-winning United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Under the guidance of some veterans and Boston’s coaching staff, McAvoy could turn into a household name at TD Garden.

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15) Minnesota Wild–> LW Max Jones, London (OHL)

Minnesota has some tough decisions to make this offseason with regards to their plethora of pending free agents, potentially buying out or trading Thomas Vanek and the inquiries they face in the ongoing phone calls about Darcy Kuemper. With four picks in the 2016 Draft, the Wild could be looking to stockpile a few more (and they’ve got assets to move). With Bruce Boudreau at the reigns the Wild should become a contender with the right pieces. The only trouble is finding those pieces between now and then.

An addition that’s needed for Minnesota to surpass their previous playoff failures is found in 6’2”, 203-pound forward, Max Jones. He would bring size and physicality to their lineup along with a skilled stick that scored 28 goals and 52 points in 63 games as a London Knight this season. Barring his brutality (he had amassed 106 penalty minutes and a 12-game suspension in the OHL playoffs), Jones could be a wild enough power forward for the Wild.

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16) Detroit Red Wings–> D Dante Fabbro, Penticton (BCHL)

The phrase “defense wins championships” has long been synonymous with the Detroit Red Wings. While their offense has improved in age and dynamics, as Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan surely cannot do everything; the Red Wings have been a little lackluster on the point in prospects. Actually, it hasn’t been a little— it’s been virtually non-existent with every young defenseman in their system having either faded out or been traded.

The point is, Detroit needs a younger defense sooner rather than later to avoid a situation similar to the *ahem* Boston Bruins or New York Rangers.

Fabbro brings in a solid 6’0”, 189-pound stature that had 14-53-67 totals in 45 games for Penticton this season. The Boston University bound defenseman will need some time to develop, but the Red Wings can take a year or two to work their way with him and align everyone on the same “defense wins championships” page. Of note, Fabbro was named the top defenseman in the British Columbia Hockey League for his efforts this season.

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17) Nashville Predators–> D Logan Stanley, Windsor (OHL)

Replacing Seth Jones isn’t easy— was something I expected to say in twenty years if you asked me three years ago at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but now everything’s changed since Jones didn’t pan out the way Nashville envisioned how they’d utilize him. Still feeling the effects of Ryan Suter jumping ship (and Shea Weber almost jettisoning the Predators), Nashville goes with Logan Stanley to regain some control of developing their defensemen the way they want to.

At 6’7”, 225-pounds, Stanley packs a punch standing tall and bone crunching-ly strong. Additionally, he skates well and can pair up with just about any defenseman willing to carry the more offensive sides of the game as Stanley fits more of a stay-at-home, shutdown blue liner role. He had 5-12-17 totals and 103 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Spitfires this season and handles speedy forwards with ease, often breaking down oncoming rushes.

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18) Philadelphia Flyers–> C Michael McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

The Flyers are in prime position for aligning themselves as playoff contenders for the next few seasons (at least) if they continue to manage their assets and commit themselves to a solid goaltender (looking at you Michal Neuvirth). Philadelphia has a lot of centers, so what’s one more? Likewise, GM Ron Hextall has mentioned that he wants to add size. He should do so, with versatility.

Michael McLeod led Mississauga in shorthanded goals (four) and 21-40-61 totals this season. Combined with his work ethic, McLeod’s 6’2”, 188-pound frame and speed shows durability as a playmaking forward that could develop well on the wing in Philly. While Shayne Gostisbehere holds down the blue line for the Flyers, drafting a smart, gifted offense will help balance the franchise’s talent pool in the coming years.

Overall the Flyers are a few steps away from taking the New York Islanders model into a deeper playoff routine…

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19) New York Islanders–> C Luke Kunin, Wisconsin (BIG 10)

…and speaking of the Islanders…

First, what were the they thinking with that Casey Cizikas extension? Second, they’re going to need someone to step up big time to replace Kyle Okposo, especially with the threat of John Tavares opting to hit the free agent market in 2017— though do you think New York won’t learn anything from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s current situation with Steven Stamkos to put more than enough emphasis on valuing their best franchise player? Enough ranting about the organization overall, more about Luke Kunin.

Kunin is a 5’11”, 193-pound solid center that was named to the Big Ten Conference All-Freshmen team after leading the Wisconsin Badgers with 19 goals (five of them on the power play) and 127 shots on goal in 34 games this season. Again, “solid” is the keyword here. Dependable on special teams and durable in the lineup are other expected qualities from Kunin, especially with some time to develop, he could become one of the better two-way players in the league, emulating the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar. But again, the other keyword here is development (which he’ll certainly get in his coming years at Wisconsin).

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20) Arizona Coyotes (from New York Rangers)–> LW Riley Tufte, Blaine (HS-MN)

Having already addressed Arizona’s needs, this one is simply one of those “take one of the highly ranked guys, oh and talk about his size being important to the lineup” selections.

Look, with a roster that already has Max Domi and other skilled, young players, looking to create a dynamic mix of skill and toughness in the desert, Riley Tufte is a clear choice for the Coyotes at 20th overall if he’s still available by then. He’s a 6’5”, 211-pound left wing that wins battles along the boards. Tufte also has a heavy shot and had 47 goals and 78 points (with six power play goals) in 25 games en route to winning the 2016 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award. He also had 10 goals in 27 games with Fargo in the USHL and is committed to the University of Minnesota Duluth next season to add some more strength and development to his game.

In time, he’ll leave opponents howling for mercy in Arizona (I just wanted to make a pun, please appreciate it).

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21) Carolina Hurricanes (from Los Angeles Kings)–> D Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL)

Some things were said about the Hurricanes and some things remain. Meanwhile, they’ve got some good defensemen coming up the ranks and lots of potential trade bait on the blue line, both in the now and in the future. Sometimes a change of scenery is best for both teams in regards to the lack of development for players like Ryan Murphy. Likewise, the uncertainty of Justin Faulk’s future in Carolina looms overhead.

It only makes sense to make a selection that you intend to groom properly and insert into the lineup down the road. Dennis Cholowski is a 6’0”, 170-pound sturdy defenseman with excellent hockey sense and decent skating ability. He had 12 goals and 40 points in 50 games with Chilliwack this season and knows how to open up enough space for a breakout. With some strength and development at St. Cloud State University, Cholowski could become a solid, underrated, blue liner for Carolina.

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22) Winnipeg Jets (from Chicago Blackhawks)–> LW Kieffer Bellows, USA U-18 (USHL)

Barring a Patrik Laine breakdown, the Winnipeg Jets make out with two solid first round picks in my mock draft.

Kieffer Bellows is just what the Jets need for a pure goal scorer that’ll help the likes of Mark Scheifele and whoever else Winnipeg has down the middle. Bellows scored 50 goals this season with the USA U-18 national development team and is sure to make a sound next season at Boston University. His 12 power play goals and nine game-winning goals and 81 points came in 62 games this season. At 6’0”, 196-pounds he’ll be more than ready to be a durable winger coming down the pipeline in the next few seasons. Oh and he likes to shoot from anywhere, as evidenced by his 50 goals with the NTDP U-18 team.

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23) Florida Panthers–> RW Alexander DeBrincat, Erie (OHL)

The Florida Panthers are trending upwards and they appear to be only getting better, what with the Keith Yandle trade and signing as the latest piece to the puzzle and the ageless wonder— excuse me, legend— Jaromir Jagr in great shape.

Alexander DeBrincat brings a lot of skill to the Panthers roster, despite his 5’7”, 163-pound frame (but again, size doesn’t matter when hard work and talent is enough to prove people wrong). DeBrincat may have had his run-ins with trouble on the international Junior stage, but he’s not one to pass up on and cast off as uncoachable or whatever. He anticipates what comes to him with ease and has an impressive release on an accurate shot that played alongside Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome the last two seasons.

Along the way, DeBrincat amassed 102 goals in 128 games with the Erie Otters as perhaps one of the most underrated forwards alongside the likes of McDavid and Strome.

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24) Anaheim Ducks–> C Rasmus Asplund, Farjestad (SWE)

After surprising everyone with the way they flapped around the bottom of the standings at the start of this season, the Anaheim Ducks worked their way as far as a disappointing Game 7 loss in Round 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Nashville Predators. Then they fired Bruce Boudreau and hired Randy Carlyle as head coach. Apparently they think that every ten years they can win a Cup or something with the same head coach and just the same amount of confusion in the offseason. Where they’re headed nobody knows.

But drafting Rasmus Asplund certainly won’t be a mistake for the Ducks. Asplund’s a 5’10”, 176-pound center that will need some time to develop in order to strengthen up and fully transition to the North American style of the game, but he’s got superb leadership and great competitiveness in his game. The potential for this 4-8-12 total point scorer in 46 games with Farjestad this season to improve as he comes more into his development as a two-way forward is yet to be calculated as to just how far off the charts he could reach. Asplund is one of those well-liked guys you can work with and tailor to your needs.

Think of a lesser known, better kept secret, David Pastrnak type of player on the ice with the potential of being the next Teemu Selanne style leader off the ice. Anaheim fans will surely like that.

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25) Dallas Stars–> RW Vitaly Abramov, Gatineau (QMJHL)

The Dallas Stars aren’t looking to do much this offseason besides find better goaltending, if possible, and work on ensuring that Tyler Seguin is fully healed and ready to carry the team on his back alongside Jamie Benn again (slightly warm hot take).

Dare I say it, but drafting Vitaly Abramov could pay off in— stars— for the Stars. The 5’9”, 175-pound winger led the Gatineau Olympiques with 38 goals (with 11 of them on the power play) and 93 points this season en route to being named the QMJHL Rookie of the Year. Abramov is highly competitive and has a quick shot. There’s no need to worry about his transition to the North American game, because he’s already further developed than most for his skill level.

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26) Washington Capitals–> C German Rubtsov, Team Russia U18 (RUS)

Capping off a President’s Trophy winning season (and their best season in franchise history) with an early second round of the playoffs exit to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins was not something on the Washington Capitals’ list this season. But their plethora of talent isn’t sure to diminish anytime soon.

German Rubtsov is the kind of two-way player that could really excel under Barry Trotz’s guidance and/or alongside Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov— actually pretty much anyone on the Capitals roster. As a 6’2”, 178-pound forward with 26 points in 28 games for Team Russia’s U18 team, Rubtsov displayed flashes of brilliance in his hockey sense and defensive awareness, bringing forth a tremendous two-way element to his game. He’s sure to win some battles in high traffic situations for Washington in the years to come with a little fine seasoning in their system, wherever that may be.

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27) Tampa Bay Lightning–> D Lucas Johansen, Kelowna (WHL)

Tampa Bay has a lot on its plate this offseason, between the swirling rumors around trading Ben Bishop, their defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals, oh and the fact that Steven Stamkos could very well be heading to unrestricted free agency and the Lightning will be left without a #1 franchise player if he decides to leave. But hey, sure, let’s look ahead for the organization, why not? What else could possibly go wrong— insert plea for Victor Hedman to tough it out and anyone else worried about what skilled Lightning player will be taken by Las Vegas at next year’s expansion draft.

Enough kidding around, Tampa could use a defenseman that is young and may need a year or two before coming into the league because, well, what else might they need. They’ve got plenty of young forwards, young defensemen (I’m looking at you Slater Koekkoek, okay actually I just wanted to type that name) and a young goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy; so really, the choice is yours Steve Yzerman and crew. Take Lucas Johansen and you’ve got your hands on a 6’1”, 176-pound younger brother of the Nashville Predators’ Ryan Johansen.

This Johansen can skate well and play at both ends of the rink and is in an organization that has produced Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Tyson Barrie. That’s some pretty good company to be in and enough reason for Tampa to look to the future of a shut down pair in Lucas Johansen and Hedman.

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28) St. Louis Blues–> C Pascal Laberge, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

David Backes is heading to free agency, Paul Stastny isn’t getting any younger, but at least Vladimir Sobotka may be making his return to the St. Louis Blues lineup next season. As an aside, I’m a huge fan of Sobotka, just throwing it out there. Tight against the salary cap, the Blues may be singing the blues in Ken Hitchcock’s final season as head coach if they can’t find a way to restock their prospect pool and finagle a way to keep high-end talent on their roster. It’s the tragedy of the salary cap era to see a team that’s so good, make it only so far, then have to dismantle nearly everything when they get behind the eight ball a bit against the cap.

With that, Pascal Laberge is a promising center that led the Victoriaville Tigres with 68 points in 56 games this season. He was named MVP of the 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January, by the way, and is a 6’1”, 172-pound, right-shot that goes to the dirty areas to pick up points and notch goals. His compete level and ability to play the puck along the wall, while winning battles all over the ice, prove he can develop into an all-in-one impact player for St. Louis, like Backes, but perhaps a tad better. It’s time to start thinking long term and begin building down the middle for the Blues.

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29) Boston Bruins (from San Jose Sharks)–> C Tage Thompson, Connecticut (Hockey-East)

Remember everything I said before about the Bruins? Yeah, well, they need a lot of help. Regardless of whatever they’re able to attract this offseason, they’re still quite a ways off from righting the ship unless they can pull off a miracle it seems. But hey, the good news is that they have two first round picks at their dispersal and some talent forming in their pipelines/already with the NHL club in the likes of Frank Vatrano, Colin Miller (who’s a pending RFA) and others.

Tage Thompson works perfectly for them to keep an eye on through his development at UConn. He led the NCAA with 13 power play goals this season and had 14 goals and 32 points in 36 games with the Huskies. The 6’5”, 195-pound forward finished his freshman year with lots of promise and has enough time to continue to develop into a solid, accurate shooting, quick with the hands center that would bring an immense boost to Boston’s power play if all goes according to plan. Thompson will also have to add some strength to match his height and the level of his game, but he’s got some time while Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci hold down the fort on the Bruins top lines.

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30) Anaheim Ducks (from PIT via TOR)–> RW Julien Gauthier, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

I talked about the Ducks before, so I’ll cut to the chase, especially since you’ve been such a good reader making it all the way to the end of this mock draft. Thanks for that.

Julien Gauthier is a monstrous 6’3”, 225-pound power forward. Obviously I meant that in a good way. While some see him as a second or third rounder, Anaheim sees his potential and grabs him before anyone else can even begin to dream about having him in their lineup in the years to come. His 41-11-57 totals in 54 games for Val-d’Or are impressive enough to be a tactical selection by the Ducks, in light of being the only 2016 NHL Draft-eligible player to play for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Gauthier had two assists in five games played at the 2016 IIHF WJC.

And that does it. That’s all folks. Well, at least for the first round, but I don’t think you want to see me project all seven rounds do you? Thanks for reading. May your favorite team have the best of luck at Friday and Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft. We’ll have a live blog of the first round going and keep you updated on all the trades made, as usual.