Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Los Angeles Kings and their outlook for the summer.
The Los Angeles Kings got off to a bit of a hot start battling for 1st place in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights in the first month or two of the 2017-18 season before cooling off a bit.
Still, first year head coach John Stevens commanded his team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, with a 45-29-8 record and 98 points on the season– good enough for 4th in the Pacific and the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Despite reaching the postseason, the Kings faced the Golden Knights in the First Round and were swept in a low scoring series.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
General Manager Rob Blake embarks upon his second entry draft with Los Angeles and the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft Friday night in Dallas.
Blake will likely yield one of the following players in Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Merkley, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Rasmus Sandin, Akil Thomas or Albin Eriksson.
Pending free agents
This offseason is a big deal for Los Angeles. The Kings have about $3.900 million in cap space currently and a headache looming on the horizon next summer, but we’ll get into that in a minute or two.
Pending unrestricted free agent forward, Torrey Mitchell, 33, was acquired by the Kings in a trade early in the season with the Montreal Canadiens, whereby Mitchell went on to produce 6-5–11 totals in 60 games with Los Angeles and Montreal.
A durable bottom-six forward, the Kings are cash-strapped and probably cannot re-sign him in their current state.
More importantly, Los Angeles is tied to discussions with Ilya Kovalchuk, meaning someone on the roster currently would have to be moved to free up enough cap space to sign the 35-year-old prolific scorer looking to return to NHL action.
Blake has two options for the Kings heading into 2018-19.
Stay the course and grow as a team that’s been implementing a younger, faster game to stay competitive while hitting everything in sight (as has always been the Kings way) or move too quickly to attract too much talent in the short term without planning for a future like how Los Angeles got into their rash of inconsistent postseason appearances– whereby the team is up against the ceiling as the cap stands, regardless of its projected increase.
Tobias Rieder, 25, was traded by the Arizona Coyotes to the Kings along with Scott Wedgewood in exchange for Darcy Kuemper in February and went on to produce 12-13–25 totals in 78 games with Los Angeles and Arizona this season.
Whether he was a rental or not, we’ll find out if he gets re-signed.
Los Angeles only has two pending free agent defenders in 26-year-old Kevin Gravel and 27-year-old Chrisitan Folin.
Gravel appeared in 16 games for the Kings this season and had three assists. He played in 49 games with Los Angeles in 2016-17, recorded his first career NHL goal and likely won’t be back with the Kings on their NHL roster next season.
Folin, on the other hand, participated in 65 games this season with the Kings, which was the most he’s ever played since joining Los Angeles after spending 2013-17 with the Minnesota Wild. Folin recorded 3-10–13 totals with the Kings and was a plus-1.
Between Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin, both top-4 defenders have a $4.000 million cap hit. One of them could be traded this offseason to give Folin an increased role and/or sign Kovalchuk.
Of course, the real wild card here for Los Angeles is the status of their anchor on the blueline– Drew Doughty.
Doughty’s current contract expires at the end of the 2018-19 season and has a $7.000 million cap hit. That’s about to go way up.
Again, thankfully, Blake and his front office have a season to try to figure out where the money is going to come from. Nevertheless, it makes longterm planning difficult. Especially given how Doughty has indicated he will want to get paid. Big time.
One more thing of note, Oscar Fantenberg is currently in the minors and could play a role in either a trade package or a top-6 spot on the blueline next season.
In goal, 32-year-old, Jonathan Quick is under contract through the 2022-23 season with a $5.800 million cap hit. The elite goaltender still has a few more good years left in him and could backstop the franchise to its third Cup with him at the reins in net.
Peter Budaj, 35, was acquired last week in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forward Andy Andreoff. Budaj rejoins the Kings organization for his second stint and could end up being Quick’s backup or back in the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign next season. He has one-year remaining on his current deal and a $1.025 million cap hit.
In the pipeline between the pipes, 26-year-old Jack Campbell resurrected his professional career with Los Angeles, finishing the 2018 postseason as Quick’s backup and is under contract through the 2019-20 season at $675,000 per. Meanwhile, 23-year-old, Cal Petersen has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract and is looking to break through the ice at the NHL level.
Competition for the backup job in Los Angeles isn’t a bad thing.
It’s how Jonathan Bernier and Martin Jones came out of the system and landed full-time roles with the Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks, respectively (though Bernier’s bounced around from being a starter in Toronto, back to a backup role with the Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and most recently, Colorado Avalanche).
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
James Neal played the role of Mr. Clutch in the regular season— scoring the first goal in Vegas Golden Knights history— and it seems he’s found his clutch-touch once again. Neal’s goal late in the third period put the Golden Knights ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for the first time in Game 3 and it only took fellow teammate, William Karlsson, 21 seconds to add an insurance goal.
That insurance goal came in handy when the Kings scored with the goalie pulled, but ultimately it was too little, too late.
Vegas beat Los Angeles, 3-2, on Sunday night at Staples Center and the Golden Knights are now one win away from advancing to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 37 out of the 39 shots he faced for a .949 save percentage in the win, while Jonathan Quick made 23 saves on 26 shots against for an .885 SV% in the loss.
Drew Doughty was back in Los Angeles’s lineup after serving his one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Golden Knights forward, William Carrier, in Game 1. David Perron was inserted into Vegas’s lineup in place of Tomas Tatar, who sat out on Sunday as a healthy scratch.
The league’s newest rivalry got off to a quick-tempered start with five straight combined penalties before the game’s first goal in the first period at Staples Center.
Los Angeles forward, Kyle Clifford, tripped up Golden Knights defenseman, Shea Theodore, 5:33 into the first period and Vegas went on their first power play of the night. Shortly after the power play expired, it was the Golden Knights who were guilty of the next infraction— a bench minor penalty for too many men on the ice.
Whereas Clifford and Theodore exchanged some words and went their own way after the first penalty was called, this time, William Carrier and Clifford got involved in a minor scuffle after the whistle.
Though the gloves came off, Carrier and Clifford were assessed matching minors for roughing to coincide with the too many men penalty against Vegas at 7:35 of the first period. Los Angeles would get their first chance of the night on the power play.
The Kings were on the power play for all of six seconds until Dustin Brown tripped Vegas blue liner, Brayden McNabb, and just like that it was 4-on-4 hockey, with the Golden Knights outshooting the Kings (4-1) and the Kings leading in the physical department (Los Angeles had 11 hits nearly eight minutes into the game).
Finally, at 13:17 of the first period, Alex Iafallo (1) roofed a shot past Fleury that went so quick in-and-out of the net at first glance that the refs had waved off the goal. After review, video replay confirmed Iafallo’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and the Kings had their first lead in the series— let alone their first 5-on-5 goal this postseason.
Iafallo’s goal was assisted by Anze Kopitar (1) and Brown (1).
After 20 minutes of play, Los Angeles was leading 1-0. Shots on goal were even at eight aside, with the Golden Knights barely leading in blocked shots (7-6). The Kings, on the other hand, led in hits (28-13), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (5-0) and dominated the faceoff dot, winning 59% of the faceoffs in the first period.
Both Vegas and Los Angeles were 0/2 on the power play after one period.
The game’s intensity continued through the second period as Fleury and Quick made save after save.
Neal picked up a slashing minor at 6:19 of the second period and the Kings were not able to convert on the man advantage.
Almost ten minutes later, after Kopitar had knocked down Game 2’s double overtime game-winning goal scorer, Erik Haula, the Golden Knights forward reciprocated by butt-ending Kopitar in the face. Neither of the refs penalized Haula, nor was there any indication that they had seen what occurred, but thanks to the power that is television, replay exists and Los Angeles head coach, John Stevens, was not pleased.
Oscar Fantenberg shot the puck out of play at 17:57 of the second period and was handed a delay of game minor penalty. The Kings killed off the ensuing penalty and went on the power play with 1.1 seconds left in the period after Golden Knights forward, Jonathan Marchessault, was guilty of high-sticking Los Angeles defenseman, Drew Doughty.
Though the power play carried into the third period, the Kings were unable to convert on the man advantage.
Cody Eakin (1) tied the game, 1-1, on a shot that beat Quick 6:10 into the third period. Ryan Carpenter (1) and David Perron (1) picked up the assists on Eakin’s first goal of the postseason.
A little over a minute later, Kings defenseman, Jake Muzzin, tripped Vegas’s regular season leading goal scorer, William Karlsson, and served two minutes in the penalty box.
Marchessault had a chance on a break-in on the ensuing power play that went by the wayside after ringing the post and play continued as normal.
It wasn’t until 14:23 of the third period that either team was able to break the tie, but it was then that Neal skated up along the right wall, got to about the faceoff dot in the offensive zone and fired a shot through Quick’s five-hole to give the Golden Knights their first lead of the night and make it 2-1.
A mere 21 seconds later, Reilly Smith won a battle off a faceoff and threw the puck to an excited Karlsson (1) waiting in the low slot to one-time it past Quick and give Vegas a 3-1 lead. Not only was it 21 seconds later, but the two goals for the Golden Knights came on consecutive shots.
Nate Schmidt (1) and Alex Tuch (1) had the assists on Neal’s goal. Meanwhile, Smith (2) and Marchessault (2) had the assists on Karlsson’s first goal of the 2018 postseason at 14:44 of the third.
Just 13 seconds after Vegas went up by two goals, Perron was guilty of tripping Doughty and the Kings had their biggest power play chance of the night with almost five minutes remaining in regulation. It also helped that, despite the Golden Knights having scored back-to-back goals, the Kings were outshooting Vegas in the game, 36-25 at 14:57 of the third period.
But with a little over two minutes remaining in regulation, Los Angeles had yet to convert on the man advantage, so while the Golden Knights resumed full-strength action, Stevens pulled his goaltender for an extra skater.
The move gave the Kings a spark of life as Kopitar (1) redirected a shot from Fantenberg to cut the lead in half and make it a 3-2 game.
Smith had failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone before Fantenberg got to the puck and threw it towards the goal, where Kopitar was screening Fleury and ultimately changed the direction of the vulcanized rubber biscuit. Fantenberg (1) picked up the only assist on Kopitar’s goal.
Quick skated to the Los Angeles bench once again with about a minute left in regulation, but the Kings were not able to score again on Fleury with the extra attacker.
With the final horn the Golden Knights secured a 3-0 series lead by virtue of a 3-2 win on road ice in Game 3. Vegas became the first team to win their 1st three postseason games as a franchise since the 1996 Florida Panthers did just that.
In fact, Vegas is only the 3rd team in NHL history to win their first three Stanley Cup Playoff games, joining the 1996 Panthers (3-0) and 1970 Pittsburgh Penguins (4-0), as well as the first team to do so in its inaugural season.
Despite leading in shots on goal (39-26), blocked shots (19-18) and hits (45-40), the Los Angeles Kings dropped Game 3 on home ice and have yet to win a playoff game at home since they raised the Cup in Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center in June 2014.
Neither team was successful on the power play Sunday night, as the Golden Knights finished Game 3 0/4 and the Kings went 0/5 on the man advantage.
Game 4 is set for Tuesday night at Staples Center, where the Golden Knights will have a chance to sweep the Kings on the road. Puck drop is expected a little after 10:30 p.m. ET and fans interested in catching the action can tune to NBCSN in the United States and CBC or TVAS in Canada outside of the local markets.
Only four teams in NHL history have ever come back from being down in a series 3-0. The 2014 Los Angeles Kings were the most recent team to rally from a 3-0 series deficit (against the San Jose Sharks) and win it in seven games.
Los Angeles has been outscored through three games in this series by a combined score of 5-3.
Gearing up for a full slate of 15 games tomorrow, the NHL scheduler applied the brakes today.
Only two games are on the schedule this evening, with the first – Toronto at Chicago (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) – dropping the puck at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Next up is Los Angeles at Calgary (SN360), which gets underway two hours later.
While it would certainly be fun to feature an Original Six rivalry for the first time in a week, the Pacific Division has an important contest taking place this evening. Off to the Saddledome with us!
You know that feeling when you’re driving down the road and you see your friend driving the other way?
That’s kind of what’s going on between these squads within the Pacific Division. For much of the season – as recently as January 4 – the 25-18-5 Kings were competing with Vegas for the division lead, but they’ve suffered a 1-7-0 stretch since then that has sent them to 10th-place in the Western Conference.
A team that drops from second in the division to outside the playoff picture in the span of less than 20 days surely has more than one issue. I’d argue they have two big ones: an anemic offense accented by a regression at the goaltending position.
There’s no other way to say it: Los Angeles’ offense has been terrible lately. Since January 4, the Kings have averaged only 2.13 goals per game – a mark that is better than only the efforts of division-rival Edmonton (two goals per game) and Columbus (1.5 goals per game) in that time.
As might be expected, more than a few Kings have seen a regression in their scoring since this skid began. However, the likes of C Anze Kopitar (19-31-50 totals) and D Jake Muzzin (4-23-27) are still maintaining their high level of play, as they both average a point-per-game since January 4.
Even still, their efforts are not enough to make up for the rest of the squad’s slump. In particular, Los Angeles is missing the usually solid play of W Dustin Brown (15-19-34 totals) and F Tyler Toffoli (18-12-30), two players among the top-five in point production for the Kings on the season that have managed only respective 0-3-3 and 1-0-1 totals in their last eight games played.
While pointing fingers at Head Coach John Stevens‘ offense is certainly a warranted charge, I do need to acknowledge that Los Angeles’ offense was never the class of the league. On the season, the Kings have scored an average of only 2.81 goals per game, the 13th-worst mark in the NHL.
But that bad-turned-worse regression only half the problem. 20-17-2 G Jonathan Quick has also been miserable in his last seven starts. After starting the season with Vezina-like numbers, he’s posted only an .876 save percentage and 3.65 GAA to drop his season marks to a .921 and 2.44.
Making his performance even more frustrating is that his defense is doing everything in its control to make his life easier. Led by Brown’s 3.1 hits per game, Kopitar’s six takeaways and D Alec Martinez‘ 3.3 blocks per game during this run, he’s faced an average of only 29.5 shots per game during this skid – the fifth-fewest in the league in that time.
Pair a flailing offense and a goaltender in a rut and you get a league-worst -12 goal differential since January 4. There’s a lot that needs to improve for this Kings team to get back into playoff position, much less beat the Flames tonight.
One thing that might see an immediate change this evening could take place in the crease. Quick was in net for 24:21 of yesterday’s 6-2 loss in Vancouver, but he was pulled after allowing his fifth goal on 19 shots faced (.737 save percentage). With 5-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper posting a .938 save percentage in his 35:39 of play, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the nod in this very important game today.
Meanwhile, 25-16-6 Calgary has taken advantage of the Kings’ struggles to surge into a top-three spot in the division after spending most of the season fading in and out of the second wildcard spot. They’ve been impressive since December 31, as that’s when the Flames started their current 7-0-2 run.
In a twist of cruel irony, the biggest reason for the Flames’ increased production rests on one man in particular: 20-13-5 G Mike Smith. Smith has been almost unbeatable since December 31, posting a .945 save percentage and 1.84 GAA to improve his season marks to .926 and 2.41 and lead his club to a 6-0-2 record while he’s been in net (4-1-1 G David Rittich earned the final victory on January 12 at Florida).
Smith’s performance has been of the utmost importance for the Flames, because his defense certainly doesn’t do him any favors having allowed a third-worst 35.11 shots against-per-game since December 31.
Of course, to continue the inverted allusion to the Kings, Calgary has also had the luxury of one of the better offenses in the league during this nine-game run. Scoring 3.22 goals per game since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have wielded the ninth-strongest attack in the NHL.
Many players are performing exceptionally well, but four stick out above the rest. You likely guessed LW Johnny Gaudreau first, and with good reason: his 40 assists on the season are (t)fifth-best in the league, and his 55 points (t)sixth-best. The reigning Lady Byng-winner is continuing his career year by posting solid 2-12-14 totals since New Year’s Eve, but he’s not the only one averaging at least a point per game during this run: LW Matthew Tkachuk (6-4-10), C Sean Monahan (4-6-10) and W Micheal Ferland (4-5-9) join him in that feat, making both of Calgary’s top two lines a very imposing force for even the best defenses.
Tonight is Game 3 in a four-game regular season series between the Flames and Kings, and it’s a matchup Los Angeles is not excited about revisiting. Calgary has won both previous meetings this year, posting a 4-3 overtime victory at Staples Center (Monahan provided the game-winner) on October 11 and defending home ice on January 4 with a 4-3 regulation win (Ferland took First Star honors with a 1-1-2 night).
Since all the Kings need is a win tonight to get back into playoff position, maybe that will be enough motivation for them to rediscover their groove on the offensive end. However, I just don’t see it happening considering the Flames’ stellar play of late. Calgary should come away with two more points tonight.
Though Bridgestone Arena boasts an impressive home-ice advantage for the Nashville Predators, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to emerge with a 4-3 overtime victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
If any Preds fans made the mistake of going to the restroom or buying concessions during the first period, there’s a chance they missed all four goals that were struck in the frame. W Chris Kunitz scored the opening goal of the contest with an unassisted wrist shot 6:24 into the period, but Nashville had the game all tied up only 1:04 later courtesy of a power play (F Cedric Paquette was in the box for hooking C Kyle Turris) slap shot from Second Star of the Game D Ryan Ellis (D Roman Josi and C Colton Sissons). The Predators then took their first lead of the night at the 9:11 mark thanks to W Viktor Arvidsson‘s (LW Pontus Aberg and D Matt Irwin) wrister, but the score was once again tied only 1:37 later on a F Vladislav Namestnikov (C Steven Stamkos and Kunitz) wrister.
In all, it took only 4:24 for all four tallies to be struck, yet the first period ended just as it began – with both teams tied.
Scoring substantially subsided in the remaining 40 minutes, as only two goals were struck – one in each period. The second period’s goal belonged to D P.K. Subban (D Mattias Ekholm and F Ryan Johansen), a power play clapper struck with only 50 seconds remaining before the second intermission.
The Bolts tempted fate by waiting until the waning minutes of regulation to find their game-tying goal, but Stamkos (D Slater Koekkoek and Kunitz) scored a clapper with 2:12 remaining on the clock to force three-on-three overtime.
Overtime is scheduled for five minutes, but First Star F Yanni Gourde (Namestnikov) didn’t want to wait that long. Only 105 seconds into extra time, he took advantage of Namestnikov’s deke-turned-pass across the crease to bury a wrister into Third Star G Juuse Saros‘ gaping cage.
G Louis Domingue earned the victory after saving 30-of-33 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Saros, who saved 27-of-31 (.871).
Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are rolling this week. The visitors’ four-game winning streak has pulled them within 18 points of the 59-36-14 hosts.
Pack your hockey watching in today, because the NHL goes on hiatus until Wednesday. What are we supposed to do with our lives?
But don’t be alarmed, the league scheduler didn’t forget to tuck a present under your tree: it’s a loaded schedule today, as every team except the Flames are in action.
The action gets an early start today, as both Detroit at Boston (SN) and Winnipeg at the New York Islanders drop the puck at 1 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it eight contests (Montréal at Edmonton [SN/TVAS], Minnesota at Tampa Bay, Ottawa at Florida [CITY/SN360], Chicago at New Jersey, Toronto at the New York Rangers [CBC/NHLN], Anaheim at Pittsburgh, Buffalo at Carolina and Philadelphia at Columbus), while three more (Washington at Vegas, Colorado at Arizona and Nashville at Dallas) wait until 8 p.m. to get underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – St. Louis at Vancouver (CBC/SN) and Los Angeles at San Jose – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
What a slate of games! Here’s a few that stuck out to me before the season even got started…
Detroit at Boston: The first of two Original Six matchups today, though this one pales in comparison to the other.
Toronto at New York: If Original Six games are your scene, you need to be in Manhattan.
Los Angeles at San Jose: The Battle of California rages on this evening in The Tank.
If only we hadn’t featured the Maple Leafs and Rangers already this week, I would totally be making the trip to Madison Square Garden for what should be an excellent game. But since we did, I have my eye on the activity in the Golden State this evening.
Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit quite like a nasty intrastate rivalry.
There are few teams nastier than the 22-10-4 Kings, who have thrown 901 hits already this season – the second-most in the league behind Edmonton’s 947 blows. That effort has been led by Dustin Brown, who has delivered 101 of those 901 hits (11.2 percent), the 11th-most in the NHL.
That physical nature has obviously been a major component of Head Coach John Stevens‘ game plan, and that plan has worked to a T considering the Kings allow a league-best 2.31 goals against-per-game to earn first place in the Western Conference.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have 17-10-1 G Jonathan Quick in net stopping pucks. In his seven December starts, he’s posted a .926 save percentage and 2.12 GAA to improve his season numbers to .928 and 2.23. His performance on the season puts him among the top-10 goalies regardless of how much or little time they’ve spent in the crease (76 in all), and third-best among the 39 netminders with at least 11 starts.
To make matters even tougher on the Sharks, Los Angeles is one of the hottest teams in the conference right now, as it has earned a 7-2-1 record over its last 10 games – an effort matched only by second-place Vegas.
Speaking of those Sharks, they’ve earned an 18-11-4 record that is good enough for third place in the Pacific Division. When they’ve found success this season, the Sharks have played some of the bets defense in the NHL, allowing only 2.52 goals against-per-game.
While the Kings have a great defense built on violence and a stellar goaltender, San Jose employs a more traditional defensive plan based on limiting shots on 11-8-3 G Martin Jones‘ net. Jones and backup 7-3-1 G Aaron Dell see an average of only 29.94 shots against per game, the fourth-fewest in the league.
DefensemenJustin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both with 1.9 blocks per game), Brent Burns (team-leading 37 takeaways) and Brenden Dillon (2.75 hits per game) have been the major leaders in that defensive effort, but a total of seven players average at least 1.5 hits, and another group of nine block at least one shot per game. This entire team has bought into Head Coach Peter DeBoer, and that effort has kept them afloat in the division despite averaging only 2.79 goals per game, the second-worst among the 16 teams currently in playoff position.
These teams have already met twice this season, and both have won one game on the road. Los Angeles won the first game at The Tank 4-1 back in October, while the Sharks exacted revenge in mid-November to win 2-1 at the Staples Center.
Given a home team has yet to defend their arena in this series, I’d be led to believe the Kings will earn two points this evening. Throw on the fact that they statistically play better on both ends of the rink, and I’d say they’re a lock.
Though the Calgary Flames staged a two-goal comeback attempt in the third period, the Montréal Canadiens held on to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome 3-2.
The Habs employed a strong and steady attack throughout this contest, as they managed a goal per period to slowly wear down the Flames. Scoring his first NHL goal since February 20, 2016, First Star C Byron Froese (D Jordie Benn and F Alex Galchenyuk) provided Montréal its first period goal on a deflected shot with 9:15 remaining in the frame.
The second period’s goal belonged to none other than LW Nicolas Deslauriers (Froese and W Daniel Carr). He buried his wrist shot behind G Mike Smith at the 8:44 mark of the period to give the Canadiens a 2-0 advantage.
Though it was only an extra insurance goal at the time, Third Star RW Brendan Gallagher (LW Artturi Lehkonen and C Tomas Plekanec) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with a wrister at the 3:10 mark of the third period. After collecting the puck in the trapezoid, Lehkonen began wrapping around the backside of Smith’s net from his right to left. However, instead of completing his play with a shot on goal, he elected to pass to Gallagher through the crease, who needed two shots to get the puck past Smith and into the twine.
As more minutes ticked off the clock, hope began to dwindle once again among the C of Red, but a power play wrister from LW Matthew Tkachuk (C Mikael Backlund and LW Johnny Gaudreau) with 1:53 remaining in regulation reignited the Flames faithful. However, that comeback would fall just short, as Calgary could not level the game even with Smith pulled for an extra attacker.
G Carey Price earned the victory after saving 21-of-23 shots faced (.913 save percentage), leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 32-of-35 (.914).
The Canadiens’ win away from the Bell Centre is a rare one for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day of late. Winning only their second in eight days, the roadies now trail the 45-26-9 hosts by only 19 points.
It’s the first Friday of December, so you know what that means!
Actually, if you know anything about the first of December, please let me know. Because I’ve got nothin’.
Anyways, the NHL has hidden eight games behind the first door of your Advent calendar, and four of them (Pittsburgh at Buffalo [SN/TVAS], Ottawa at the New York Islanders [RDS], Carolina at the New York Rangers and Anaheim at Columbus) will drop the puck at 7 p.m. San Jose at Florida will follow suit half an hour later, followed by two tilts (Los Angeles at St. Louis and Vegas at Winnipeg) at 8 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – New Jersey at Colorado – is slated to start at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.
There’s three good games on the schedule today, but only one can earn the right of being today’s featured matchup. That honor belongs to the tilt in Mound City between the Western Conference’s current division leaders.
If you were so lucky to predict either of these teams to be in the position they’re currently in during your preseason podcast, you deserve a cookie.
Excuse me, I was just finishing my cookie.
Things are going even better than anyone within the 17-7-1 Blues organization could have expected coming into this year. St. Louis had been on a steady decline since it’s division-winning 2014-’15 season, falling to second in ’15-’16 and third last year. However, the combination of Head Coach Mike Yeo in his first full campaign at the helm and new Blue F Brayden Schenn has elevated the club to the top of the Western Conference and second in the entire NHL.
But we talked about the Blues’ fifth-ranked offense last week when they were featured against the Predators (St. Louis averages 3.36 goals-per-game). It’s time to show some love to the players at the other end of the ice, who have combined to allow only 2.64 goals against-per-game, the fifth-best effort in the league.
No discussion about defensive zone play can begin without acknowledging the goaltender, but 13-6-1 G Jake Allen might actually be the Notes’ defensive low-point. Though he’s had better years (he posted a career-high .92 save percentage in 2015-’16) based on what he’s shown so far to earn his starting role, his .907 season save percentage and 2.77 GAA are nothing to write home to New Brunswick about. Among the 26 goaltenders with at least 14 starts, Allen ranks ninth- and 11th-worst, respectively.
Instead, St. Louis’ claim to fame in its own zone is its defense, headlined by none other than D Alex Pietrangelo, a candidate for the Norris Trophy (according to our very own Jordan Dettrow) who leads the team in takeaways. In fact, the captain’s 23 takeaways are the second-most by any defenseman in the league, trailing only D Brent Burns – a player I’m sure Pietro has no complaints being compared to.
I know we weren’t going to talk offense, but Pietrangelo has made a good habit of turning his takeaways into goals. His 7-13-20 totals are fourth on the team and second-most by any defenseman in the NHL.
But it’s not just him. D Joel Edmundson, who’s blossomed into a solid offensive threat himself since the Blues traded D Kevin Shattenkirk in February (his six goals are [t]third-most in the league by a blueliner this season), is also among the best shot-blockers in the NHL, averaging 2.6 blocks-per-game. Add in W Dmitrij Jaskin‘s team-leading 2.8 hits-per-game, and you have an entire club fully committed to shutting down the opposition.
Generally speaking, teams fire more shots on goal when they’re losing (you know, they’re trying to do that scoring thing). Considering the Blues’ record, it’s a safe assumption that the teams they’re playing are spending more time trailing in a game than leading. That’s no more apparent than looking at the league’s worst offenders in the shots against-per-game statistic, as six of the worst 10 teams in the stat are currently in playoff position, including the league-leading Lightning.
But that’s what makes this St. Louis defense so spectacular. Even though opposing offenses are throwing everything they have the Blues’ way, St. Louis allows only 30.1 shots against-per-game, the (t)fifth-best effort in the NHL.
Before we talk about the 15-8-3 Kings, there’s one more note to be made about the Notes. Since they play tomorrow afternoon in St. Paul, it would seem likely that 4-1-0 G Carter Hutton will draw either tonight or tomorrow’s start. Los Angeles is probably hoping the Wild have to deal with him, because Hutton’s .946 season save percentage and 1.59 GAA make Allen’s efforts look like child’s play.
Even though we’ve spent all this time talking about the Blues’ defensive effort, don’t think for a minute that their defensive zone is the stronger of the two in tonight’s game. With the exception of the Sharks, Los Angeles has sported the stingiest of defenses this year, as they’ve allowed only 2.27 goals against-per-game.
While Allen isn’t necessarily the headliner in Missouri, there’s no doubting who people pay to see when they go to the Staples Center.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wait, Kobe Bryant?
Maybe in days gone by, but now it’s 12-8-1 G Jonathan Quick‘s house (shots fired, Ball family). Though he entered a bit of a rough patch in November when he lost six-straight games, Quick’s .929 season save percentage and 2.27 GAA are still fifth- and fourth-best, respectively, among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts to their credit.
Of course, just like the Blues may not trot their starter out tonight, Quick may only be seen on the bench tonight. Los Angeles is on the second-half of back-to-back games tonight, as they beat the Capitals in Washington 5-2 yesterday with Quick in net. It would seem likely that Head Coach John Stevens will give the nod to 3-0-2 G Darcy Kuemper. Similar to Hutton, Kuemper’s .937 save percentage and 1.84 GAA are both superior to Quick’s season effort, but with a much smaller sample size.
With two teams going at it that don’t like to give up goals, I’m led to believe the superior of the two offenses will be what determines the outcome. Since St. Louis’ 3.36 goals-per-game is superior to LA’s 2.92, I’m leaning toward the Blues.
Three unanswered third period goals is all the Minnesota Wild needed to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 at Xcel Energy Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
With the exception of F Mikael Granlund‘s (D Mike Reilly and W Jason Zucker) wrist shot for the Wild with 2:59 remaining in the second period, every goal in this contest was struck in the third period.
That advantage didn’t last long though. Only 48 seconds after Marchessault’s tally, D Jonas Brodin (F Daniel Winnik and F Charlie Coyle) scored his second goal of the season at the 5:27 mark with a deflection to level the score at two-all.
After that, this game was almost all Minnesota. Vegas managed only nine shots on net in the third period while Second Star of the Game C Eric Staal was busy scoring the final two goals of the contest. His first, assisted by Third Star D Matt Dumba with 7:55 remaining in regulation, proved to be the game-winner.
Take notes young blueliners: solid stick work at the point can turn into fast points. Trying to simply clear the puck out of his defensive zone, F Tomas Nosek gave the puck away to Dumba waiting at the right point. The defenseman worked his way along the wall back towards the goal until he reached the top of the face-off circle, where he ripped a wrist shot at G Malcolm Subban. The puck never reached Subban due to a D Deryk Engelland block, but the deflection dropped right in front of the crease near the waiting Staal, who slid his wrister into a gaping net before Subban could get back in position.
Trailing by only a goal late in regulation, Head Coach Gerard Gallant pulled Subban with 1:27 remaining on the clock. It took Staal 1:21 to achieve his goal, but his unassisted backhanded shot found the back of the net with six ticks remaining on the clock to set the 4-2 final score.
First Star G Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Subban, who stopped 28-of-31 (.903).
Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series simply cannot be stopped. Since American Thanksgiving, homers have won six-straight to elevate their record to 33-19-6, which is 17 points better than the roadies’ record.
As if 13 games on Saturday wasn’t enough, the NHL is keeping the party going today with five more contests to close out the weekend.
The action starts at 5 p.m. when the New York Islanders visit Carolina, followed an hour later by Colorado at Detroit. Ottawa at the New York Rangers (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas and Florida at Anaheim – waiting 60 minutes before finishing the weekend’s activities. All times Eastern.
Two of today’s games have been scheduled on my calendar since the schedule was released this summer…
Colorado at Detroit: Hockey fans from the 90s probably vividly remember the games between these teams, with the most infamous of course being “Fight Night at the Joe” in 1997.
Ottawa at New York: Remember last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals? The Rangers sure do.
…but neither of them strike my fancy like tonight’s activity out in the desert. Brush up on your poker, because we’re headed to Sin City!
In what may be the unlikeliest of scenarios, today’s matchup features the top-two teams in the Pacific Division. You know, the same teams that either have missed the playoffs two out of the past three seasons or didn’t exist this time last year.
Probably the most unexpected is the success of the 11-6-1 Golden Knights in only their first two months of play. No matter what bizarre situations they’ve been thrust into – including not one, not two but three goaltenders landing on IR in the month of October – the Knights have responded with the fighting spirit of a team with decades of history and prestige.
Most notably, Vegas plays some good offense. Like, really good. So good, in fact, that it tops the Western Conference and ranks fourth-best in the NHL overall in scoring, managing 3.56 goals-per-game. For those wondering, that makes the Knights’ offense better than those of Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Louis and a heap of other clubs not named the Lightning, Maple Leafs or Islanders.
The man behind it all? Probably Head Coach Gerard Gallant, but since he wears a suit instead of skates, we’ll bestow the honor upon second-liner W David Perron. The former Blue has scored a team-high 17 points to average .94 per game, due in large part to finding is way onto the scorecard in each of his last six games.
However, with 6-11-17 totals, Perron is largely a facilitator for the rest of his line. Instead, it’s been linemate W James Neal that has taken credit for a team-high 10 goals. Though not as hot as Perron, Neal is certainly feeling his offensive game of late, as he’s scored a goal in two of his last three games and is riding a three-game point streak.
Attempting to slow down this stellar offense tonight (well, this afternoon if you’re in Vegas considering it’s a 5 p.m. puck drop local time) are the division-leading 12-6-2 Kings. Fortunately for Los Angeles, it’s a team that hangs its hat on squelching opposing attacks, as it allows only a second-best 2.3 goals against-per game.
I’m pretty sure I say it every time we focus on the Kings, but the biggest reason for their success this season is the incredible play of 9-6-1 G Jonathan Quick. I’d change the story to keep things fresh, but it’s hard to take away from a netminder that has managed a .93 season save percentage and 2.31 GAA to rank in the top-six of his position.
Unfortunately for Quick, looking at his season stats hides the fact that he’s currently riding a four-game losing skid that goes back to November 9. Over the course of these games, Quick has allowed a dozen goals – all at home, mind you – on a .91 save percentage.
Head Coach John Stevens definitely had this game on his mind this week, because he purposefully rested Quick in yesterday’s game against Florida – another strong offense, though nowhere near as good as Vegas’ – in favor of 3-0-1 G Darcy Kuemper. The first half of that decision paid off when the Kings beat the Panthers 4-0 at the Staples Center yesterday, so it will be interesting to see how Los Angeles travels.
The reason for Kuemper’s strong record is that the Kings’ defense plays differently with him in net compared to their usual starter. Kuemper has faced only 111 shots this season, which is 27.75 per start. Compare that to Quick’s 33.25 shots against-per-start and we see part of the problem. To help Quick get out of his rut, I think Stevens’ defense will play back this evening to alleviate some of the pressure off Quick and allow him to rebuild the confidence he may have lost over the past 10 days.
If that is the case, expect to hear W Dustin Brown and D Alec Martinez‘ names said a lot tonight. Though he’s no blueliner, Brown has managed three hits-per-game all season to lead the team and knows how to slow down opposing scorers. In addition, even if those goalscorers get a shot off, Martinez averages a league-high 3.4 blocks-per-game, so very little gets past him. If their efforts can motivate their club to take their defensive zone a little more seriously than they usually do with Quick in net, this Kings team should be fine tonight.
G Malcolm Subban was just activated Thursday from injured reserve, so it is possible he’s in net tonight. If he is, there’s a possibility he’ll show a little bit of rust – and I’d expect the Kings’ offense to pounce. If G Maxime Lagace holds his starting job for one more day, Los Angeles will need all of its (t)11th-ranked offense to get the job done.
Thanks to an offensive explosion in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 at Bell MTS Place in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Usually it’s a bad thing to score all your goals in one period, but the Jets seemed to do just fine by burying five tallies in the span of 12:27, four of which in only 3:50. Making the onslaught even more fun, all five Winnipeg markers were struck by a different goalscorer.
RWPatrik Laine (W Nikolaj Ehlers and F Bryan Little) reclaimed a one-goal lead for Winnipeg at the 8:06 mark, followed only 35 seconds later by D Jacob Trouba (Connor and Scheifele) burying his first goal of the season for what proved to be the game-winner.
Exactly a minute after the celebration for Trouba’s goal had ended, the Phone Booth erupted again for F Matt Hendricks‘ (F Mathieu Perreault and RW Joel Armia) wrist shot to set the score at 4-1. Perreault (Hendricks and Armia) completed the Jets’ score fest with a deflection 1:42 before the second intermission.
Butcher (C Nico Hischier and F Taylor Hall) registered the first goal of his career in the third period, but even the 12:46 remaining in regulation was not enough for Jersey to pose any more of a threat.
G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Cory Schneider, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). He was lifted in favor of G Keith Kinkaid for the third period, who saved all 12 shots he faced.
Winnipeg’s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That improves the hosts’ record to 25-17-5, which his eight points better than the roadies.
Stealthy good. Not only an apt description of the big Flyers winger’s week (and season), but really of his entire career. Voracek has been one of the best ‘under-the-radar’ players in the league for some time, and this week he was really flying (pun somewhat intended). On a team that finished the week 1-2-0, Voracek was a major bright spot, tallying 2 points in every game. The Kladno, CZE native notched an assist on both Flyers goals in a 6-2 thumping against Anaheim, then tallied 1 & 1 in each of their next two contests (a 5-4 loss to Ottawa and 4-2 victory over Toronto). Oddly, not a single one of his 6 points in those 3 games came on the power play, an area where Voracek usually excels.
Side note: Though Voracek is currently 3rd in points in the entire league (trailing only Tampa’s dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov), those goals in back to back games were just his 1st and 2nd tallies of the year. He’s 2nd in the league in assists with 14.
Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings
One of the league’s resident surprises, LA has surged to the top of the standings with a 9-1-1 record, and though they suffered their first regulation loss this week, it wasn’t enough to prevent them earning this recognition.
With 8 players having recorded at least 5 points so far in the young season, and a goaltending duo both boasting sub-2.00 GAAs and >.930 save percentages, the resurgent Kings are getting contributions from seemingly everyone. Dustin Brown has burst back to life after multiple subpar seasons, seemingly flourishing in the system of new coach John Stevens. Anze Kopitar continues to make an argument for being possibly the most undervalued center in the league, and youngster Adrian Kempe has been sublime.
Only a 3-2 loss to Toronto managed to blemish an otherwise-flawless week, as the Kings toppled Ottawa 3-2, Montreal 4-0, and Boston 2-1. A long summer and a fresh face behind the bench may have been just what the doctor ordered for the battle-weary club, and other clubs may need to start worrying about how to deal with a Cup-hungry LA franchise once again.
Game of the Week: Dallas Stars 4 @ Edmonton Oilers 5, Thursday October 26th
I admittedly have an affinity to games decided in extra frames when it comes to this award, but the Stars and Oilers simply put on a barn-burner too good to ignore.
One of those matchups that just looks like it’s going to be fun on paper (two high-octane offenses backed up by less-than-stellar defenses), this tilt certainly delivered. 9 goals (3 on the power play), 67 shots, 56 hits, and even a fight (okay, more of a facial reconstruction on Antoine Roussel by Eric Gryba), this one had plenty of everything.
The opening period started with a bit of a goaltending duel, with Ben Bishop and Cam Talbot both making a handful of quality stops in the opening half of the frame. But as a penalty to Ryan Strome was expiring just past the 11 minute mark, Leon Draisaitl collected a loose puck and fought through a check along the boards to push the puck ahead to the newly-freed Strome, who flicked a no-look backhand from the boards into the middle of the ice, feeding a streaking Connor McDavid in full stride, who proceeded to shelf the puck over the blocker side of Bishop to give the hometown Oilers the 1-0 lead. A see-saw contest would develop from there, as just over 1 minute later opposing captain Jamie Benn would bury a sweet feed from Alex Radulov to knot things up. Patrick Maroon would see a centering attempt turn into a goal after bouncing off the skate of Dallas defender Marc Methot and into the net with just 25 seconds to play in the opening frame, sending the Oil to the locker room with a 2-1 lead.
Radulov and Benn would both tally power-play goals in the 2nd, with a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goal splitting the two and sending the game into the 3rd period tied at 3. To break the streak of trading goals, Esa Lindell would bury Dallas’ 3rd PP tally after receiving a sweet cross-ice slap-pass from Jason Spezza just over halfway through the 3rd, giving the Stars their first lead of the night. Unfortunately for the Dallas faithful it would last just shy of 2 minutes, as RNH would net his second of the night to draw even at 4. Then with less than 3 to play, defenseman Matt Benning would give Draisaitl his 3rd assist of the night by burying a one-timer from the point (with a bit of help from the skate of Alexander Radulov) and giving the Oilers the final lead of the game.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Seriously, Golden Knights, about this Twitter campaign to be the next winning goaltender for your franchise? Oscar Dansk is 3-0-0 after being handed the starting job when both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban went down with injuries, and boasts a ridiculous 1.34 GAA and .959 save percentage, along with a shutout.
I’m starting to actually believe anyone wearing goalie equipment could win the Vezina with this team.
Speaking of roster vacancies in Vegas, Vadim Shipachyov earned himself a suspension by going all ‘Russian’ on the franchise after being sent down to the AHL. He has supposedly gone AWOL from the Chicago Wolves, and his future with the Golden Knights (and potentially the NHL altogether) is looking pretty well decided.
Alex Ovechkin made headlines off the ice, as the Capitals superstar went out of his way to buy a sweater, coat, and hat for a shirtless homeless man he spotted while walking in Edmonton. Ovie downplayed his actions and attempted to avoid questions about it in interviews, stating that “It was nothing,” following up with “I think if you saw a guy almost naked out there with a cold temperature, I think every human can do something, a coat, a shirt, or whatever.” Autograph hounds throughout the league were seen disrobing and untidying their hair soon after word of Ovie’s actions reached the airwaves*.
*- I assume
Kevin Bieksa successfully utilized a ‘Superman Punch’ in a fight for the 2nd time in his career, with both instances occurring against the Philadelphia Flyers. Radko Gudas was on the receiving end of this most recent entry, while years ago it was Mike Richards. This does beg the question of why you would choose to fight Kevin Bieksa.
The Habs and Rangers had a contest to see who was the least worst, and in fitting fashion, it was an ugly thing. 9 total goals on Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, the former getting the…better?…of the latter, with both teams looking sloppy and discombobulated. I suppose either team can take solace in knowing they are better than Arizona, but I don’t know exactly how much solace can actually be taken from that knowledge.
Can Arizona go an entire season without a victory? I think we should all get behind them in their efforts to set the least enviable record in hockey history. 10 down, 72 to go.
Offseason Analysis: If postseason berths were awarded based on goals allowed, Los Angeles would have been not only the third seed in the Pacific Division in 2017, but also the entire Western Conference. In fact, at 205 goals allowed, Los Angeles was the only non-playoff team in the entire league in the top-15 of the statistic.
Unfortunately for the Kings’ offense, that’s not the way this game works.
Last season, Los Angeles couldn’t score to save its life. Even with F Jeff Carter’s team-leading 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists), the Kings could only manage 201 markers – tying for the fifth-fewest in the league.
If a club is struggling on offense, what better place to find a scorer than the entry draft? That’s exactly where new GM Blake looked, selecting 18-year-old C Gabriel Vilardi (29-32-61 in the OHL) with the 11th-overall pick. Fans shouldn’t grow too attached to the idea of him wearing black and silver this year though, as Los Angeles’ top two center positions are locked up for at least the next five seasons (Carter will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022), barring a big trade. Both Nick Shore (6-11-17) and Nic Dowd (6-16-22) will be free agents following this season (restricted and unrestricted, respectively) and could open up a hole in the lineup for the youngster, but I’d be concerned about playing the potential future of the offense, should the scouting reports prove correct, on these more physical lines during his development. Vilardi will almost certainly be back in Windsor trying to win his second-straight Memorial Cup this season.
And that leads us to a major problem with the Kings: they are returning almost an identical roster as last year. That is just fine for the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators, but teams like the Kings that are trying to capitalize on a two-time Cup-winning goaltender still in his early 30s – like Jonathan Quick – should be doing all they can to help him out.
General Managers in all sports face the tough job of building a competitive team, keeping a balanced budget, appeasing the owner and making the fans happy. It’s a touchy situation that often doesn’t have clear right or wrong answers.
Unfortunately, Lombardi didn’t find the right balance between those things last season. Currently, the Kings have eight forwards signed to contracts through at least the 2019-’20 season for $1.6 million AAV, at minimum. Six of those are Lombardi’s responsibility, as his attempts to keep the 2014 Stanley Cup-winning gang together and hope they rediscover that magic ultimately led to him losing his job this offseason.
Then again, it doesn’t seem Blake learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, as he is responsible for signing 25-year-olds LW Tanner Pearson (24-20-44) and F Tyler Toffoli (16-18-34) this summer. My concern with these signings is not that these players aren’t worth their contracts, but that it has only added to the logjam of talent that will make it difficult for youths like Vilardi to make the team and could make it difficult to trade pieces in the future.
Offseason Grade: C+
The Kings added Cammalleri to replace unsigned Jarome Iginla and shored up the backup goaltending position (sorry Mr. Game 1 Jeff Zatkoff, but Kuemper is better and younger), but they’re returning almost an identical lineup as last season. Unless Stevens can find a way for the offense to increase production and Quick can add four more wins than Peter Budaj could manage in his absence last year, the Kings are on their way to another postseason on the couch.
The time has come for my annual prediction of how the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will go. This year’s draft class is overall weaker than years past, but comes with a difficult choice for the New Jersey Devils, as they hold the 1st overall pick. The talk surrounding Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier is reminiscent of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin days leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.
With that in mind, let’s see how many picks I get wrong (it’s an annual tradition!)– this year’s draft is being held in Chicago.
1) New Jersey Devils –> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)
A gifted center, Nolan Patrick’s status as the long-time coming predicted 1st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft should not be affected by his injury shortened season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is a 6’2″, 199-pound gifted two-way player that can not only contribute in goals and assists, but brings some size down the middle for the Devils.
2) Philadelphia Flyers –> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
If New Jersey doesn’t take Nolan Patrick 1st overall, then the Flyers shouldn’t really have any complaints, because either Nico Hischier or Patrick is quite the impressive steal for the 2.4% longshots at the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Hischier stands tall at 6’2″, 179 pounds, and had 38-48-86 totals with the Halifax Mooseheads in 57 games this season en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year.
3) Dallas Stars –> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)
Gabriel Vilardi was part of this year’s Memorial Cup champion, the Windsor Spitfires, and amassed 29-32-61 totals in 49 games played this season. He’s a two-way center that remains composed in all situations while utilizing unparalleled hands and finesse in this year’s draft. Vilardi would be quite the addition to Dallas’s prospect pool at 6’3″, 203 pounds and only 17-years-old (until August 16th, that is).
4) Colorado Avalanche –> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland)
One can assume that the Avalanche are bound to be trading a bunch of forwards for forwards this offseason (at least), but more important than having an offense is having a defense and an offense (which Colorado has had one in recent years and I’ll give you a hint– it hasn’t been a defense). Miro Heiskanen is a 6’1″, 172-pound two-way defenseman that had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 37 games with HIFK this season and is just part one of many moves towards turning things around at Pepsi Center.
5) Vancouver Canucks –> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)
The Vancouver Canucks can begin to start thinking about their long term approach to the end of the Sedin era by assuring themselves of a strong presence down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt brings that strong presence at center by virtue of his 6’1″, 201-pound frame and tremendous skill. There’s a reason why he was named this year’s Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. Mittelstadt had 21-43-64 totals in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 13-17-30 totals in 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) this season.
6) Vegas Golden Knights –> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
For their first draft selection in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights are bound to select perhaps the most tactically smart playmaker of the draft in Cody Glass. The 6’2″, 178-pound, right-handed center had 32 goals and 62 assists (94 points– T-7th in the WHL) and is sure to fit right in with the Golden Knights roster and longterm plans. Vegas would be wise to let him play coming out of the draft, since Glass is perhaps the most NHL ready player besides Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.
7) Arizona Coyotes –> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
The Arizona Coyotes have been stockpiling forwards (if you can believe it) in recent drafts, so this year seems to be the right time to snag a puck moving defenseman that’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. Cale Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season– a 20-point improvement in as many games compared to last season.
8) Buffalo Sabres –> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
At 6’6″, 215 pounds, Michael Rasmussen is exactly what the Sabres need to compliment the already sized up centers of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Sheer intimidation could be one thing Buffalo banks on in the near future, thanks to their Goliath centers, but don’t let that be the only thing. Rasmussen has silky hands and had 32-23-55 totals with the Tri-City Americans this season in the Western Hockey League.
9) Detroit Red Wings –> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)
Owen Tippett has been drawing comparisons to Phil Kessel (no, not necessarily because he’s a hot dogs and hamburgers guy– though we haven’t asked him– but rather, because Mike Morreale of NHL.com says so). The 6’0″, 200-pound, right winger had 44 goals and 31 assists (75 points) in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and is a natural sniper.
10) Florida Panthers –> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)
Martin Necas is a versatile center that can create space for the puck and generate offense with his playmaking mindset. The right-handed shot had seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 41 games with Brno this season. Florida shouldn’t be too concerned with his 6’0″, 167-pound frame, considering they’ve got a good mix of forwards to balance things out while Necas works on adding some muscle to his game.
11) Los Angeles Kings –> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)
After missing out on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings fired their now former head coach (Darryl Sutter) and general manager (Dean Lombardi) and immediately replaced them with John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake as GM, so trying to predict who they’ll draft is difficult based on recent history. However, Elias Pettersson (19-22-41 totals in 43 games with Timra) might just happen to fall into their hands at 11th overall. He’ll need a year of seasoning before appearing in the Kings lineup.
12) Carolina Hurricanes –> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden)
After a bout with mononucleosis in November, Timothy Liljegren wasn’t fully able to rebound this season with Rogle BK, however his skating remains unparalleled as one of the better defensemen of the draft. Liljegren can join the rush and pinch in from the point when needed in the offensive zone and scouts have yet to see the full potential impact of his style of play. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s money-puck strategy and how it will affect their blue line, drafting Liljegren might provide some security.
13) Winnipeg Jets –> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
Klim Kostin missed a lot of time thanks to a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t stop the Winnipeg Jets from taking a chance on what might be the best Russian forward in the draft. Puck possession is Kostin’s middle name and his 6’3″, 196-pound frame certainly must have something to do with that. The Jets could use him down the middle or restructure their wingers around the Kostin model, albeit acknowledging Blake Wheeler‘s size and existence already in Winnipeg.
14) Tampa Bay Lightning –> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)
Steve Yzerman may continue to be a master of the salary cap (in terms of carefully maneuvering around large contracts, drafting and developing talent on a consistent basis and the like), but he’s got some critical thinking to do this offseason, what with pending RFAs galore and the Vegas expansion draft. Juuso Valimaki might be just enough to help relieve some of that pressure, having been one of the best defensemen of the WHL this season and amassing 19-42-61 totals in 60 games played.
15) New York Islanders –> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)
Offensively skilled, Nick Suzuki isn’t the biggest player (5’11”, 183 pounds), but he is one of the best power play specialists in this year’s draft– notching 14 power play goals for the Owen Sound Attack this season. Suzuki had 96 points alone (45 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games and would be an upgrade for the Islanders in more ways than one.
16) Calgary Flames –> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)
Kristian Vesalainen is a 6’3″, 207-pound power forward that might be able to muster his way to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Jokes aside, Vesalainen would be a solid draft pick by Calgary for his physical prowess and goal scoring ability. In the Battle of Alberta, the Flames could select their very own Milan Lucic, but with more of a two-way element to his game.
17) Toronto Maple Leafs –> D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga (OHL)
How could the Toronto Maple Leafs get any better than they already are with a lineup full of kids? Answer: they could draft Nicolas Hague. Toronto’s got a plethora of players waiting to insert themselves into their mix of forwards that it wouldn’t hurt them to give a little more attention to their blue line for a bit. Hague is a monstrous 6’6″, 215-pound, shutdown defenseman that can also contribute on the power play. He had 18-28-46 totals in 65 games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season.
18) Boston Bruins –> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
It seems unusual to say, but the Boston Bruins have a little something on the horizon to start thinking about– what will the team look like after Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci)? Boston GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of opting for college players and could select center Ryan Poehling with the future in mind. The 6’2″, 183-pound, playmaker has great vision and puck protection and had 7-6-13 totals in 35 games with St. Cloud State this season. Additionally, Poehling’s got intelligence (both on and off the ice) as he graduated a year early from high school and just tuned 18 on January 3rd.
19) San Jose Sharks –> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)
The San Jose Sharks have some big names to re-sign this offseason, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Naturally, while one might think the Sharks should use this draft to find their eventual replacements, San Jose is already in a good spot regarding forwards. Their blue line, however, could use someone like the 6’4″, 212-pound, likeness of Callan Foote. He had six goals and 51 assists (57 points) in 71 games this season and is sure to follow in the foot(e)steps of his father, Adam Foote.
20) St. Louis Blues –> LW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
A 30-goal-scorer in 52 games played with Sioux City this season, Eeli Tolvanen brings just about every offensive element the St. Louis Blues are looking for in a forward. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice– at any time too. Quick with his feet, Tolvanen can snipe an impressive shot. Don’t let his 5’10”, 170-pound setup fool you, this winger is ready to become even better at Boston College in the fall. After a couple of seasons of losing vital veteran forwards, the Blues get a chance for redemption by bringing in a goalscorer that could soon be skating on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.
21) New York Rangers –> LW Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)
In 68 games with the Kingston Frontenacs this season, Jason Robertson (6’2″, 192 pounds) had 42 goals and 39 assists for 81 points. He knows what to do with the puck and with the unwavering uncertainty of Rick Nash‘s longevity, along with the legitimacy of Jimmy Vesey and others as impact players when you need them the most (like in the playoffs, for example), Robertson is a risk worth taking. He’s only a risk because his skating game could use some improvement.
22) Edmonton Oilers –> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)
Lias Andersson is a mobile two-way forward that matches grit with nifty hands that generate scoring chances, as evidenced by his 9-10-19 totals in 42 games played with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League this season. At 5’11”, 198 pounds, Andersson is the right fit for the Edmonton Oilers lineup, where he can increase his offensive skill by learning from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while taking a page or two from Milan Lucic in the physical game. Additionally, his father, Niklas Andersson, is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and played in 164 career NHL games.
The Coyotes have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft and they’d be smart to take a forward with their second pick. Luckily, Shane Bowers is just the player for Arizona. The Boston University-bound center scored 22 goals and had 29 assists (51 points) in 60 games for Waterloo this season. The 6’1″, 183-pound forward models his game after Jonathan Toews, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Coyotes to have in their prospect pool with a clear need for a stable, solid, two-way center.
24) Columbus Blue Jackets –> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)
At 5’8″ and 153 pounds, Kailer Yamamoto is not a player to overlook. Why? Because he scored 42 goals and had 57 assists for 99 points (6th in the WHL in scoring) in 65 games with Spokane this season. Yamamoto is relentless on the puck and has hands beyond his years, as well as speed and skill that make him quite the threat on the ice.
25) Montreal Canadiens –> LW Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
After acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have made great strides at improving their group of forwards. But with the uncertainty of everything panning out as planned, why not add to the plan? Maxime Comtois is versatile and ready to take the next step in his professional career with the right guidance (*ahem* Claude Julien‘s system). Best inserted on the wing, Comtois had 22-29-51 totals in 64 games with Victoriaville this season. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward could play center if the Canadiens see it fit.
26) Chicago Blackhawks –> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)
Chicago is bound to have a tough offseason in a non-Cup year for the first time in a while, it seems, what with the Expansion Draft, as well as the salary cap working against their favor. While the Blackhawks may have to deal a top-4 defenseman or part of their core group of forwards (without getting too crazy, mind you, we’re not talking a trade involving Patrick Kane), Chicago can rest assured that Urho Vaakanainen is their defenseman of the future. The 6’1″, 185-pound blue liner is good at 1) getting the puck out of the zone and 2) playing his game– and a physical one at that.
27) St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) –> D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
An offensive-minded defenseman with a right-shot, Conor Timmins fits the bill for the St. Louis Blues. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Timmins can rush the ice as a two-way defenseman who contributed 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 67 games this season. Think Colton Parayko, but not, because this guy’s name is Conor Timmins and he doesn’t already play for the Blues.
28) Ottawa Senators –> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Josh Norris had 23-28-51 totals in 52 games played this season. The 6’1″, 192-pound center could contribute to the Senators organization in a manner similar to how Colin White has been implemented into the roster. Who knows, he might be worth it, Ottawa.
Tremendous hockey sense and intelligence are part of Kole Lind’s game. A natural playmaker, Lind was also known to produce goals of his own for the Kelowna Rockets this season, amassing 30-57-87 totals in 70 games played. The 6’1″, 178-pound right winger could be a solid fit alongside the likes of Jamie Benn and Seguin in Dallas.
30) Nashville Predators –> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)
Hey look it’s Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty! Again, I’m only kidding. This Robert Thomas of the London Knights had 16-50-66 totals in 66 games this season as a two-way forward. A noted playmaker, Thomas reads and reacts to the play before him beyond his years and will need some time to really come into his own at the NHL level. Yet, the Nashville Predators can afford to take their time carefully crafting the almost 6′, 188-pound, center in their system that’s produced the likes of Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and many more in recent years.
31) Pittsburgh Penguins –> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)
It took Henri Jokiharju a few months to really transition to the North American style of the game, but for this offensively focused defenseman, that wasn’t a big deal. He can get the puck out of his own zone with ease– not just with crisp passes, but also due to his incredible stride and speed in the transition department. Jokiharju (6’0″, 180 pounds) had nine goals and 39 assists (48 points) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.
Other top potential 1st round prospects that should easily be 2nd round picks if they’re not taken in Round 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft:
G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey East)
LW Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)
D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)
LW Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)
C Aleksei Heponiemi, Swift Current (WHL)
G Michael DiPietro, Windsor (OHL)
LW Matthew Strome, Hamilton (OHL)
C Antoine Morand, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
LW Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Current (WHL)
So there you have it. This is how I see the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft shaking out. Be sure to tune in next Friday night (that’s one week from now) to watch your favorite team pick a teenager and hope for the best. I’ll be at work that night, so no spoilers, please. Let me believe I got more than two picks right for once.