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Smith’s hat trick caps, 6-2, win for Boston over Buffalo

Craig Smith scored half of the goals in a, 6-2, win for the Boston Bruins over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, while Jeremy Swayman (6-2-0, 1.62 goals-against average, .942 save percentage in eight games played) made 17 saves on 19 shots against in the victory.

Smith’s hat trick was just his second career hat trick (previous, Feb. 13, 2020 with Nashville in, 5-0, win vs. N.Y. Islanders) and his first in a Bruins uniform.

Sabres goaltender, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1-3-0, 3.89 goals-against average, .906 save percentage in four games played) stopped 26 out of 29 shots faced before sustaining a lower body injury at the end of the second period that kept him out of the final frame.

Luukkonen was replaced by Dustin Tokarski (2-8-2, 3.46 goals-against average, .904 save percentage in 13 games played) turned aside 11 out of 14 shots against for no decision in his relief appearance.

Boston improved to 30-14-6 (66 points) on the season and moved into 3rd place in the MassMutual NHL East Division temporarily as the New York Islanders were in action against the New York Rangers later Saturday night at the time of this writing.

Buffalo fell to 13-32-7 (33 points) overall and remained in last place (8th) in the same division as the B’s finished 7-1-0 in their regular season series with the Sabres.

Boston was without the services of Ondrej Kase (upper body), John Moore (hip) and Brandon Carlo (oblique) on Saturday, though Carlo is expected to return to the lineup next week in New Jersey.

Chris Wagner and Trent Frederic were scratched in favor of Jake DeBrusk and Karson Kuhlman, who served as Curtis Lazar’s wingers on the fourth line.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, promoted Nick Ritchie to the third line left wing with Sean Kuraly at center and Charlie Coyle on right wing, while Jaroslav Halak backed up Swayman– giving Tuukka Rask the afternoon off as the B’s navigate a three-goaltender rotation.

On defense, Matt Grzelcyk was paired with Charlie McAvoy on the first pairing with Mike Reilly alongside Kevan Miller and Jeremy Lauzon with Connor Clifton to round out the blue line.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches, taxi squad members and injured players included Frederic, Wagner, Greg McKegg, Carlo, Moore, Kase, Rask, Steven Kampfer, Jakub Zboril, Callum Booth, Anton Blidh and Jarred Tinordi.

Later this month (May 10th), limited seating capacity at TD Garden will increase to 25% (up from 12%) in accordance with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 reopening plans.

Smith (11) opened the scoring at 1:21 of the first period on a redirected shot pass from David Krejci while on the doorstep to make it, 1-0, Boston.

Krejci (27) and Taylor Hall (21) had the assists as the Bruins struck first for the ninth time in their last 10 games.

Midway through the opening frame, Riley Sheahan was penalized for holding, presenting the afternoon’s first power play to Boston at 10:28.

The Bruins had one second of a 5-on-3 advantage when Mattias Samuelsson tripped Coyle at 12:27, but the B’s power play was powerless as Buffalo’s penalty kill converted on a shorthanded goal off the ensuing faceoff.

As Sheahan (4) was freed from the box, Jacob Bryson connected with his teammate on a tape-to-tape pass, leading No. 15 for the Sabres into the attacking zone on a breakaway before he fired a shot past Swayman on the short side– tying the game, 1-1, in the process.

It was the sixth shorthanded goal against allowed by Boston this season, while Bryson (7) and Casey Mittelstadt (10) tallied the assists on Sheahan’s fourth goal of the season at 12:35 of the first period.

Moments later, Kuraly (3) golfed a loose puck into the back of the twine after Ritchie’s initial shot was blocked by a Sabres defender.

Ritchie (11) had the only assist on Kuraly’s first goal in 31 games at 16:38 and the Bruins led, 2-1.

After one period on Saturday, Boston led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 17-4, in shots on goal. The Bruins also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-1), takeaways (3-2), hits (12-8) and faceoff win percentage (56-44).

Both teams had five giveaways each, while only the B’s had seen any action on the power play– and were 0/2 in that regard– heading into the first intermission.

Lauzon threw a shot towards the goal that Patrice Bergeron (19) deflected, then backhanded a tap-in on his own rebound past Luukkonen while falling to give Boston a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 5:36 of the second period.

Lauzon (7) and Brad Marchand (34) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal.

A few minutes later, Kuraly slashed Bryson and cut a rut to the penalty box, presenting the Sabres with their first power play of the afternoon at 8:34 of the second period.

The B’s penalty kill stood tall as Buffalo’s power play units could not capitalize on the skater advantage.

Dylan Cozens was sent to the sin bin for slashing Miller at 19:09, but the Bruins weren’t able to convert on the ensuing power play, despite several zone entries.

Meanwhile, Luukkonen made a save late in the period, then struggled to get up and was helped off as the horn sounded to signal the start of the second intermission.

He did not return to Saturday afternoon’s action and was replaced by Tokarski for the third period.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Bruins led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 29-11, in shots on goal, including a, 12-7, advantage in the second period alone.

The Sabres led in giveaways (8-6) and faceoff win% (55-45), while Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (7-5) and hits (23-19).

Each squad had six takeaways apiece, while Buffalo was 0/1 and the B’s were 0/3 on the power play heading into the final frame.

Ritchie (13) deflected a shot from the point by Grzelcyk over Tokarski to give Boston a three-goal lead, 4-1, at 3:18 of the third period.

Grzelcyk (12) and Miller (3) had the assists on Ritchie’s goal as the Bruins winger picked up his second point of the afternoon.

Shortly thereafter, Reilly worked the puck deep into the zone before sending a quick pass from behind the goal line to Smith (12) for the redirection goal– his second of the game– that made it, 5-1, Boston.

Reilly (25) and Krejci (28) notched the assists on Smith’s goal at 5:31 of the third period, giving the Bruins back-to-back goals in a span of 2:13.

Less than two minutes later, Arttu Ruotsalainen (5) scored on a rebound from the doorstep through Swayman’s five-hole to cut Boston’s lead to three goals.

Rasmus Asplund (4) and Mittelstadt (11) had the assists on Ruotsalainen’s goal as the Sabres trailed the Bruins, 5-2, at 7:02 of the third period.

Less than a minute later, Rasmus Dahlin cross checked David Pastrnak and delivered a swift cross check to Marchand thereafter, though only the initial cross check on Pastrnak was called as a scrum ensued between both lines on the ice at 7:45.

Marchand and Pastrnak received roughing minors, thereby giving the Sabres a power play, despite losing Dahlin to a cross checking infraction.

Buffalo’s power play was unsuccessful, however.

Midway through the third period, William Borgen was penalized for interference at 13:39.

It didn’t take Boston’s power play long for Smith (13) to send another redirected shot pass into the twine behind Tokarski for a power-play goal to extend the lead back to four goals for the B’s.

Krejci (29) and Coyle (11) tabbed the assists on Smith’s third goal of the afternoon and the Bruins led, 6-2, at 14:05 of the third period.

According to 98.5 The Sports Hub‘s Bruins beat reporter, Ty Anderson, Smith’s hat trick was the first for a player not named Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak or Krejci since Jimmy Hayes recorded a hat trick in a, 7-3, win against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 29, 2015.

At the final horn, the B’s sealed the deal on a, 6-2, victory over the Sabres, finishing the afternoon leading in shots (43-19, including a, 14-8, advantage in the third period alone), blocked shots (8-7) and hits (31-25).

Buffalo wrapped up Saturday afternoon, leading in giveaways (10-7) and faceoff win% (53-47), while the Sabres went 0/2 and the Bruins went 1/4 on the power play.

Boston is now 22-5-3 (11-0-2 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal, 18-0-2 (9-0-1 at home) when leading after the first period and 21-0-2 (13-0-2 at home) when leading after the second period this season.

The Sabres fell to 6-27-2 (3-12-1 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 3-21-0 (2-9-0 on the road) when trailing after one period and 1-27-2 (0-12-1 on the road) when trailing after two periods in 2020-21.

Next week, the Bruins travel to New Jersey for back-to-back games against the Devils on Monday and Tuesday before hosting the New York Rangers on Thursday and Saturday.

Boston’s last home game of the regular season is May 10th against the New York Islanders and the B’s will finish the regular season on May 11th in Washington, D.C. against the Capitals.

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Bruins down Sabres, 5-2, extend gap with Rangers

The Boston Bruins got the most out of their top-six forwards on Thursday night in a, 5-2, victory over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden as Tuukka Rask (13-4-2, 2.27 goals-against average, .916 save percentage in 21 games played) made 29 saves on 31 shots faced in the win.

Sabres netminder, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1-2-0, 3.75 goals-against average, .908 save percentage in three games), had 35 saves on 39 shots against in the loss.

Boston improved to 29-14-6 (64 points) on the season and remain in command of 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division– six points ahead of the New York Rangers, who remain on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture.

Buffalo fell to 13-31-7 (33 points) overall and stagnant in 8th place (last) in the division.

The B’s are now 6-1-0 against the Sabres this season with one more game remaining in their regular season series on Saturday afternoon.

The Bruins were without Ondrej Kase (upper body), John Moore (hip), and Brandon Carlo (upper body) on Thursday, while Craig Smith was a game-time decision due to an issue that was resolved prior to warmup with his COVID testing.

As Smith’s issue was absolved, Jake DeBrusk remained a healthy scratch, while B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made minor adjustments among his forwards.

Trent Frederic, Sean Kuraly and Charlie Coyle made up the third line, while Nick Ritchie, Curtis Lazar and Chris Wagner comprised the fourth line.

Jaroslav Halak served as Rask’s backup with Jeremy Swayman earning the night off.

Meanwhile, Boston’s long list of healthy scratches, taxi squad members and injured players including, Swayman, Greg McKegg, Carlo, Moore, Kase, Steven Kampfer, Jakub Zboril, Callum Booth, DeBrusk, Anton Blidh, Karson Kuhlman and Jarred Tinordi.

Jack Ahcan was sent to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Wednesday, while Urho Vaakanainen was also reassigned to Providence on Thursday ahead of Boston’s game against the Sabres.

The P-Bruins season is winding down and will not feature a postseason following it as the American Hockey League announced on Thursday that for the second straight year, there would be no traditional Calder Cup Playoffs.

Only the AHL’s Pacific Division elected to have a playoff tournament to determine a division champion, while the rest of the AHL’s division title winners will simply default to the team that finishes the season with the best regular season record.

Providence is currently 1st in the Atlantic Division with a 14-6-1-1 record on the season.

Meanwhile, starting May 10th (vs. N.Y. Islanders), TD Garden will increase their limited seating capacity from 12% to 25% in accordance with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 reopening plans.

A little over a minute into the action on Thursday night, David Pastrnak (19) rocketed a one-timer past Luukkonen from his typical spot near the faceoff dot on a pass from across the slot to make it, 1-0, Boston at 1:16 of the first period.

Patrice Bergeron (24) and Brad Marchand (33) tallied the assists on Pastrnak’s 199th career National Hockey League goal.

Late in the period, Casey Mittelstadt (10) buried a rebound after the Bruins turned the puck over in their own defensive zone and were caught behind the play.

Arttu Ruotsalainen (1) and Rasmus Asplund (3) notched the assists on Mittelstadt’s goal as the Sabres tied the game, 1-1, at 14:09.

Moments later, Buffalo forward, Sam Reinhart, tripped Pastrnak and presented the Bruins with their first power play of the night at 18:05.

Late in the ensuing skater advantage, as the final second on the clock was winding down prior to the first intermission, David Krejci (8) sent a one-timer off the post that had eyes off of Luukkonen’s back and trickled into the net to give Boston a, 2-1, lead heading into the first intermission.

Charlie McAvoy (23) and Smith (18) had the primary and secondary assists on Krejci’s power-play goal at 19:59.

After one period, the B’s led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and held the advantage in shots on goal, 13-11.

Meanwhile, Buffalo held the advantage in takeaways (4-3), giveaways (4-3), hits (13-9) and faceoff win percentage (59-41). Both teams had two blocked shots apiece while the Sabres had yet to appear on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Lazar interfered with Reinhart and presented the Sabres with their first power play of the night at 5:36 of the second period, but Boston’s penalty kill did its job and went unscathed on the scoreboard.

Late in the middle frame, Rasmus Dahlin hooked Marchand and cut a rut to the penalty box at 14:50, but Bruins weren’t able to convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Through 40 minutes of action on Thursday, Boston led Buffalo, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 28-22, in shots on goal, including a, 15-11, advantage in the second period alone.

The Sabres maintained a hold in blocked shots (6-4), takeaways (8-4), hits (22-17), while the Bruins led in giveaways (7-6) and faceoff win% (63-37).

Buffalo was 0/1 and Boston was 1/2 on the power play heading into the final frame.

Reinhart (23) tied the action, 2-2, with a quick release from the slot, while Victor Olofsson (17) and Jeff Skinner (6) worked the puck deep into the zone and earned the assists on Reinhart’s goal at 1:43 of the third period.

Almost midway through the final frame, Coyle (6) stole the rubber biscuit in the neutral zone and charged up the ice– forcing his own breakaway into fruition while Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen trailed on his back– before roofing the puck top-shelf for his first goal in 28 games.

Coyle’s individual effort was unassisted and ended the longest scoring drought in his career thus far (nine years) and made it, 3-2, for Boston at 7:58 of the third period.

Moments later, Krejci and Dahlin got tangled up in a bit of a heated exchange in which Krejci was handed a minor for interference and Dahlin received a holding infraction, yielding two minutes of 4-on-4 action at 13:30.

Just as the two clubs resumed 5-on-5 play, Smith worked the puck to Krejci while No. 46 in black and gold broke into the attacking zone by deking around Dahlin, then toe-dragging around Henri Jokiharju before setting up Taylor Hall (7) for the one-timer goal at 16:43.

Hall’s goal gave Boston some insurance with a, 4-2, lead, while Krejci (26) and Smith (19) had the assists.

About a minute later, Connor Clifton, slashed former teammate, Anders Bjork, and presented Buffalo with a power play at 17:47.

Sabres interim head coach, Don Granato, pulled Luukkonen for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Marchand (27) sent the puck into the open net from his own end on a floater of a shot just under the bar for his 31st career shorthanded goal.

Marchand’s empty net goal was unassisted at 18:26 and the Bruins secured the, 5-2, victory as a result at the final horn.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 40-31, including a, 12-9, advantage in the third period alone.

Buffalo finished the night leading in his (30-24), while the B’s wrapped up Thursday’s action with the advantage in blocked shots (9-7), giveaways (10-8) and faceoff win% (59-41).

The Sabres went 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins finished 1/2 on the skater advantage.

Boston improved to 21-5-3 (10-0-2 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal, 17-0-2 (9-0-1 at home) when leading after the first period and 20-0-2 (12-0-2 at home) when leading after two periods in 2020-21.

Buffalo, meanwhile, fell to 6-26-2 (3-11-1 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 3-20-0 (2-8-0 on the road) when trailing after one and 1-26-2 (0-11-1 on the road) when losing after the second period this season.

The Bruins face the Sabres to kick off the month of May on Saturday afternoon before hitting the road for a pair of games next week in New Jersey against the Devils. Boston went 11-5-1 in the month of April.

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Coyle & DeBrusk lift B’s over Sabres in shootout, 3-2

Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk had the only shootout goals as the Boston Bruins defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, at TD Garden on Tuesday night.

Jeremy Swayman (3-1-0, 2.21 goals-against average, .926 save percentage in four games played) made 21 saves on 23 shots faced in the win for Boston.

Buffalo goaltender, Linus Ullmark (9-6-3, 2.63 goals-against average, .917 save percentage in 20 games played) made three saves on three shots against prior to exiting the game early in the first period due to an undisclosed injury.

Dustin Tokarski (0-4-2, 3.55 goals-against average, .905 save percentage in six games played) replaced Ullmark and stopped 29 out of 31 shots faced in the shootout loss for the Sabres.

The Bruins improved to 22-12-6 (50 points) on the season and remained in 4th place in the MassMutual NHL East Division, while the Sabres fell to 10-26-6 (26 points) overall and stuck in last place in the division.

The B’s are now 3-0-0 against Buffalo this season.

Boston was without Ondrej Kase (upper body), Tuukka Rask (upper body), John Moore (hip), Brandon Carlo (upper body), Trent Frederic (non-COVID protocol related illness), Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) and Jaroslav Halak (COVID protocol) on Tuesday.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, informer reporters after morning skate that Rask practiced with the team on Tuesday morning and is expected to return on Thursday against the New York Islanders.

Meanwhile, Frederic skated on Tuesday and could be available on Thursday.

Charlie McAvoy and new acquisition, Curtis Lazar, were game-time decisions and in the lineup on Tuesday night against Buffalo.

Kevan Miller also returned to action after missing Sunday’s, 8-1, loss to the Washington Capitals.

After Sunday’s loss, Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney, traded a 2022 3rd round pick to the Ottawa Senators for defender, Mike Reilly. Hours later, the Bruins dealt Anders Bjork and a 2021 2nd round pick to Buffalo for Taylor Hall and Lazar.

All three new Bruins members were in the lineup against the Sabres on Tuesday, as Cassidy reunited his regular first line centered by Patrice Bergeron and flanked by Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the wings.

Hall suited up on the second line left wing with David Krejci at center and Craig Smith on the right wing in his 700th career NHL game.

Coyle centered the third line with Nick Ritchie on his left and DeBrusk on his right, while Lazar was slotted into the fourth line center role with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on his wings.

On defense, McAvoy was paired with Jeremy Lauzon on the first defensive pairing, while Reilly suited up alongside Miller.

Jarred Tinordi took part in his 100th career NHL game alongside Connor Clifton on the third pairing.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches, taxi squad members and injured players included Frederic, Zach Senyshyn, Carlo, Moore, Kase, Rask, Halak, Steven Kampfer, Grzelcyk, Jack Ahcan, Jakub Zboril, Callum Booth, Anton Blidh and Karson Kuhlman.

B’s newcomers Reilly, Lazar and Hall will wear No.’s 6, 20 and 71 respectively.

Former Bruin defender, Colin Miller (4) blasted a one-timer from the point with Bjork screening Swayman– beating the Boston netminder and hitting the twine in the process to make it a, 1-0, game at 1:52 of the first period for the Sabres.

Dylan Cozens (4) and Bjork (4) recorded the assists on Miller’s goal as Buffalo jumped out with the first lead of the night.

About five minutes into the action, however, Tokarski replaced Ullmark after Ullmark made a save on a shot from the point by Reilly then appeared to be in discomfort while getting up.

Midway through the first period, Krejci (3) pocketed a rebound on a shot by Lauzon from the point to tie things up, 1-1, at 13:20.

Lauzon (5) and Smith (15) tallied the assists on Krejci’s goal as the Bruins surged in momentum, but not for long.

Ritchie boarded Rasmus Dahlin at 14:32 and presented Buffalo with the night’s first power play.

Shortly after making the kill on Ritchie’s minor, DeBrusk cut a rut to the penalty box for hooking Sam Reinhart at 16:51.

The Sabres earned an abbreviated 5-on-3 advantage when Lazar caught former teammate, Tage Thompson, with a high stick at 18:23 for his first penalty of the season in just his 34th game of the 2020-21 56-game regular season.

Buffalo did not convert on the advantage, however.

Entering the first intermission, the score was tied, 1-1, despite the Bruins outshooting the Sabres, 11-5, in shots on goal.

Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (6-4), takeaways (3-2) and hits (7-6), while Buffalo led in giveaways (4-3).

Both teams were 50-50 in faceoff win percentage, while the Sabres were 0/3 on the power play and the Bruins had yet to see any action on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Ritchie dropped the gloves with Matt Irwin at 2:46 of the second period in what was Boston’s 11th fight of the season and first since Wagner fought Brenden Dillon on April 11th against Washington.

Smith (9) sent a loose puck past Tokarski’s stick side off of a botched pass that was broken up by a Sabres defender at 5:29 of the second period and the Bruins took their first lead of the night, 2-1.

The goal was unassisted, though Hall had entered the zone and intended a pass for Krejci through the slot, but Smith was in the right place at the right time after Buffalo had inadvertently knocked the rubber biscuit to his blade.

Moments later, Miller fought Thompson in the second scrap of the night after Miller caught Rasmus Asplund with a bit of a high hit in Boston’s defensive zone.

Miller and Thompson received fighting majors in what was the 12th fight of the season for the B’s at 9:14 of the second period.

Late in the period, Irwin was called for holding, but Boston couldn’t muster anything on the power play at 16:29.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Bruins led the Sabres, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 24-12, in shots on goal, including a, 13-7, advantage in the second period alone.

The B’s held the advantage in blocked shots (11-9) and faceoff win% (53-48), while Buffalo led in giveaways (9-6) and hits (18-16).

Both teams had seven takeaways, while the Sabres remained 0/3 and the Bruins were 0/1 on the power play entering the second intermission.

Dahlin (4) tied the game midway through the third period with a shot from the point that took a wacky bounce off the ice in front of Swayman and might have deflected off of the Bruins netminder’s blocker into the twine.

Henri Jokiharju (4) and Jeff Skinner (4) had the assists on Dahlin’s goal and the game was tied, 2-2, at 11:53 of the third period.

There were no more goals scored, nor any penalties called in the final frame of regulation as the two sides needed overtime, at least, to determine a winner.

With the scoreboard reading, 2-2, the Bruins led the Sabres in shots on goal, 31-22, despite Buffalo outshooting Boston, 10-7, in the third period alone.

The Sabres led in takeaways (11-10), giveaways (14-9) and hits (27-25) entering overtime, while the B’s led in faceoff win% (54-46).

Both teams had 16 blocked shots each, while Buffalo remained 0/3 and Boston remained 0/1 on the power play.

Sabres interim head coach, Dom Granato, elected to start Casey Mittelstadt, Skinner and Dahlin in the overtime period, while Cassidy countered with Bergeron, Marchand and McAvoy to begin the 3-on-3 action.

Cozens thought he had scored a last minute overtime goal, but the ref waved it off immediately and a quick review confirmed that the Sabres forward had batted the puck out of mid-air with a high stick over the crossbar.

The game went on with end-to-end action, but neither team could score as Hall made a last second defensive effort to breakup a play for Buffalo and was tripped by Mittelstadt in the process.

Though Mittelstadt was charged with a minor infraction at 5:00 of the overtime period, Boston would not get another power play in the action as the game was headed to a shootout with the score still tied, 2-2.

The Bruins finished the night leading in shots on goal, 34-23, including a, 3-1, advantage in overtime alone.

Meanwhile, the Sabres wrapped up Tuesday night’s game action leading in giveaways (14-9) and hits (27-26) as both teams had 16 blocked shots aside.

Buffalo finished 0/3 on the skater advantage and Boston went 0/1.

Granato elected to send Victor Olofsson out to lead the shootout, but Olofsson was denied by Swayman with a glove save.

Coyle countered with a shot off of Tokarski’s stick paddle and through the Sabres goaltender’s five-hole to give Boston a, 1-0, advantage in the best-of-three shootout.

Thompson skated in to take the second shot for Buffalo, but was turned aside with another routine glove save for Swayman.

DeBrusk skated down the ice with a chance to win it for Boston and lobbed a shot top-shelf over Tokarski’s blocker to give the Bruins the, 2-0, advantage in the shootout and secure the, 3-2, win for the B’s on the final scoreboard.

Boston improved to 4-2 in shootouts and 7-6 past regulation this season, while Buffalo fell to 3-3 in shootouts and 3-7 past 60 minutes.

The Bruins also improved to 8-8-3 (5-6-1 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal, 6-4-2 (3-3-2 at home) when tied after the first period and 13-0-2 (8-0-2 at home) when leading after two periods this season.

The Sabres dropped to 5-6-4 (3-5-1 on the road) when scoring the game’s first goal, 4-8-2 (2-4-1 on the road) when tied after the first period and 1-22-1 (0-10-0 on the road) when trailing after two periods this season.

The Bruins take on the New York Islanders on Thursday and Friday before wrapping up their five-game homestand (1-1-0) against the Washington Capitals on Sunday (April 18th).

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Rask enters “Save of the Year” contention in Boston’s, 3-2, win over Buffalo

A pair of goals from Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak’s 20th goal of the season and one game-changing save from Tuukka Rask catapulted the Boston Bruins over the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, at TD Garden on Thursday.

Rask (10-2-2 record, 2.05 goals against average, .931 save percentage in 14 games played) made a season-high 36 saves on 38 shots faced for a .947 SV% in the win for the B’s.

Buffalo goaltender, Linus Ullmark (4-5-1, 3.01 GAA, .910 SV% in 10 games played) turned aside 24 shots on 27 shots against for an .889 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 14-3-5 (33 points) and remained in command of the Atlantic Division, while the Sabres fell to 10-9-3 (23 points) and stuck in 4th place in the Atlantic as the Toronto Maple Leafs were in action in Arizona against the Coyotes (a win in any fashion for the Leafs would drop Buffalo to 5th in the Atlantic Division standings).

Boston is 8-0-4 at home this season in 12 games, which is the longest home point streak since the 1973-74 season. 

Meanwhile, Pastrnak is the fourth different player in Bruins history to reach the 20-goal mark in 22 or fewer games, becoming the fifth fastest behind Phil Esposito (20 goals in 18 games in 1973-74), Cam Neely (20 goals in 19 games in 1993-94), Herb Cain (20 goals in 20 games in 1943-44) and Esposito again (20 goals in 21 games in 1974-75).

The B’s are now on a two-game winning streak and have won three out of their last four games, while the Sabres dropped to 2-8-2 in their last 12 games.

One more, the Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee), John Moore (shoulder), Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia), David Backes (upper body), Torey Krug (upper body) and Zach Senyshyn (lower body) on Thursday.

Re-joining the long list of injured B’s was Brett Ritchie (upper body), as announced by Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, earlier in the day prior to Thursday night’s matchup with the Sabres.

Ritchie’s infection was reaggravated and kept him out of his 7th game due to injury this season.

Patrice Bergeron was back in the lineup after missing the last two games with a lower body injury. He returned to his usual spot as the first line center with Marchand on his left wing and Pastrnak on his right wing.

Cassidy moved Charlie Coyle to the second line right wing with David Krejci resuming his role as the No. 2 center and Jake DeBrusk remaining on the left side.

Par Lindholm was left as the third line center with Anders Bjork on his left wing and Danton Heinen on his right wing.

Cassidy left his fourth line trio of Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner alone, as well as his defensive pairings in the same shape as they’ve been with Krug out due to injury.

Steven Kampfer remained Boston’s only healthy scratch on Thursday.

Early in the period, Lindholm went down the tunnel with an injury after it appeared he might have been cut by a skate in a collision with Rasmus Asplund. He returned to the bench by the end of the period, but only played 20 seconds in his first shift of the night.

Lindholm later returned to the ice in the second period and resumed his usual duties.

Moments later, Kuraly tripped Buffalo’s Evan Rodrigues and was sent to the penalty box at 5:05 of the first period– yielding the game’s first power play to the Sabres.

Buffalo’s power play unit worked quickly and effectively as Rasmus Ristolainen (1) pocketed a rebound into the back of the net from right in the crease after Rask made the initial save.

Jack Eichel (13) and Victor Olofsson (9) tallied the assists on Ristolainen’s power play goal that made it, 1-0, Sabres at 5:25.

It was just the 6th time in 22 games that the Bruins allowed the game’s first goal.

What was more troubling for the B’s wasn’t that they were down early, but rather that they didn’t record their first shot on net until 12:11.

About a couple minutes later, Zdeno Chara fired a shot from the point that Marchand (14) tipped in from the low slot, tying the game, 1-1, on Boston’s 2nd shot of the night at 13:52.

Chara (5) and Pastrnak (16) had the assists on Marchand’s goal.

Less than a minute later, after a scrum in front of the net followed a puck frozen by a goaltender, Wagner dropped the gloves with Curtis Lazar in what was just Boston’s 3rd fight of the season (and first since Marchand fought Filip Hronek on Nov. 8th in Detroit).

Both players also received matching roughing minors at 14:14, resulting in no skater advantages.

Entering the first intermission, the score was tied, 1-1, despite the Sabres leading in shots on goal, 17-4.

Buffalo held the lead in takeaways (6-4) and hits (8-7), while Boston led in blocked shots (5-4) after one period.

The two teams had a pair of giveaways and were 50-50 in faceoff winning percentage.

Heading into the second period, Buffalo was 1/1 on the power play, while the B’s had yet to see any time on the skater advantage.

Buffalo’s 17 shots on goal in the first period were the 2nd most shots allowed in a period by Boston this season. The most shots against in one period for the Bruins thus far is 18 on Nov. 16th on home ice against the Washington Capitals.

Early in the middle frame, Matt Grzelcyk hooked Zemgus Girgensons and was sent to the box at 4:44 of the second period.

The Sabres didn’t convert on the resulting power play.

Midway through the period, Asplund held Krejci and was assessed with a minor at 13:15– presenting Boston with their first power play opportunity of the night.

It only took the Bruins 90 seconds to capitalize on the power play as Marchand (15) caught a rebound and slid the puck under Ullmark for the power play goal at 14:45.

Grzelcyk (5) and Heinen (6) had the assists on the goal as the B’s took their first lead of the night, 2-1.

Less than a minute later, Coyle took a trip to the sin bin for hooking Eichel at 15:16. Boston killed off the ensuing shorthanded bid with ease.

In the final minute of the second period, Ullmark denied DeBrusk with a sprawling leg pad save while DeBrusk entered the attacking zone on a breakaway, before crashing into the boards and heading right down the tunnel to the dressing room for a head start on the second intermission.

He returned for the third period without any issues.

After 40 minutes of action, the Bruins led, 2-1, on the scoreboard, but trailed the Sabres, 24-18, in shots on goal, despite having a, 14-7, shots on net advantage in the second period alone.

The B’s held the lead in blocked shots (10-9), hits (14-12) and faceoff win% (51-49), however, while Buffalo led in takeaways (10-6) and giveaways (8-4).

Heading into the third period, the Sabres were 1/3 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/1.

Jake McCabe opened up the final frame of regulation with a minor penalty for holding against Heinen 32 seconds into the third period.

While on the power play, Pastrnak (20) gathered a rebound and slipped the puck underneath Ullmark’s elevated leg pad and scored his 20th goal of the season– becoming the first NHL player to reach the 20-goal plateau this season.

Pastrnak’s power play goal was assisted by Heinen (7) and Bergeron (12) at 1:56 of the third period and the Bruins led, 3-1.

Less than a couple of minutes later, Nordstrom was sent to the box for tripping Rasmus Dahlin at 3:33.

Rodrigues thought he had a surefire power play goal for the Sabres as Buffalo pressured the Bruins into near submission, but Rask made a no-stick, inside of the blocker save, while diving across the crease.

Boston killed off Nordstrom’s minor as a result.

Midway through the third period, Brandon Montour (2) blasted a one-timer into the twine from the point, cutting Boston’s lead in half, 3-2, at 12:58.

Conor Sheary (3) and Dahlin (13) tallied the assists on Montour’s goal as the Sabres pressed, but couldn’t complete a third period comeback over the Bruins.

With 1:19 remaining in the game, Sabres head coach, Ralph Krueger, pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but couldn’t muster a 6-on-5 goal– even after using his timeout with 39.8 seconds left to drum up the perfect plan.

At the final horn, Boston sealed the deal on a, 3-2, victory over Buffalo– improving to 10-0-2 when leading after two periods in the process.

The Sabres finished the night leading in shots on goal (38-27) and giveaways (14-4), while the Bruins walked away with the advantage in blocked shots (17-11), hits (20-14) and faceoff win% (54-46).

Buffalo finished Thursday’s action 1/4 on the skater advantage as the B’s went 2/2 on the power play.

Boston finishes their two-game homestand (1-0-0) against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.

The B’s close out November with back to back nights in Montreal (Nov. 26th) and Ottawa (Nov. 27th) before finishing the month at home against the New York Rangers in a Black Friday matinee on Nov. 29th.

Categories
NHL Previews

Buffalo Sabres Season preview

Buffalo Sabres

24-45-12, 60 points, Last in the NHL

Additions: Patrik Berglund, Rasmus Dahlin, Matt Hunwick, Carter Hutton, Conor Sheary, Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson

Subtractions: Victor Antipin, Josh Gorges, Robin Lehner, Jordan Nolan, Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres have had a busy summer, but that’s what you expect from a team that significantly under-produced and finished last in the league. The only positive takeaway from last season was winning the lottery and drafting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.

General Manager Jason Botterill was looking to shake things up more with his roster, making three separate trades to land Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick and Jeff Skinner. Botterill only gave up Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu and a handful of draft picks. The biggest parts of all three trades for Buffalo was keeping their three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Botterill did a great job injecting speed and proven NHL players into a roster that lacked both last season.

With the No. 1 farm system (as voted by The Athletic), there are a few players from the minor leagues who, with a good camp, could crack the NHL roster.

In particular, C.J. Smith had a strong first pro season in the AHL that became derailed with an injury. Things never seemed to click after he returned to the ice, but the promise he showed while healthy will certainly warrant a look from Head Coach Phil Housley.

Victor Olofsson has a chance at making it to the big time as well. The former seventh-round pick led the SHL last season in goals and is proclaimed to have one of the best shots in the game.

Finally, Rasmus Asplund would also be coming from the SHL and could aim for the fourth-line center position, taking the spot from Johan Larsson.

Buffalo should have a much better season this year, so it’s time for Housley, entering his second season, to show he can coach in the NHL. This is a “prove it” season for a lot of people in the Sabres organization and they shouldn’t be in 31st again this season.

The biggest question mark this year will be in goal with the Sabres signing Carter Hutton to be the new No. 1 goalie ahead of Linus Ullmark. Hutton is coming off a career year with the St. Louis Blues. He has to show it wasn’t a fluke or Ullmark will take the starting job faster than expected. If Hutton and Ullmark don’t work out, the Sabres could be in big trouble without a solution in sight.

Offseason Grade: B

Overall, the Sabres had a good offseason overhaul, but there are still questions about top-six defenseman and lineup notes. But, Botterill did his job and it now comes down to Housley to get the most out of his players and have some success. I don’t think they will be anywhere near 31st with Ottawa and Montreal existing, but I think playoff hopes are too far away for the Sabres this season. I think they’ll finish fifth in the division.

Categories
Nick's Net

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.