Tag Archives: Toronto Maple Leafs

Numbers Game: Top-5 Pending UFA Forwards

By: Nick Lanciani

12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players (ahem, Steven Stamkos) will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).

Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwards, UFA defensemen, UFA goalies, RFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts.

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1. C Steven Stamkos (36-28-64 totals with the Tampa Bay Lightning)– $7.500 million cap hit, 25 years old

Steven Stamkos is a franchise player. Period. He could stay in Tampa after all and crush every free agent fanatic’s dream of a player that hasn’t been seen since the 2004-2005 season lockout, or he could leave. While there are some teams that I could rule out— Las Vegas being one of them, since they don’t begin play until the 2017-2018 season— it’s anybody’s guess as to where Stamkos might end up.

His 312 goals in 569 career NHL games speak for himself. He’s a two-time 50 goal scorer, having amassed 60 in the 2011-2012 season, and he’s more than capable of increasing your team’s scoring ability all around with the right chemistry. Prior to having his season cut short due to a blood clot, Stamkos had 36-28-64 totals in 77 games.

Stamkos is destined to make anywhere from the same salary as this season up to $10 million AAV. Everybody wants him, if they’ve got the cap room or can make cap space. We might even see the NHL’s first sign-and-trade if a team makes the Lightning an offer they can refuse with Stamkos’s camp in agreement.

Steven Stamkos resigned with Tampa on June 29th- 8 years, $8.500 million AAV.

2. RW/LW Loui Eriksson (30-33-63 totals with the Boston Bruins)- $4.250 million cap hit, 30 years old

The big piece of the Tyler Seguin deal that the Boston Bruins acquired might very well be on the move at his own discretion, since Boston couldn’t get a deal done to Eriksson’s satisfaction, leaving the Bruins with Joe Morrow as the sole survivor of the failed Seguin maneuver.

But like Stamkos, there’s nothing that says the Bruins are out of the picture on this one, unless they are absolutely against giving Eriksson a much deserved raise for his 63 point season.

His 30-33-63 totals tied his 2008-2009 season performance with the Dallas Stars when he had 36 goals and 27 assists. The following three seasons, Eriksson went on to score 71 points or more. If history is any indicator, Eriksson has found his stride in the Eastern Conference and with the right chemistry, will return to his familiar form while hopefully avoiding the injuries that plagued his time in Boston.

Despite his age compared to some of the other top UFAs, there are no downsides to Loui Eriksson— unless you’re a team with plenty of 30 or older players already under contract and you’re trying to get younger.

3. LW Milan Lucic (20-35-55 totals with the Los Angeles Kings)- $6.000 million cap hit, 27 years old

The Edmonton Oilers might be the best situation and most attractive destination for Milan Lucic to return to Canada, play with Connor McDavid and reunite with former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli at the reigns of the Oilers, but if you can get a chance to offer him a deal, you might as well and see if he listens.

Lucic scored 30 goals in the 2010-2011 regular season en route to winning the Stanley Cup with Chiarelli in Boston and had 11 more points this season (55) with the Kings than he did in 2014-2015 with the Bruins (44).

While he’s sure to receive numerous offers of outrageous sums of money, one thing is for sure. The team that lands him will know exactly what they’re getting from him. A gifted power forward with timely goals when you need them, Lucic has been known to have a temper. But any team can utilize his temper in the right fashion if they have the right roster components to balance the load and control each game.

Someone like Leon Draisaitl suddenly becomes more of an opportunity for Lucic to mentor in Edmonton. Then again, a return to Boston would be welcomed by many TD Garden faithful too.

4. RW Kyle Okposo (22-42-64 totals with the New York Islanders)- $2.800 million cap hit, 27 years old

Players like Kyle Okposo are in high demand in this league and it is crazy to see the New York Islanders letting him go in such a fashion (then again, who isn’t in the Stamkos sweepstakes, if that’s their motivation). Okposo has scored 51 points or more in the last three seasons and is only entering the prime of his career. Where he plateaus is yet to be seen, but he’s got a chance to shine if, say he lands on a roster with Stamkos (or the like).

Teams should be all in on trying to land Okposo if they are in dire need of the elusive right winger as they are in trying to sign Stamkos, but with more realistic expectations.

With the exception of the shortened 2012-2013 season, he’s only failed to record 39 points or more once in 2010-2011 when he was limited to 38 games played due to injuries. The nearly 70 point scorer is highly underrated, but is about to be put into the spotlight due to the free agency affect— what with a large contract certainly heading his way.

There’s no telling what his 51 point season in 2014-2015 would have been if he got to play more than 60 games, in comparison to his 69 points in 71 games in 2013-2014 and 22-42-64 totals in 79 games this season.

5. C Eric Staal (13-26-39 totals with the Carolina Hurricanes/New York Rangers)- $8.250 million cap hit, 31 years old

This summer could be the summer of reunions if Lucic goes back to Boston and 2006 Stanley Cup champion, Eric Staal, heads back to Carolina (it’s like he never left!), but as a general manager, didn’t you mean to get rid of the guy in the first place? Nothing against Staal here, but it’s just a thought about what it means to move on, move forward and find better success with— well, let’s face it— a better team, since the Hurricanes aren’t making waves just yet (though Teuvo Teravainen helps).

Carolina was great to the former 100 point scorer in 2005-2006 and 70+ point scorer up through the 2011-2012 season. But in 83 games between the Hurricanes and New York Rangers, the veteran center couldn’t find his scoring touch with 13-26-39 totals (down from 23-31-54 totals in 77 games in 2014-2015 and 61 points the year before that).

One thing is for sure, though, Staal’s status as a top-6 forward changed with his acquisition in New York, which impacted his play.

For a significant discount, Staal could return to form in the right organization, preferably one that’s a playoff contender, if not a Stanley Cup contender, similar to how Brad Richards spent a year with the Chicago Blackhawks (and won the Cup) in 2015. Staal rounds out my top-5 UFA forward list because there’s still a lot left in him, similar in nature to Joe Thornton, but he needs balance on the roster around him and the right fit.

Of note, Colby wanted me to mention that Staal would add a veteran presence and that he “understands how to be a franchise player.” I think he just wants me to say that Staal should sign with Toronto or Edmonton, but I can’t tell.

Honorable Mentions/ Well if the price is right (and the shoe fits)…

LW Thomas Vanek (18-23-41 totals with the Minnesota Wild)- $6.500 million cap hit, 31 years old

Thomas Vanek has never had a season below 41 points in scoring. In fact, the only other time Vanek scored 41 points was during his 20-21-41 total campaign in the 2012-2013 lockout shortened season with the Buffalo Sabres over 38 games played. Last season, of course, Vanek disappointed the Minnesota Wild with only an 18-23-41 effort in 74 games.

But at the right price of significantly less than $6.5 million, the prolific scorer could see a resurgence in confidence and playing ability. Vanek’s not getting any younger, but he’s still Thomas Vanek even at 31 years old. He might not be the next Jaromir Jagr, but he definitely carries a low risk-high reward potential just the same. Besides, maybe the right change of scenery is just what he needs.

RW Radim Vrbata ( 13-14-27 totals with the Vancouver Canucks)- $5.000 million cap hit, 34 years old

If you’re not sold on signing one of the top guys in free agency for ridiculous dollar amounts, why not try to grab an excellent depth scoring forward for just the right amount of money before he becomes one of the only remaining forwards on the UFA list and has his price inflated because of that whole supply and demand thing?

Okay, that was a long winded way of saying that Radim Vrbata is nowhere near the best player in the league by far, but for less than $5 million and with the right fit, Vrbata could be a quality asset pickup for any team looking to add a veteran presence in the locker room. At 34, Vrbata probably just wants to win and likely isn’t inclined to go after making the opportunity himself in a market where he’d be the main attraction. Coming off a 63 point season in 79 games played in 2014-2015, he fell off the charts for the Vancouver Canucks this year with 27 points in 63 games.

C David Backes (21-24-45 totals with the St. Louis Blues)- $4.500 million cap hit, 31 years old

David Backes plays David Backes style hockey. He hits hard, he plays hard and he’s a good center that finds his time switching between playmaker and scorer en route to usually accumulating at least 40 points a season.

For a team in a pinch to find a quality center to strengthen themselves down the middle for the foreseeable future, Backes would be a great option if you can’t land Stamkos. In 10 seasons with St. Louis, he only had three seasons where he scored 31 points or less. In fact, only his rookie and sophomore years were under 31 points until the 2012-2013 48-game season where he recorded 6-22-28 totals through all 48 games.

Coming off a 21-24-45 season in 79 games this year, his offensive production has dipped over the last three seasons from 57 and 58 point seasons in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons. But the soon to be former captain of the Blues still plays with all the fire inside him and could bounce back on a team that’s not strapped by the salary cap.

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.

Huskies Bite Back in Rematch With Rebels, Advance to Memorial Cup Final.

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Alright Down the Frozen River and hockey fans, we here are going to try something new for the first time! This subject, surprisingly, doesn’t have anything to do with the NHL! What?!? I am covering a junior game for the first time! What does this mean?!?! Well, tonight we will be recapping the 2016 Memorial Cup Hockey Semi-Final Game between the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the Red Deer Rebels. The Memorial Cup is a junior hockey championship trophy awarded annually to the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) champion. It is awarded to a team following a round-robin tourney, between four teams, between a host team, and the champions of the CHL’s three leagues: the OHL which is the Ontario Hockey League, the QMJHL which is the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and WHL which is the Western Hockey League.

 

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The teams involved in this year tournament are the London Knights of the OHL, Red Deer Rebels out of the WHL who are also the host team this year, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies from the QMJHL, and, last but not least, the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.

 

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(The Brandon Wheat Kings locked up the 2nd overall spot in the WHL going 48-18-4-2 with 102 points, only four points out of first. The Wheat Kings went on to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, which is given to the playoff champion. Brandon winded up crushing the Seattle Thunderbirds in five games to capture the crown and a spot to the Memorial Cup. While the London Knights finished 2nd in their division going 51-14-2-1 with 105 points to end the regular season. They actually tied the Erie Otters in their division in points, but the reason why they finished 2nd was they had one less win then the Otters. So since they finished 2nd, ended up 5th overall behind the four regular season division champs. The Knights went on to capture the J. Ross Robertson Cup, which is also for the playoff champion. They only lost two games the entire playoffs, sweeping every round after the first round.)

Tonight was the play in game for the Championship Game against the London Knights who earned an automatic bid to the Final game after going 3-0 in round robin play. The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies had a bye into the semifinal matchup and awaited the winner of the quarterfinal game between the Brandon Wheat Kinds and the Red Deer Rebels. The Wheat Kings jumped out to a 1-0 lead halfway through the middle period. The Rebels fought their way back into the contest tying the game with a little over five minutes remaining in the game. That’s when Red Deer tallied the game-winning goal in Over Time with a minute left in extra time to punch their ticket to the Semis aginst the Huskies.

Red Deer finished 6th overall in the Western Hockey League during the regular season going 45-24-1-2 and 93 points and clinching a spot in the playoffs. The Rebels lost in the Eastern Conference Championship Series 4 games to 1 of the WHL playoffs against, believe it or not, the Wheat Kings. While the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies were the regular season champs finishing in 1st place with an impressive 54-9-3-2 record with 113 points! That was 20 points better than the second-place team! The Huskies went on to win the Presidents Cup, which is awarded to the playoff champion. They won the required 16 games in each of the four rounds, and only lost three total games! So clearly this game was going to be a battle.

Coming into the game, the starting goaltender for each team were a little less than impressive with their stats. The Huskies goalie Chase Marchand had an amazing QMJHL playoff run appearing in all 19 games going 15-3 with an astounding 1.35 GAA and a .946 SV% and a marvelous shutout streak of 223:23. His numbers led all netminders in the playoffs (he also led all goalies in GAA in the regular season with 2.42). Coming into tonight’s game, Chase went 1-2 with a horrid 4.02 GAA and .883 SV% in his 3 Memorial Cup Games.

While Red Deers goalie Rylan Toth played nine games in their playoffs. His record was a less impressive 3-5-1 with a .905 SV% and a 3.19 GAA. As well as his 2-1 record, a 2.94 GAA and a .904 SV%. So clearly Marchand was much better in his playoffs then Toth. When Toth has been much better in his three games in the MC (Memorial Cup).

Red Deer is looking to become the first host team to advance and play in the Finals since 2012. The last team to do this were the Shawinigan Cataractes who beat the London Knights 2-1 in front of their home crowd to win it all. Now if the Huskies win, it will be their first time ever in the Final.

Alright finally (now the fun part begins) let’s get to the game! Here’s what went down:

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The game started off with a very quick pace. Both clubs combined for a total of six shots within the first four minutes of the game. Then with the seventh shot of the first period, just 4:50 into the opening frame we finally got the game’s first prime scoring chance. Huskies defender Allan Carron grabbed the loose puck along the left side boards. Carron skated to the bottom of the left side hash marks in the slot and let a sharp wrister on net. Rebel goalie Rylan Toth was up to the task and blockered the shot into the corner to keep the score at zero.

Then a minute later, it was Red Deer’s turn to try and break the deadlock. Rebels center Jeff de Wit flew down the right-hand side into the attacking zone, taking on the defender. Wit made some nifty moves and found his way to the left side dot. Wit noticed a shot opportunity and took full advantage as he rifled a wrist shot that was pegged for the top left corner. Huskies goalie Chase Marchand somehow, some way was able to get his right shoulder in the way and deflected the puck into the corner for his best save of the game so far.

Five minutes later, we would then get the games first penalty. Rebels D-man Austin Strand got a two minute trip to the sin bin for high sticking minor. This would send Rouyn-Noranda to their first manpower advantage of the game. It only took the Huskies 33 seconds to strike first for the games first goal. San Jose draftee and Huskies star Timo Meier would intercept a bad pass from a Rebels D in their own zone at the top of the left circle. Meier saw Senators draft pick Francis Perron wide open across the ice on the right circle. Meier hit Perron with a sweet pass right in his wheelhouse and Perron let a one-time clap bomb go. Perron’s heat-seeking shot beat Toth far side, back in the direction he came from, to open the scoring at 1-0. This was Perron’s first goal of the MC.

It only took Rouyn-Noranda 1:07 later to double their score. Huskies winger and Colorado pick A.J. Greer fell over with the puck in the left corner of the attacking zone. Toronto draftee Martins Dzierkals picked up the puck in the corner and drove right to the front of the net. For some reason, Rebels defenders gave him all of the time and room that he wanted. Dzierkals took advantage of this and flipped a wimpy backhand shot on net that beat Toth between his legs. Dzierkals first goal of the MC and it increased his team’s lead to 2-0.

At the 16:51 mark of the first period, the Huskies took their first penalty of the game. Bruins draftee and Huskies D-man Jeremy Lauzon got called for roughing on Rebels center Jeff de Wit. This now put the Rebels on their first PP of the game where they looked to cut into the two-goal deficit before the intermission. Unfortunately, thanks to stellar penalty killing and goaltending, the Huskies killed it off only giving up two shots.

The first period ended with the Huskies up 2-0 thanks to goals 1:07 apart and solid goaltending from Chase Marchand.

The second period opened up with the Rebels in on the attack. Just 20 seconds into the period Red Deer had an offensive zone faceoff. The Rebels won the faceoff and D-man Kyle Doetzel found himself with the puck at the point. Doetzel fired a slap shot right towards the net that was deflected on its way through. Goalie Marchand looked to glove the shot down, but since it was deflected, the puck hit the top of his glove and rang right off the crossbar and out! Red Deer was that close to scoring and cutting into the lead.

Once again, a minute later, the Rebels had another prime chance to score. Other Bruins pick and Rebels winger Jake DeBrusk came speeding down the left-hand side and into the offensive zone. DeBrusk picked his head up at the bottom of the circle and lasered a pass over to captain Luke Philp in front of the net. Philp directed the pass on net and was stoned by Marchand with his glove again to keep the score at 2-0.

Red Deer were all over the Huskies in the opening minutes of the second period. They held the puck in the attacking zone for a while and were relentless on the puck. They managed to get five shots within the first three minutes. All the shots were high-quality scoring chances but were turned away by Marchand.

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Rouyn-Noranda went back on to the power play 3:46 into the middle frame. Red Deer defender Josh Mahura got caught for interfering with Huskies winger Martins Dzierkals. The Huskies looked to strike on the PP for another crushing goal. Well, the Huskies got just want they wanted and scored with 42 seconds left on the power play. With all the PP time being spent in the offensive zone on the prowl for a goal. Ottawa draft pick and Huskies winger Francis Perron had the puck at the top of the left-hand circle. Perron passed the puck up to D-man Nikolas Brouillard who unloaded a nasty one-time slapper that beat Rebel goalie Rylan Toth over his glove, off the post, and went into triple their lead at 3-0. This was Brouillard first goal of the MC and team’s second power-play goal of the game.

With 7:31 left in period two Red Deer would get another chance to score on their second power play of the game. Rouyn-Noranda winger Mathieu Boucher got caught for slashing Rebels center Conner Bleackley. Finally, after all of Red Deer’s pressure, they were able to get one past “on point” (don’t worry, that means good) Chase Marchand after a flurry of shots (three in eight seconds). Rebels center Michael Spacek had the puck at the left circle looking for options to pass to. Spacek found fellow D-man and Hurricanes draft pick Hayden Fleury open in the middle of the ice at the top of the point with a pass. Fleury wasted no time and put a one-t slapshot on net in hopes for a rebound. His wish was granted when the puck was deflected in the slot and slid right to captain Luke Philp just above the crease off to the right. Philp grabbed the loose puck and slammed the puck into the open net right before Marchand could get his pad over to his right. This was Philp’s second goal of the MC and brought his team back in the game at 3-1.

Three minutes later Red Deer would go right back on their third man advantage hoping to strike just like last time. Huskies D-man Jeremy Lauzon would make his second trip to the box, this time for holding Rebels winger Evan Polei. Sadly for Red Deer, they were held to just one shot thanks to stellar penalty killing from Rouyn-Noranda.

Towards the end of the period, specifically 50 seconds left, Red Deer would get one last chance before the second period would come to a close. Rebel defender Colton Bobyk, who is well known for his slap shot, decided to change it up a bit. Bobyk would fancy his luck with the puck and try to take it upon his own to score a goal. Bobyk would move on into the offensive zone just above the left circle. Bobyk ripped a wrist shot on net, that was labeled for the top right corner. Huskies Chase Marchand had other ideas and reached out and robbed Bobyk with a heavenly glove save to keep his team’s two-goal lead at 3-1 going into the second intermission.

As the third period started, Red Deer’s players and fans realized their season was coming to an end and were pushing to get a goal.

Five minutes into the final period, Rouyn-Noranda would get their third PP of the contest. Rebels winger Grayson Pawlenchuk got tacked with an infraction for cross checking on Huskies Mathieu Boucher. Red Deer kept their composure, only gave up one shot, and killed off the penalty with poise. Things did not get any better for Red Deer as they took another penalty four minutes later. This time, it was D-man Kyle Doetzel hauling down Huskies winger Timo Meier with a hook and sent Rouyn-Noranda to their fourth power play. Once again, Red Deer were ecstatic on the PK and killed it off.

Then with 6:50 left in the final frame, the Huskies were looking to tack on another insurance goal. Huskies winger Timo Meier was in a battle on the left point blue line into the attacking zone. Meier made a fantastic play and tipped the puck to Av’s draft pick and streaking center Julien Nantel to send him in on a breakaway. Nantel tried fooling Rebel goalie Rylan Toth with a couple fake moves and put a little wrister on net from the slot. Toth made a confident and easy right pad save and pushed the puck into the right corner to keep the game tied and give the Rebels a little glimmer of hope.

Red Deer tried another common tactic with 2:21 remaining. They pulled their goalie to get an extra attacker on the ice and play some 6 on 5 hockey. Well, this did not work at all one bit! Thanks to some stunning defense from Rouyn-Noranda in their own zone, they didn’t allow a single shot. This usually doesn’t happen with a man advantage, especially with the goalie is pulled, but the Huskies were up to the challenge and shut the Rebels down.

The game ended with the Huskies pulling out the win 3-1. Rebels goalie Rylan Toth stopped 24 out of 27 shots for a .889 SV% while Huskies goalie Chase Marchand stopped a whopping 36 out of 37 shots for a .973 SV %.

The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies will now face the RED HOT London Knights and Mitch Marner in the Championship Game on Sunday afternoon at 4:30. The game can be seen on NHL Network.

HOT TAKES: Is It Time To Trade Marc-Andre Fleury?

By: Nick Lanciani

With Matt Murray’s impressive 2016 Stanley Cup Playoff run for the Pittsburgh Penguins, is it time for them to think about their future in goal and realize the future is now? Let’s decide whether or not it’s time for the Penguins to trade Marc-Andre Fleury.

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Trade Him, Trade Him Now

Everyone’s making a big fuss over goaltenders these days, yet it seems like the smart thing to do would be to stick with your number one goalie all along. The St. Louis Blues fallout in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the now-headed to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, San Jose Sharks, had nothing to do with shaky goaltending, despite being outscored by a large margin.

Brian Elliott was the Blues clear starting goalie in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs as Jake Allen lost his way in the final month and a half of the regular season and was relegated to the backup role in the playoffs. Allen’s Game 5 loss to the Sharks comes as no surprise, given well, let’s just say Elliott is the clear number one goaltender as of right now for St. Louis’s 2016-2017 season opener (and I’m not just saying that because of a bet I made with Connor).

The Penguins rode the momentum of their tremendous run on the backs of Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff this season, but one thing has emerged as a clear choice to make. Is it time to replace Fleury?

Look, that might sound surprising— okay, I’m even surprising myself— but let’s face it, Fleury is coming off his greatest season ever and there’s no greater time to amass a significant return than right now. Especially when Matt Murray put up similar numbers in the regular season to the currently elite Washington Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby’s rookie year.

Fleury went 35-17-6 is 58 games played this season with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 SV%. He recorded five shutouts this year, which put him at 20 shutouts over the last three seasons. Last year, Fleury went 34-20-9 in 64 appearances, with a league leading and career high 10 shutouts and a 2.32 GAA and .920 SV%. For the lack of a better summarization, Fleury’s been on fire in recent years.

His success seems to be unusual, considering how Fleury often flutters out of peak performance in the playoffs— oh wait.

Having been out of the lineup since March 31st with a concussion, Fleury returned to his first game action in relief of Murray in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning on May 20th. Fleury made his first start in nearly two months on May 22nd in Game 5.

In two playoff appearances, Fleury is 0-1-1 with a 3.03 GAA and an .875 SV%. In other words, not good for his first couple of games back on the wings of a spectacular Vezina Trophy worthy season (it beats me why Jonathan Quick is a finalist this year and Fleury is not). A good playoff goalie is expected to make an impact on the series, bar none.

I get it, he’s coming back from being mostly inactive for the last couple of months, but he is considered a regular at what he does for a living and should not have even started Game 5, based on Murray’s performance in the playoffs as a whole. You don’t change your goalie in a series unless it’s goalie change in a relief appearance or heading into an elimination game— otherwise you’re only tinkering with momentum and robbing a goalie’s confidence (and perhaps the rest of the team’s confidence).

But Matt Murray is ten years younger and making an impact as good, if not better than Fleury, when it comes to crunch time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In Murray’s 13 regular season games this season, he went 9-2-1 with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 SV%. His rookie season save percentage almost mirror’s Holtby’s .934 SV% as a rookie 21-year-old back in the 2010-2011 season. Holtby also went 12-10-2 in 14 games with a 1.79 GAA, for the record, that year.

While Holtby set himself apart from the rest in 12 playoff appearances this year with a 1.72 GAA and .942 SV% at 26-years old, Murray’s been Holtby-esque spectacular, all while defeating the Capitals and taking his team further than Holtby’s ever been in the playoffs.

In 14 playoff appearances, Murray is 10-4-1 with a 2.30 GAA and a .924 SV% in his first run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Holtby went 7-7-4 in 14 games played with a .935 SV% and a 1.95 GAA in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs (his first taste of playoff hockey). While the numbers might seem misleading, Holtby allowed 30 goals on 459 shots against that year and Murray’s allowed 32 goals on 420 shots against thus far in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For a 21— 22-year-old goaltender, this kind of a run is insanity, no matter how you look at it.

For a general manager, living in the Braden Holtby-as-top-dog-in-net era, it’s certainly worth considering moving Murray up not only from the third-string position, but to your number one spot for good.

I have nothing against Marc-Andre Fleury as he is now.

I’ll repeat that. I have nothing against Marc-Andre Fleury.

However, at $5.75 million with 4 years left on his contract and Murray only costing $620K with two years left and a plethora of other talented pending RFA’s in the next couple of seasons for the Penguins, it’s worth the time to see what other teams would give up for a surefire number one goalie for at least the next five years (if not longer- Fleury isn’t showing signs of turning into the next Ryan Miller anytime soon).

And given the relationship between the Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs after the Phil Kessel deal in the offseason, it might be worth investigating just how badly Toronto needs a goaltender. Let alone other teams scampering around the Maple Leafs in the standings.

One more tidbit of information; Fleury’s rookie campaign of the 2003-2004 season only saw a 4-win, 14 losses and 2 ties performances in 21 games played with a 3.64 GAA and a .896 SV% at the age of 18 going on 19.

The fact of the matter is that the Penguins could lengthen the life of their success with a young goalie like Murray putting on a performance similar to their rival in Washington’s goalie (Holtby) and still be built on the currently successful Chicago model of running a team.

A team built on interchangeable scoring, a shutdown defense and a goalie that is clutch when you need him to be, but can be bailed out as he grows with the team in front of him.

Trade Fleury while you can. Make a pure hockey move, reminiscent of the days when the Boston Bruins acquired prolific goal scorer Phil Esposito in a deal that worked out for everyone involved— Blackhawks included— or like when the Colorado Avalanche landed Patrick Roy from the Montréal Canadiens— except the Canadiens didn’t really get much out of that deal and it was kind of forced on them (or by themselves, depending of who you ask).

Bottom line, hockey is a business and in a business you’re always looking for the here and now and where you’re headed in the future. Otherwise you’re only doomed to mismanagement at its finest. Pittsburgh has a chance to avoid poor management by trading Fleury while the price is still high and avoid falling in the standings by the grace of the rest of their organization and Matt Murray in goal.

Sharks Silence the Blues in Six Games, Reach First Ever Stanley Cup Final.

The St. Louis Blues will have to wait another season to try and make it to the Stanley Cup Final. The Blues have not made it to the SCF since the 1969-70 season when they lost to the Boston Bruins in 4 games (you might recall that flying goal by Bobby Orr in overtime in Game 4). That is a whopping 44 seasons in a row, which ranks 2nd all-time among teams trailing only the Toronto Maple Leafs who have not made it since 1966-67, which is 47 seasons.

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This is the San Jose Sharks biggest game in their 25 years of being a NHL team. They will try and silence the  St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup run tonight at “The Shark Tank”.

With a Sharks win in Game 6 on Wednesday night, they would advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It would be their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. The Blues will be going back to their “number one” goalie Brian Elliott for Game 6. Elliott was benched for their last two games as he was replaced by Jake Allen.

After Allen’s horrid Game 5, where he 0nly stopped 21 out of 25 shots for a terrible .840 SV% the Blues made the switch back to Elliott for the next game. Elliott has given up 6 goals on his last 37 shots in his last 2 starts, as well as being 2-0 in elimination games these playoffs. Allen did start Game 4 in San Jose where the Blues looked like a brand new team winning 6-3 and Allen finishing with a strong .912 SV%. St. Louis fans had something to look forward too after his win, but were let down as Allen and the Blues looked like a pee-wee team and squandered a 2-1 lead and a 3-2 lead and ended up losing the game.

As well as the Blues goalie troubles, they are having scoring troubles from their better players. For example, star winger Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues in scoring with 40 goals which were the most on the team. Tarasenko has yet to register a POINT let alone a goal in the series. He will definitely have to pick up his play. So the Blues will look to stave off elimination and force another Game 7 back in St. Louis.

San Jose has played in a total of 31 playoff series. Out of these 31 series, 10 of them have ended in 6 games. The Sharks have been on the losing end of the majority of these matchups with their record being 3-7. The Sharks will look to keep their composure and win in front of their home crowd. While St. Louis will look to do the opposite and get the crowd out of the game early, just as they did the last time they were here.

The Sharks won the battle of the crowd-pleasing early, although the game’s first shot didn’t happen until almost two minutes in (courtesy of San Jose), they got the crowd pumped and ready to go with a couple chances early. St. Louis got a little life back as they went on a little run, stringing together 3 shots but were all turned away by San Jose’s goalie Martin Jones. The Sharks would keep the crowd loud and proud as they would tally first almost four minutes in.

Here’s how it went down:

Sharks goalie Martin Jones would come up huge with a wicked glove save to stone Blues vet Alex Steen in the slot. The rebound would go flying into the left corner. Sharks winger Tomas Hertl found the puck lying in the corner and went back to get it. Hertl basically grabbed the puck, turned around in the corner, and threw the puck out of the zone for what it looked like to be a harmless clear.

Well, Sharks vet Jumbo Joe Thornton would sneak behind the two St. Louis’ defenders, pick up the loose puck after it was slowed down by a tip, and burst in on a breakaway. Thornton would come in on Blues goalie Brian Elliott and flip a wrister on net in the slot but would miss the net completely going high and get all glass behind the net.

As both of the Blues defenders would clumsily go behind the net looking for the puck, Sharks captain Joe Pavelski would find the loose puck behind the net. Pavelski sneakily wrapped the puck around the back of the net to Elliott’s left and get stoned by Elliott as he whipped out his left pad. Fortunately for Pavelski, since the defenders were still behind the net, the puck sat on the goal line. Pavelski had another huge whack at the puck and pushed the puck over the goal line to-tally first and put them in the lead at 1-0. This was Pavelski’s league leading 13th goal of the playoffs.

This early goal got the crowd ROARING early and LOUDLY. This was exactly what the Sharks wanted, to jump out to an early lead and get the crowd going. Sharks fans had something to look up to, because in all 5 previous games in the series, the team to score first would end up winning the game. The Sharks would also shut down the Blues offense early as they held St. Louis shot-less for a long six-minute span in the middle of the first period.

Surprisingly, there were no more big opportunities, just small ones, and no team took a single penalty in the first frame which happened for the second straight game. Other than that, to sum up the opening period between these two teams… it was ALL Sharks. When I say “ALL Sharks” I really mean it, this doesn’t happen very often, when a team controls the whole period. The Sharks only let 4 shots reach goalie Martin Jones as he had a quiet period after his glove save. San Jose scored early and dominated the rest of the period and kept their 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.

The “no penalty” part of the first did not carry over into the second period. Just 36 seconds into the middle period, Blues winger Troy Brouwer gets called for interference on Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi. This sent the Sharks to their first power play of the game, where they always dominate even if they don’t score a man up. They always create momentum no matter what. Unfortunately, the Blues were great at getting their sticks in the shooting lane and only let one shot get to Elliott and they killed it off.

The Sharks would once again lock down on defense and didn’t allow a shot until five minutes into the period. This stellar defense would lead to their second goal of the game. San Jose’s 3rd line would go right to work in the attacking zone looking for a goal. Sharks grinder Chris Tierney would find his way out of a battle in the right corner with the puck. Tierney pushed the puck up to Sharks star D-man Brent Burns at the right side point. Burns flipped a wrister on net that would find the stick of Sharks winger, Joel Ward. The puck would deflect right off Ward’s stick, past Elliott’s blocker, and into the net. This was Ward’s 3rd goal of the playoffs and 19th of his career in the postseason.

The Sharks would have another glorious chance as they would get their potent power play back onto the ice, and this one was a lengthy one. Blues 4th liner Scottie Upshall would catch Sharks winger Tommy Wingels up high with his stick. It would be a double minor (four minutes) because Wingels was bleeding from the contact with the stick. The Blues were once again up to the task, only giving up two shots, and killed off a huge penalty to keep the score at 2-0 at the midway point of the second period.

St. Louis would get their best chance to cut into the lead at the 10:48 mark of the period. Blues 1st line center Jori Lehtera would receive a perfect pass from teammate Robby Fabbri right in his wheelhouse in the slot on the right hash marks. Lehtera would unleash a massive one-time clap bomb and was absolutely ROBBED by Jones’ left pad. Jones pushed from his right to his left and kicked out his left pad at the last minute to rob Lehtera to keep his perfect night intact. This save was Jones’ best save of the series by far!

The second period would end with the score still being 2-0 in favor of the Sharks. The only thing different in the summary of the period was that San Jose had all the momentum early in the period especially with the goal five minutes in. Although, after the Blues killed off the massive four minutes power play, they brought the momentum back to their side. They spent probably 70% of the remainder of the period in the Sharks zone threatening to score. St. Louis outshot the Sharks 7-2 after killing the penalty. San Jose’s Martin Jones was there for every shot and turned them all away. The Sharks are 7-0 when leading after two periods in the playoffs while outscoring the opposition 26-12 in the third periods overall.

Well, the Sharks third period dominance showed up again early in the final period. San Jose’s 2nd line was in on the prowl looking to extend their lead and they did with beautiful passing. Sharks winger Joel Ward stole the puck in the offensive zone high on the right side boards. Ward looked up and fired a cross-ice pass over to linemate Logan Couture on top of the left side circle. Couture corralled the pass and skated down to the left side hash marks almost right on the boards.

Couture then whipped a wicked pass over to a streaking Joel Ward, who slipped down past the defense, parked right above the goalie crease to the right and tapped it into the wide-open net to extend their lead to 3-0 just three minutes into period three. It was Ward’s second goal of the game and fourth goal in his past two games.

The Sharks threatened to score again almost two minutes later. Sharks winger Tomas Hertl found himself with the puck behind the Blues net. Hertl stickhandled three to four times in place and found a wide open Joe Pavelski right below the left side hash marks. Pavelski put a snap shot right on net that had to be headed down into the corner by Elliott to keep the Blues’ little glimmer of hope still alive.

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That little glimmer of hope was smashed into pieces just four minutes later when San Jose would score again to go up 4-0. Sharks’ Patrick Marleau seized the puck in the neutral zone and skated into the offensive zone on the right side.

Marleau stopped on a T at the hash marks near the boards and dumped the puck off to streaking winger Logan Couture at the top of the circle. Couture took the puck, skated a foot, and spotted fellow winger Joonas Donskoi wide open in the slot to his left.

Donskoi wasted no time with the pass and unloaded a massive one-timer that beat Brian Elliott to his right. This was Donskoi’s 5th goal of the playoffs.

St. Louis would piece together a little bit of hope that was previously smashed by Donskoi’s goal. Blue’s D-man Colton Parayko would get the puck on the top of the right circle. Parayko would rip a wrister on net that was saved by Jones’ pad, but Jones would trip himself up and fall over. Blues’ Jori Lehtera would get the rebound and take the puck behind the net to set back up. Lehtera would find Russian star Vladimir Tarasenko high left side in the slot. Tarasenko would find the puck in his feet, kick the puck to his stick, and shoot a wrister on net that beat the out of position Jones high blocker side. This was finally Tarasenko’s first point and goal of the series to make the score 4-1.

Then with 4:25 left in the game a scrum would ensue between the benches. After everything settled down, both teams would get a penalty with a player from each side going to the box. Sharks’ Tommy Wingels would get caught for slashing Blues D-man Kevin Shattenkirk while Shattenkirk would get caught for cross-checking Wingels right back. We would have played 4 on 4 hockey with the penalties offsetting each other. St. Louis wasn’t going to take any chances and needed to score badly so they pulled Brian Elliott to make it 5 on 4 in favor of St. Louis.

This worked right in favor for the Blues as the scored 50 seconds later to cut the Sharks lead in half at 4-2. Blues center Paul Stastny would get the bouncing puck above the hash marks on the left side. Stastny would pass the puck down to recent goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko right on the goal line in the left corner. Tarasenko would see that the Sharks were giving him a lot of room and drove right to the net on the goal line. Tara would simply try his luck on goal with a little wrist shot. Somehow the seeing-eye shot would find a way into the net after Tara banked the puck right in off Jones’ hip as he was hugging the right post. This was Tarasenko’s second goal of the game and gave the team a little more hope then before.

St. Louis would then pull Brian Elliott and replace him with Jake Allen. The main reason for the replacement was that Allen is a much better puck handler in case he had to handle a loose puck. They move did not make much sense because they pulled him for the rest of the game to get the extra attacker to play 6 on 5 hockey for the last three minutes of the game.

The extra attacker did not pay off as they only managed four more shots that were stopped by Jones to keep their two goal lead. Then with 20 seconds left in the game, after a nice blocked shot from defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Sharks would put the icing on the cake with Logan Couture’s empty net goal to make it 5-2.

This would end up being the final score as the Sharks ended the Blues season earlier then they hoped. San Jose will now play in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. The most experienced players on the team, them being Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, will also play in their first SCF after a combined 3,093 games! The Sharks were then presented with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, which is awarded to the Western Conference Playoff Champion.

There is a superstition about touching or not touching the trophy when it is presented to you. Some say if you touch it, you will lose the SCF. Well captain, Joe Pavelski did not touch the trophy, as most players choose not to so we will see what happens! This is also Sharks coach Peter DeBoer 2nd career time reaching the Stanley Cup Final. His first time was with the New Jersey Devils in 2012, his first time coaching in the NHL. The 2012 Devils, like the 2016 Sharks, missed the playoffs entirely the year before.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones stopped 23 out of 25 shots for a solid .920 SV% and Blues’ Brian Elliott stopped 22 out of 26 shots for a disastrous .856 SV%. St. Louis led in faceoffs (32-27), penalty minutes (8-2), and hits (42-31) while San Jose led in shots (27-25),  blocked shots (18-14), and giveaways (19-12). San Jose was 0/3 on the PP and St. Louis was 0/1.

San Jose’s final stats for their Conference Final are as followed: Teams leading goal scorer were Joe Pavelski and Joel Ward both with four, leading apple (assist) getter was Joe Thornton with seven, leading total point getter was Joe Pavelski with nine points (4G, 5A), the time on ice leader was Brent Burns averaging 23:39 per game. Goalie Stats: Martin Jones appeared in 6 games going 4-2 with a .920 SV% and 2.02 GAA and James Reimer appeared in 1 game (a relief effort) saving 6 out of 7 shots for a .857 and 2.06 GAA.

St. Louis’ final stats for their CF are: Teams leading goal scorer was surprisingly Troy Brouwer with three, leading apple getter was Paul Stastny with four, total point getter was Paul Stastny with four points (0G, 4A), time on ice leader was Alex Pietrangelo averaging 26:44 per game. Goalie Stats: Brian Elliott in 4 games going 1-3 with a .884 SV% and 3.02 GAA and Jake Allen also in 4 games going 1-1 with a .885 SV% and a 3.29 GAA%.

San Jose will have a nice little break as they wait to find out their opponent— either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning— for the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh and Tampa battle in Game 7 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final on Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center. The first game of the Stanley Cup Final will be on Monday, May 30th.

2016 Mock Draft: Picks 1-14

By: Nick Lanciani

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In the (dis)interest of the offseason for some teams and fans, I’ve completed my mock draft for the first fourteen picks of the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft that will be held in Buffalo, New York on June 24th. Rounds 2-7 will be held on June 25th. As we near the end of the Stanley Cup Final, I’ll be adding picks 15-30 and adjusting the rest of my mock draft accordingly. So take a look, tell me I’m on the right track or that I’m an idiot for thinking that [SOME TEAM] is going to pick [SOME PLAYER] over [SOME DIFFERENT PLAYER]. Let us know your thoughts–> tweet to @DTFrozenRiver or drop us a line on our Facebook page.

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

Aside from the Raptors— finally! There’s hope in Toronto and its name is Auston Matthews. The 6’1”, 210-pound center is a two-way player reminiscent of the likes of Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles or Patrice Bergeron in Boston. His 24-22-46 totals in 36 games with Zurich this season earned him the Rising Star Award and 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)

Everyone keeps saying that Patrik Laine is one of the next best things and they might be right. The 6’4”, 206-pound right-winger, could easily fill the hole left behind by Andrew Ladd’s departure around the trade deadline. His size and skill combined with his maturity provide much strength for the increasingly young and talented Jets lineup. 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)

With the 3rd overall pick the Columbus Blue Jackets select the next best overall skater at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Puljujarvi is talented and has enough hockey sense to drive an offense. He’s best on the wing and would help continue the youth movement in Columbus as the Blue Jackets look to get back into competitive form and out of the basement of the NHL.

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–> D Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL)

If the Edmonton Oilers keep the 4th overall pick, Chychrun is a no brainer. If Edmonton trades the 4th overall pick, Chychrun is a no brainer. Any questions? Good. The 6’2”, 214-pound, Boca Raton, Florida native is a two-way NHL ready defenseman and a surefire top-5 draft pick. While some may argue there is no clear cut number one defenseman in the draft (there’s three or four top defensemen), Chychrun is a cut above the rest based on his size and familiarity with the North American style of the game.

His physicality and awareness combined with his skating, should help any team strengthen their blue line. He had 11 goals and 49 points in 62 games, while amassing a plus-23 plus/minus, this season with the Sarnia Sting.

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5) Vancouver Canucks–> LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)

Tkachuk is a skillful forward with grit at 6’1”, 195-pounds. He tied Auston Matthews in scoring for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with 11 points and had 30-77-107 totals in 57 games with the London Knights this season. Of note, 42 of those points came on the power play.

The way the Canucks have been heading in the last few seasons, finding someone who can play alongside Bo Horvat or Jared McCann is a priority. Offense can be groomed and defense can be brought in through trades and free agency. GM Jim Benning should keep that in mind as Vancouver heads into the offseason.

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6) Calgary Flames–> LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

The Flames have done a solid job with building youth from the ground up in recent years, despite making draft selections that have surprised just about every analyst. While Calgary is yet another team that needs to replace some parts on the blue line, taking a defenseman at the Draft is not an option for them this year. Instead, Pierre-Luc Dubois is a smart and versatile forward that can add some flexibility to their lineup.

At 6’2”, 201-pounds, Dubois packs a punch with a playing style that’s on edge and includes great hands. 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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7) Arizona Coyotes–> D Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)  

It’s always hard to predict where a defenseman will go in the Draft, let alone where anyone will go after about the first five picks usually. Juolevi is arguably as good as, if not better than, Chychrun depending on who you ask. Given how some teams are leary on taking a blue liner so high up, Juolevi slides to the seventh spot where the Arizona Coyotes see no problem in calling him one of their own.

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. 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 Charles McAvoy, Boston University (Hockey East)

This one might be a stretch, but then again, maybe I’ll be right and prove anyone that’s doubting me wrong. The logic of the Sabres’ 8th overall selection is that they’re quite familiar with Boston University over the last couple of seasons, having taken Jack Eichel 2nd overall last year and signed Eichel’s BU linemate, Evan Rodrigues, in free agency. While Buffalo is set on offense, GM Tim Murray needs to set his sights on patching up their defense in the next couple of seasons.

McAvoy might not be NHL ready immediately, but he is an excellent 6’0”, 208-pound right shot defenseman that should turn into an NHL regular. He had three goals and 25 points in his freshman season with BU this season. In 37 games played, he had 39 blocked shots and was a plus-10. McAvoy also had a plus-5 rating with the bronze medal-winning United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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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. The 6’0”, 180-poung brother of Maple Leafs forward,William Nylander, Alexander Nylander is built for NHL stardom one day having led the Mississauga Steelheads with 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games in his first OHL season. The dynamic skater also had nine power play goals and can separate himself from other skaters on the ice with ease.

He’s going to be picked by a rival of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The question is which one?

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10) Colorado Avalanche–> C Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL)

Brown is a big— 6’6”, 222-pound— skilled center with speed and puck handling skills that will definitely come in handy for a team looking for a playmaker that could become like some of the best two-way players in the NHL. It’s hard to find someone like him with his size at his position (a la Joe Thornton), but the Avalanche could utilize his strengths given the uncertainty of their relationship with Matt Duchene.

Brown 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, which is a big plus for a team like Colorado that is looking for their next Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg.

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11) New Jersey Devils–> D Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL)

The Devils could use a young defenseman to pair with their existing protégé, Adam Larsson, especially considering the offensive upside of Jake Bean. The 6’0”, 173-pound offensive defenseman is an excellent skater that makes smart passes and carries his own weight. Given some time to strengthen up a bit, Bean could use his stick, body and talent to be a force on the blue line in New Jersey alongside the likes of Larsson. The Devils need to improve their offense, but they also need a more immediate plan for their defense to take some of the load off of the often-underrated Cory Schneider in goal.

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12) Ottawa Senators–> D Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL)

Sergachev is a big 6’2”, 208-pound defenseman that brings an offensive side to his game as the best defenseman in the OHL in his first season in North America. His two-way presence along the blue line should be enough to make the Senators happy to see the likes of another potential Erik Karlsson on their team. Sergachev plays with confidence and speed and had 17 goals and 57 points in 67 games with the Windsor Spitfires in his rookie season.

He also had 31 points on the power play this season. In the wake of the Dion Phaneuf trade, one would think that the last thing Ottawa needs is another temporarily unreliable defenseman, however, Sergachev brings the total package that Phaneuf may not be able to produce on the regular and adds some much needed balance to their youthful blue line.

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

Keller is a smart, skilled and speedy 5’9”, 168-pound center with a left-shot that could lead him to the NHL. He led the USA’s U-18 program with 70 assists and 107 points in 62 games and had four goals and 10 points in seven games at the 2016 IIHF World U-18 Championship en route to a bronze medal.

In the post-Eric Staal era (unless they bring him back in free agency), the Hurricanes need to rebuild down the middle. Keller is 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. In either case, he’s got a chance of developing quite nicely as Carolina doesn’t need to rush things, despite lacking immediate depth at center.

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14) Boston Bruins–> RW Julien Gauthier, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

The Bruins are trying to find their next Milan Lucic. Either that or they’re picking someone who will give Jimmy Hayes a run for his money. Gauthier is a 6’3”, 225-pound power forward that can skate and score. His 41-11-57 totals in 54 games for Val-d’Or are impressive enough to make him a tactical selection by Boston. Of note, he was the only 2016 NHL Draft-eligible player to play for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship where he had two assists in five games played.

Couture’s 3-Point Night Leads Sharks to 2016 Western Conference Final

By: Nick Lanciani

UnknownThe San Jose Sharks thumped the Nashville Predators 5-0 in Game 7 of their 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round matchup.

Logan Couture had a three point night and Joe Pavelski scored the game winning goal while Martin Jones made 20 saves on 20 shots faced en route to the shutout victory on Thursday night at SAP Center in San Jose.

Jones became the fourth Sharks goaltender in franchise history to record a playoff shutout and became the first San Jose goalie to do so in a Game 7. Not only that, but it was the first Game 7 of Jones’s career.

Pekka Rinne made 21 saves on 26 shots against for a .808 SV% in the loss and was pulled in the third period after the Sharks scored their fifth goal of the evening. Rinne’s replacement, Carter Hutton, notched one save on one shot on goal in 16:06 TOI.

With the win, San Jose advanced to the Western Conference Final and will face the St. Louis Blues in the next round of the playoffs. It is the Sharks first appearance in the Western Conference Final since 2011 and their fourth overall (2004, 2010, 2011 and 2016).

Entering Thursday night it was the 13th playoff game in 25 days for the Nashville Predators, who were 3-0 when facing elimination this postseason until Thursday’s outcome. It was just the second Game 7 in Predators franchise history, with their first Game 7 having been a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on road ice in Round One of this year’s playoffs.

Sharks forward, Matt Nieto, was out of the lineup for Game 7 due to an undisclosed injury. As a result, Tommy Wingels was inserted into the lineup for the first time in two games after being a healthy scratch. San Jose entered the night 3-0 at home in the series and finished 4-0 at home in the series, while Nashville fell to 0-8 in all-time playoff games at SAP Center. Peter Laviolette’s five straight Game 7 winning streak was snapped and his record as a head coach in Game 7s fell to 5-2 (1-1 with Nashville) with the 5-0 outcome.

Viktor Arvidsson took the game’s first penalty at 8:22 of the first period for sending the puck over the glass. Arvidsson’s delay of game minor gave San Jose their first power play of the night and it didn’t take them long to capitalize on the man advantage. Joe Pavelski wristed one past Rinne for his 9th goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 9:02 of the first period. Patrick Marleau (5) and Joe Thornton (8) picked up the primary and secondary assists on Pavelski’s goal.

The goal was just Pavelski’s 2nd career Game 7 goal and tied a Sharks postseason record for most goals in a playoff year with nine.

It was apparent in the first eight minutes that the Sharks were grabbing momentum of Game 7 when they had already fired numerous shots on goal before Nashville got their first shot on Jones.

In keeping with the home ice, home crowd fueled momentum; Joel Ward received a pass from Melker Karlsson that sent him in on a breakaway towards Rinne. Ward deked and slid the puck underneath Rinne’s five-hole to give San Jose a 2-0 lead at 16:51 of the period. Karlsson (1) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (7) assisted on Ward’s goal— his 3rd in five-career Game 7s.

To finish off the first period, Shea Weber took an interference minor that would extend into the second period for 38 seconds.

UnknownAfter twenty minutes of play the Sharks led 2-0 on the scoreboard and outshot the Predators 17-3. San Jose also lead in faceoff wins (15-7) and takeaways (5-0), while Nashville led in hits (16-14) and giveaways (8-5).

Both teams blocked seven shots in the first period and Nashville has yet to see time on the man advantage, while the Sharks were 1/2 on the power play.

Logan Couture extended his two-game point streak to three games with a quick goal 36 seconds into the second period that put San Jose on top 3-0. Couture capitalized on a Shea Weber mishap (that seemed to be a theme of the night) and put his seventh goal of the playoffs through Rinne’s five-hole. With two assists in the third period, Couture not only extended his point streak, but added to his already five goals and three assists (now make that six goals and five assists) in the series.

His 11 points in the series passed Igor Larionov’s 1994 Sharks franchise record of ten points in a single postseason series.

Fed up with his own play and Nashville’s general lack of effort, Mattias Ekholm went undisciplined at the end of the second period and cross checked Tommy Wingels. Ekholm received a minor penalty that would be served in its entirety to start the third period.

But it didn’t take long for San Jose to capitalize on their third chance on the power play as Joe Thornton sent a backhanded puck in the twine 32 seconds into the third period. Thornton’s 3rd goal of the playoffs was assisted by Couture (9) and made it 4-0 Sharks.

In keeping with the hometown momentum, San Jose pressured the Predators early in the third, resulting in another goal at 3:54 of the period. Joonas Donskoi sent the puck to Couture who then found Patrick Marleau for a snap shot that beat Rinne and made it 5-0 Sharks in the third period. Marleau’s 4th goal of the playoffs was enough to chase Rinne from the net, but not before Rinne swung his stick twice at the net to break it and a third time as he threw it behind him, before skating off the ice to be replaced by Hutton.

Marleau’s goal was assisted by Couture (10) and Donskoi (5).

At 14:34 of the third, Justin Braun took the Sharks first penalty of the night for interfering with Colin Wilson. Nashville was unable to amount anything on their only power play of the night and Jones and the Sharks went on to hold the 5-0 lead through the end of the game.

With the shutout, Wilson’s seven-game point streak had been snapped, along with his 4-5-9 totals in that span and James Neal’s four-game point streak came to an end as well for the Preds.

San Jose finished the night leading in shots on goal (27-20), takeaways (10-4) and blocked shots (22-12). Nashville ended the night leading in hits (46-31), faceoff wins (32-31) and giveaways (21-12). The Sharks went 2/3 on the power play, while the Predators went 0/1.

While Couture had a three-point night and Marleau, Thornton and Vlasic each had two-point nights, top Nashville defensive pair, Weber and Roman Josi finished the night as minus-3’s.

Despite trailing in shots on goal in periods one and two (17-3 and 6-5, respectively), Nashville outshot San Jose 12-4 in the third period.

With the series outcome, the team that scores first in Game 7s improved to 123-42 (.745) all-time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (4-0 this postseason). San Jose improved to 8-0 when Pavelski records at least a point and the home team won all seven games in the series, which was just the fourth such occurrence in the last 20 years (with the other times being the 2013 Conference Semifinals between Los Angeles and San Jose, the 2003 Stanley Cup Final between New Jersey and Anaheim and the 2002 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between Toronto and the New York Islanders).

For the seventh straight season, a team from California will be playing in the Western Conference Final. San Jose played in the WCF in 2010 and 2011 against the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks, respectively, while Los Angeles took on the then Phoenix Coyotes in 2012 and the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2014. The Anaheim Ducks played the Blackhawks in 2015 and San Jose is once again back in the Western Conference Final in 2016.

Game 1 of the 2016 Western Conference Final is scheduled for Sunday night at 8:00 PM EST in St. Louis at Scottrade Center and will be televised on NBCSN in the United States and CBC and TVA Sports in Canada. The St. Louis Blues have home ice advantage and play host to San Jose in Games 1 and 2, as well as 5 and 7 if necessary. The Sharks will host the Blues at SAP Center in Games 3 and 4, and Game 6 if necessary.

Hornqvist’s Hat Trick Helps Penguins Win 5-2, Take 1-0 Series Lead on Rangers

By: Nick Lanciani

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoPatric Hornqvist tallied a hat trick in the midst of a 4-point night and 5-2 victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins over the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup. Antti Raanta suffered the loss for the Rangers, having made 16 saves on 19 shots for a .842 SV% in 39:54 time on ice.

Wednesday night’s action was Jeff Zatkoff’s first career NHL playoff appearance and first career Stanley Cup Playoff win. He made 35 saves on 37 shots on goal for a .946 SV%. Zatkoff had a .896 SV% in his last five appearances during the regular season, dating back to January 18th. He took to the ice for warmups with Tristan Jarry as his backup as Marc-Andre Fleury was unavailable due to his ongoing recovery from a concussion.

New York Rangers goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, was injured late in the 1st period, after receiving a stick in the eye from his teammate and defenseman, Marc Staal. Lundqvist stayed in the game until the end of the period and made 10 saves on 11 shots against for a .909 SV% through 20 minutes.

During this final minute of play in the first, Patric Hornqvist (1) went hard to the net and received a pass from Conor Sheary (1) and sent the puck past Lundqvist to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead with 17.6 seconds to go in the period. Kris Letang (1) picked up the secondary assist on the goal.

The second period was similar in nature to the first period in that both teams swapped a couple of power play opportunities. Pittsburgh’s special teams weren’t able to capitalize on consecutive penalties to Rangers forwards, Chris Kreider and Dominic Moore, at nine seconds into the period and at 10:02, respectively. Meanwhile, New York’s power play was powerless on Trevor Daley’s tripping penalty with 8:14 to go in the 2nd.

At 18:56 of the second period, Sidney Crosby snapped a quick wrist shot past Raanta on a breakaway to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead. Crosby’s first goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs was assisted by Hornqvist (1).

After forty, the Penguins were leading 2-0 on the scoreboard, but trailing 21-18 in shots on goal to the Raners.

Pittsburgh began the third period playing a little catch-up hockey after amassing six penalty minutes just 2:08 into the period. Karl Hagelin was given a four minute double minor penalty for high sticking Rangers forward, Kevin Hayes, while Pittsburgh defenseman, Ian Cole, was sent to the box with a two minute minor for interfering with Eric Staal in front of Zatkoff.

New York Rangers LogoNew York was quick to capitalize on their 5-on-3 advantage, with Derek Stepan scooping up a power play goal on the rebound and cut the Penguins lead in half. Stepan’s first of the playoffs was assisted by Rick Nash (1) and Derick Brassard (1). But the Penguins were quick to answer back in a hurry, notching a short-handed goal scored by Tom Kuhnhackl (1) on a two-on-one from Nick Bonino (1) and Kris Letang (2). The goal was Kuhnhackl’s first career Stanley Cup playoff goal and gave Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.

Patric Hornqvist followed up with a power play goal at 8:02 of the third period with his second of the night, assisted by Phil Kessel (1) and Sidney Crosby (1). Hornqvist poked the puck into the net before Raanta could figure out that it had slid behind him and gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead. Rangers head coach, Alain Vigneault, used his coach’s challenge to review the goal for goaltender interference, but the call on the ice was upheld after Hornqvist had clearly allowed Raanta a chance to play the puck.

With lots of time left in regulation, Stepan netted his second of the night at 10:11 of the third, pulling the Rangers to within two once again. Dan Boyle picked up an assist on the goal. New York had been outshooting Pittsburgh 34-27 at the time of Stepan’s goal to trail 4-2.

Finaly, Patric Hornqvist completed his first career playoff hat trick with under three minutes to go in regulation on an empty net goal. The goal was assisted by Crosby and Trevor Daley. Hornqvist became the first Penguins player to score a hat trick in the team’s playoff opener and the first player to do so for any team since Alexander Mogilny did so with the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 9, 2003, per the NHL’s public relations department.

After 60 minutes of play, the Pittsburgh Penguins rejoiced in a 5-2 win and a 1-0 series lead over the New York Rangers.

This is the seventh time- third straight season in a row- that the Rangers and the Penguins have met in the postseason. New York was 1-2-1 in four games against Pittsburgh during the regular season. Having earned their only win in a 3-0 shutout by Henrik Lundqvist on February 10 at CONSOL Energy Center.

Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM EST in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and can be seen on NBC, before the series heads up to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday for Game 3.

Talking About Playoffs!?!?! (Clinching Scenarios)

By: Nick Lanciani

After the Boston Bruins defeated the Detroit Red Wings, 5-2, on Thursday night at TD Garden, the Philadelphia Flyers lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-3, in overtime— further complicating playoff clinching scenario matters (well, not really). Two key things to remember are 1) each team is ultimately in control of a portion of their own destiny and 2) the formula is simple, just win.

UnknownSo with that in mind, if you are a Red Wings fan, you either want your team to:

– Win in regulation or overtime versus the New York Rangers on Saturday.

– Win in a shootout against the Rangers and hope that Boston does not win in regulation or overtime on Saturday, OR for Philadelphia to go 1-0-1 or worse in their last two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders (respectively).

– Lose in overtime or a shootout to the Rangers and hope that Boston gets 1 point of less against Ottawa on Saturday, OR for the Flyers to go 1-0-1 or worse in their last two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders (respectively).

Of note, Boston holds the second tiebreaker over Detroit, by virtue of having won the season series against the Red Wings.

UnknownIf you are a Bruins fan, you either want your team to:

  • Win in regulation or overtime against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and
    • Hope that Philadelphia goes 1-0-1 in their last two games to clinch a wild card spot.
    • Hope that Detroit loses to the Rangers in regulation or wins in a shootout against New York (and the Bruins will finish 3rd in the Atlantic Division).
    • Hope that the Red Wings win in regulation or in overtime against New York (and Boston will finish in the final wild card spot).
  • Win in a shootout against the Senators on Saturday and
    • Clinch the wild card spot if Philadelphia goes 1-0-1 in their final two games as the Bruins hold the tiebreaker.
    • Hope that Detroit suffers any type of loss to the Rangers (in regulation, overtime or a shootout) and Boston would finish 3rd in the Atlantic Division.
  • Lose to Ottawa in overtime or a shootout and:
    • Hope Philadelphia would go 1-1-0 (and the Bruins would claim the wild card, based on the tiebreaker of ROW- regulation-plus-overtime-wins).
    • Hope that Detroit would lose in regulation against the Rangers for the Bruins to finish 3rd in the Atlantic.
  • Lose to Ottawa in regulation and:
    • Hope that Philadelphia would lose at least one of their two remaining games in regulation. Detroit would finish 3rd in the Atlantic win or lose against the New York Rangers, because of their ROW tiebreaker with Boston.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoAnd if you’re a Flyers fan and the following plays out…

A Red Wings loss to the Rangers in regulation or a Detroit win in a shootout over New York, while the Bruins win in regulation, would ensure that the Red Wings would fall to the wild card spot.

At 94 points and 39 ROW Detroit would have to hope that the current 92 point, 36 ROW Flyers go 1-1-0, thereby finishing with 94 points and losing the tiebreaker on ROW.

OR Flyers fans would hope that…

PHI goes 1-0-1, finishing with 95 points and ahead of DET for the wild card, or PHI goes 2-0-0 and finishes with 96 points, thereby ahead of DET for the wild card regardless of the Red Wings result on Saturday.

Finally, as a friendly reminder, Detroit has a 41-29-11 record, totaling 93 points and 39 ROW’s with 1 game remaining this season. Boston is 42-30-9 this season with 93 points and 38 ROW’s with 1 game remaing and Philadelphia is 39-27-14 on the year with 92 points and 36 ROW’s with 2 games remaining.

This weekend is sure to be fun, so you should probably contact those people that invited you to things and tell them you have other plans now.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #30- College Night (Feat. Frank Fanelli)

The Down the Frozen River crew continues to grow as they welcome Frank to the team and talk about recent college signings and Jimmy Vesey, as well as the NHL email dump and the wild card battle leading up to the final week of the NHL’s 2015-2016 regular season. Stay tuned next week for more guests on the show and NCAA Frozen Four coverage. As always, hear what the DTFR Crew has to say about the latest news and notes from the NHL, right here on the Down the Frozen River Podcast.

Join the conversation, make a suggestion, or ask a question for our next podcast using #AskDownTheFrozenRiver or #DTFRPodcast on Twitter and/or drop us a line on Facebook– your thoughts might make it on our show!