Five fresh faces making an impact with their new teams

Boychuk, Okposo and Tavares

It’s still early in the season, but fans are starting to get a feel for which free agent pick-ups and off-season trades have worked in their favor. For some, it was a blockbuster deal that could change the future of the franchise. For others, it was a smart, below-the-radar deal that has given them the piece they need to build one block at a time.

Below you can find the top five off-season moves that are making waves in the early season. What is your top five?

5. Daniel Winnik (Toronto Maple Leafs)

While he certainly wasn’t the sexiest of signings in the off-season, Daniel Winnik has been just what the Toronto Maple Leafs needed. There has been no shortage of talk about the Leafs defensive woes. After a summer dedicated to shifting the focus of the front office, headlined by bringing in assistant GM Kyle Dubas, the Leafs went out and got the 29-year-old Winnik.

Though he’s unlikely to make any highlight reels, Winnik is the kind of player that helps teams win. Already this season he has shown just how defensively sound he is. Coming off a career-high 30 points in 2013-14 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. Plus, he’s from Toronto. That’s sure to make one notable Leafs’ fan happy. Read more

Celebrity overtime: Six questions with Quantum Leap/NCIS star Scott Bakula

Amber Dowling
Scott Bakula (Skip Bolen/CBS)

Stars like hockey too, and everyone once in a while they’re more interested in chatting up last night’s game than they are in pontificating about their latest TV or film projects. In our weekly “Celebrity Overtime” feature, we take five minutes with various celebrities to discuss their love of the good old-fashioned game.

Scott Bakula has been around the TV circuit for years thanks to roles in shows like Quantum Leap and this season’s new hit NCIS: New Orleans, but he’s also spent his share of time on the ice. Don’t call him a Kings fan though — he bleeds St. Louis Blues through and through, even when it’s tough going.

Q: You’ve spent so much time in L.A., has a small part of your inner fandom converted?

A: Nope. I’m from St. Louis so I’m a Blues fan, a big, huge, frustrated Blues fan. But I’m still loyal. You’re from Toronto? A couple of years ago I was shooting there…you guys weren’t in the playoffs, and I was like, ‘This is completely wrong.’ It made no sense at all, because Toronto wasn’t in the playoffs but the cars were still in the stadium for hours after the game. I thought, ‘This is insane. And, amazing.’
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St. Louis is the toughest place for an NHL prospect. Right, Dmitrij Jaskin?

Matt Larkin
Even high praise from coach Ken Hitchcock wasn't enough for Dmitrij Jaskin to crack a stacked St. Louis lineup. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Dmitrij Jaskin wants to play in St. Louis. Blues GM Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock think he’s good enough to play in St. Louis. Alas, he’ll open 2014-15 with the team’s American League affiliate in Chicago. The Blues were just too deep, with too many players on one-way deals, so down went Jaskin, the team’s No. 1 prospect in Future Watch 2014.

In one sense, St. Louis is prospect heaven. The Blues are a well-coached Stanley Cup contender with plenty of great two-way players to learn from. In another sense, it’s prospect hell, or at least purgatory. It’s oh-so difficult just to make the team, as Jaskin learned, and even if you do, there’s still the matter of winning Hitchcock’s trust. Just ask Vladimir Tarasenko.

Talk to any scout, GM, media member or hockey pool guru about the most promising young goal scorers in the game today and, invariably, Tarasenko’s name pops up. There’s no denying what the kid can do with the puck on the stick. He has an Alexander Mogilny-like ceiling. He made that clear with five points in his first two NHL games two seasons ago.

That same year, Future Watch 2013 ranked Tarasenko the top prospect in the game. In an interview for that magazine, however, Hitchcock foresaw a bump in the road. ‘Hitch’ predicted an adjustment from lateral puck movement to linear. Sure enough, Tarasenko slumped badly in the second half of that season. Hitchcock, who preaches defensive responsibility and system play like few other coaches, entrusted his rookie sniper with just 13 minutes of ice time per game in 2012-13.

Between learning Hitchcock’s scheme and simply cracking one of the NHL’s densest, most talented depth charts, life is difficult for any Blues rookie. That’s why Jaskin has an uphill climb.

“It’s always hard to be a rookie, but especially here, when you get 12 of the best players in the NHL,” he said two weeks before being cut. “It’s way harder to get here faster and get more time. But that means you have to work for it harder than somewhere else.”

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THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: St. Louis Blues

The Hockey News
Jay Bouwmeester, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes and Alex Steen. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 52-23-7

Acquisitions: Colin Fraser, Peter Mueller, Jeremy Welsh, Nate Prosser, Chris Butler, Benn Ferriero, John McCarthy, Paul Stastny, Carl Gunnarsson

Departures: Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow, Taylor Chorney, Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller, Roman Polak, Keith Aucoin, Vladimir Sobotka

Top five fantasy players: Alex Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Blues are as talented and well rounded as any team in the NHL on paper. They roll an excellent top-nine forward group, with two lines good enough to be first lines, whatever combinations emerge between Alexander Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and freshly signed Paul Stastny. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Ryan Johansen to KHL & other RFA buzz

Ryan Johansen (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

While Ryan Johansen’s contentious contract negotiations with the Columbus Blue Jackets dominate NHL headlines, several other notable young players around the league also remain unsigned.

Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug and right winger Reilly Smith still await new deals. CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty reports it’s believed Krug and the Bruins have agreed to a one-year bridge term for this season but remain around $750,000 apart. Haggerty speculates Smith also received a one-year offer.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli undoubtedly would’ve preferred re-signing the duo before training camp opened last week, but, as has been well documented, the Bruins lack sufficient cap space to comfortably re-sign the duo.

It’s anticipated Chiarelli will make a trade before the start of the season to free up the necessary space. Until then, Krug and Smith remain in contractual limbo, unable to participate in training camp. Read more

The top 10 fighters to watch this season

Brian McGrattan and Patrick Bordeleau (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

If you like a good scrap, you might find yourself a bit under siege lately in the hockey world. Regulations are tightening up, though the powers-that-be still maintain that organic fights, rather than staged bouts, are still part of the game. And even though enforcers such as Paul Bissonnette and Colton Orr appear to have uphill battles in returning to the NHL this season, there are still plenty of scrappers to watch. With a shout-out to hockeyfights.com as a research tool, here are the best:

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Scouting reports from Traverse City, part one

Buffalo's Sam Reinhart (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

The annual Traverse City prospects tournament is in the books for another year and this time, Columbus came out on top despite losing 2014 first-rounder Sonny Milano in the first game.

Despite boasting some of the biggest names in the tournament, the Sabres ended up dead-last, losing to the Blues in their final match to go winless overall. Coach Chadd Cassidy believes bad starts doomed the squad and the fairly young group just couldn’t get over the pressure once they got down.

But how did the individuals fare at the tourney? Here are my thoughts on players from the first four teams. Since games were staggered between two rinks, I saw more of some squads than others and the amount of reports reflects that.

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Ryan Johansen a prickly problem for Blue Jackets…but he’s not alone

Ken Campbell
Ryan Johansen (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The biggest question when it comes to Ryan Johansen’s stalemate with the Columbus Blue Jackets is just because the contract Johansen wants doesn’t exist, are he and his agent wrong for seeking it?

In reality, if the numbers being reported are correct, Johansen is seeking a groundbreaking contract. A two-year bridge deal at $6.5 million a year is about $3 million a year more than the Blue Jackets are willing to pay at this point. At the Traverse City prospects tournament, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen turned the heat up significantly on Johansen and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, by essentially saying that if Johansen doesn’t sign with the team before it opens training camp Thursday, the organization will concentrate on the players it has in camp. “That’s it, that will be the only focus,” Kekalainen told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch Monday.

This, of course, is a pressure tactic. The Blue Jackets have as much to lose as Johansen if he stays out of training camp and this drags into the regular season, so they’ll continue to work at this until something gets done. But the waters are getting more poisoned with every passing day and Kekalainen set his sights directly on Overhardt by suggesting these negotiations are more about the agent than the player.

“From their side…this should be about Ryan Johansen and his future, his long-term future with the Blue Jackets,” Kekalainen said. “This shouldn’t be about setting a standard or about an agent breaking records.” Read more