NHL senior vice-president Brendan Shanahan explains the four-game suspension handed down to Colorado's Kevin Porter.
NHL senior vice-president Brendan Shanahan explains the four-game suspension handed down to Colorado's Kevin Porter.
The Calgary Flames pick is off to a sizzling start in his NCAA career and already has a world junior gold medal. Meet him and other future NHLers in our weekly wrap
Talk about program building. Penn State was ranked No. 1 in the NCAA by one of two national polls this week – pretty remarkable since the Nittany Lions didn’t even have a Division 1 team until five years ago. The team has tougher games ahead of them, but they've already beaten ranked opponents this season and it will be interesting to see if Penn State can qualify for its first ever Frozen Four in the spring. On top of that, the biggest name in the 2017 draft got back on the ice this weekend, so with all that in mind, let’s take a trip around the world of prospects.
Adam Fox, D (Calgary): With 19 points in his first 15 games with Harvard, Fox has been one of the great surprises of the NCAA season. To hit the ground running as a freshman while also taking classes at the most famous university in the world? Pretty impressive.
“It’s kinda surreal,” Fox said. “You’re not going to get a better education than at Harvard. Knowing the history of people who have gone there is something I take a lot of pride in. Playing hockey there is an honor and I’m happy to do it.”
Fox’s course load includes classes in writing, economics and another entitled “Understanding Darwinism.” Perhaps the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder can do an essay on the evolution of the defenseman, as his offensive hops are what make him just as a dangerous as the 6-foot-4 monsters of the past.
“From a young age I’ve always been able to handle and move the puck,” Fox said. “But obviously I’m a defenseman, so I still take pride defensively and shutting it down back there.”
Calgary landed Fox 66th overall in the draft this past summer and though players of his size are just now becoming more prominent in the elite ranks, it was hard to ignore the smarts and puck movement Fox was utilizing from the point for the U.S. National Team Development Program last season. Still, it’s stunning to see how well the kid has fared in the ECAC, which tends to be stocked with older, stronger collegians.
“The coaching staff has really helped,” Fox said. “Playing exhibition games against college teams last year with the NTDP helped prepare me for the competition and our forwards are really skilled up front, so getting the puck to them is definitely good for me.”
And good for any forward wearing the same jersey as the blueliner. Fox helped Team USA win gold at the world juniors and now he has Harvard off to a great start, with the Crimson ranked sixth in the nation.
In the Pipeline
Denis Gurianov, RW (Dallas): Gurianov was great at the world juniors, using his speed and skill to burn opponents. Now back in the AHL with Texas, the Russian teen is back at it. Just check out this highlight, which looks eerily similar to the overtime play he made to win bronze over Sweden.
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C (Boston): Coming into college, the only question about ‘JFK’ was whether he could be a top offensive threat; we knew he was a great two-way player. But with seven goals in his past four games, the Boston U. sophomore is now a point-per-game player and the Terriers are on fire.
Brett Murray, LW (Buffalo): Penn State, as I mentioned, is rolling. And the Nittany Lions got even bigger recently when Murray joined early from the USHL. The 6-foot-5 power forward was playing great for Youngstown and decided to take on a new challenge in college. Murray picked up an assist in his NCAA debut.
Christian Fischer, RW (Arizona): The AHL player of the week, Fischer has been excellent for the Tucson Roadrunners in his first pro season. The power forward has seven points in his past four games and is now a point-per-gamer, sitting second in team scoring overall.
2017 Draft Stars
Nolan Patrick, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): It’s been a long time coming for Patrick, the consensus top prospect for 2017. The big, dominating center missed three months due to an undisclosed injury, but jumped right back in with a four-point night in his return against Kootenay. The best part? From the get-go, Patrick looked like he wanted to take over the game…and then he did.
Timothy Liljegren, D – Timra (Swe.): While Patrick was injured, Liljegren was loaned from Rogle in the SHL to the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-best circuit. While that sounds not-so-good, the highly-rated defenseman is playing big minutes for Timra, while still facing older, stronger competition. Scouts are getting a little nervous about his lack of production, however. This is already shaping up to be a very interesting draft year.
Micah Miller, C – Grand Rapids Thunderhawks (Minn. HS): With 38 points in 15 games, Miller is not messing around in high school. Fast, strong and hard-working, the St. Cloud State commit is just 5-foot-9, but don’t take him for granted or your team might get burned.
Conor Timmins, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): The Hounds are red-hot and Timmins has been a great driver from the blueline. The puckmoving defenseman has 35 points in 43 games and has such great ability and patience when he’s controlling the offensive play.
Dynamic Duo: Ivan Chechovich and D’Artagnan Joly of Baie-Comeau are making it fun to watch the Drakkar this year. Chechovich, who leads the team in scoring, has great skill and vision, while Joly is a big dude who can move well and also has nice hands. Chechovich plays center and has a five-game point streak going, while Joly plays right wing and has four points in his past four games.
2018 Draft Star
Quinn Hughes, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): His late birthday means the under-18 star will get picked a year later than most of his cohorts, but that’s just another season of development for scouts to drool over. Hughes has been described as a Kris Letang type of defenseman, with great puckhandling abilities. The Michigan commit leads all NTDP blueliners with 26 points in 37 games.
Thomas Vanek is having a career resurgence in Detroit and as a free agent in July, he could be an attractive option for contenders looking for forward depth.
Left winger Thomas Vanek was a hot property in 2013-14. In a significant (and nowadays, rare) early-season trade, he was shipped on Oct. 29, 2013 by the Buffalo Sabres to the New York Islanders. At the March 5, 2014 trade deadline, Vanek was dealt by the Islanders to the Montreal Canadiens.
Vanek's stock has tumbled since then. Following two disappointing seasons with the Minnesota Wild, he was bought out of his contract last summer and inked a one-year, $2.6-million deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
With the Red Wings falling further out of playoff contention this season, Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News speculates they could become sellers by the March 1 trade deadline. He believes Vanek could once again attract interest in the trade market.
Despite missing 11 games earlier this season with hip and groin injuries, the 32-year-old is putting up good offensive numbers. With 12 goals and 30 points in 33 games, he's on pace for 25 goals and 65 points. The last time he saw those numbers was during his well-travelled 2013-14 campaign.
Vanek does have a reputation for inconsistency, especially in the post-season. But with his solid play thus far, his affordable contract and eligibility for unrestricted free agency in July, he could be an affordable rental player for teams seeking scoring depth at the deadline.
If the Wings decide to put Vanek on the trade block, perhaps the Ottawa Senators will express some interest. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported last Thursday that Senators GM Pierre Dorion continues his search for forward depth. He's seeking someone who can have an immediate impact under coach Guy Boucher.
Dorion's finding the pickings slim so far in the trade market. Garrioch claims only the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche can be considered sellers right now.
While Dorion said he's not fussy over the type of forward he gets, a scoring left winger likely tops his list. The Sens are among the bottom third in goals-for per game (2.49). That lack of production is jeopardizing their chances of securing a playoff berth.
TSN's Frank Seravalli believes the Senators lack sufficient assets to land a top-line left winger. He speculates once-promising forwards Curtis Lazar and Nick Paul could be trade bait. With this year's draft considered a shallow one for talent, Seravalli wonders if Dorion might consider shopping his first-round pick.
Oft-concussed left winger Clarke MacArthur is expected to return to the Senators' lineup by the end of January. He could provide them with an offensive boost, though concerns over his health will linger over the rest of the season.
COULD JETS SHOP A GOALIE?
The Winnipeg Jets are once again struggling to remain in playoff contention in the Western Conference. Goaltending continues to be their Achilles heel. The tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have allowed 3.06 goals-against per game, ranking among the league's worst.
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos observes the Jets current goalie setup isn't working. On Tuesday, they recalled former starter Ondrej Pavelec from their AHL affiliate. Kypreos speculates they could move Hutchinson. He said the San Jose Sharks had some interest in the 26-year-old earlier this season.
The Sharks, however, seem to be making do thus far with Aaron Dell as their backup. He's won four of his six starts, with a 1.96 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Hutchinson may have more experience than Dell, but his performance this season (4-10-3 record, 3.23 GAA, .894 SP) won't tempt the Sharks.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Winnipeg has allowed three or more goals against in eight of their past 10 games, and with Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson struggling, the Jets have pulled the trigger and called up veteran Ondrej Pavelec.
It took 47 games and more than three months, but with the season potentially slipping away as their goaltending fails them, the Winnipeg Jets have pulled the trigger and called up veteran netminder Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
Pavelec’s recall from the minors comes the day following the Jets’ 5-2 loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, which is the fourth straight defeat Winnipeg has been handed and the eighth time in 10 games that the team has allowed three or more goals against. Bringing Pavelec up is a move the Jets certainly hopes can stop the bleeding, because right now coach Paul Maurice is likely aching for someone, anyone, to come in and stop the puck with some consistency.
As he comes up from the Moose, Pavelec is sporting an 8-7-2 record, 2.78 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 18 outings in the AHL, and he’s only two days removed from putting in his best effort of the entire season. Sunday evening against the Chicago Wolves, Pavelec was tested 44 times, but he allowed only one puck to elude him, turning aside 43 shots in a 4-1 Manitoba victory.
Pavelec’s trip back to the big league doesn’t come simply as a response to him having one good outing and yet another Jets loss, though. Over the past several weeks, the idea of calling up Pavelec has been bandied about, especially as both Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have struggled to piece together anything that resembles the type of run of play one would expect from a big league starter.
At times it was hard to fathom a scenario in which a young, growing team like Winnipeg wouldn’t stay all-in on their young netminders, hoping one or both would find a way through this tough stretch. With Pavelec available to possibly give the club a jolt, the Jets have decided that might be exactly what they need.
And if the move is one viewed to be out of desperation, that would be because it is. There’s a reason Pavelec has spent more than half of the campaign buried in the AHL along with his $3.9-million cap hit. But save pulling the trigger on a trade that would bring the Jets a starting netminder, what other options do the Jets really have? Eric Comrie is a promising prospect, but another young goaltender added to the mix is the last thing Winnipeg needed right now.
Don’t go thinking Pavelec will be the Winnipeg’s idea of a long-term fix, though. He is as stop-gap as stop-gap options come.
Over the course of his career, Pavelec has been a below-average netminder, boasting a career .907 SP and bloated 2.85 goals-against average. Though he had the best season of his career in 2014-15 — his .920 SP was substantially better than any year prior — he followed it up with a .904 SP mark in 2015-16. Comparatively, Hellebuyck’s difficult campaign has seen him post a .907 SP, and his career SP is .912. Hutchinson is a career .908 SP goaltender, with a tough .894 SP throughout this season.
All the Jets want right now is someone who can come in and stop some pucks. If that’s Pavelec, great. If that’s Hellebuyck or Hutchinson, better. But the fact of the matter is that with only a few months remaining, the Jets have the league’s third-worst points percentage during a season in which they were supposed to be taking a sizeable step forward. That needs to change, and maybe the increased competition in goal — or the veteran presence — is enough to turn things around.
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Phil Kessel. Image by: Joe Sargent/Getty Images
From his day with the Cup in Toronto to a September night tweeting (infamously) at home with his dog to running for president, we’re seeing a new Phil Kessel.
By Shelly Anderson
He got chirped by the president. Then he jokingly ran for president. Winning the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh certainly has elevated Phil Kessel’s lot in life in unexpected ways.
Kessel was seen by some as sullen and surly during his six seasons with Toronto, but his first year-plus since the Penguins traded for him in July 2015 has been super. He helped Pittsburgh win the Cup, leading the team with 10 goals and 22 points in 24 playoff games, and had a strong start this season averaging nearly a point per game. He has won over his teammates and jettisoned any lingering angst or ugliness he might have felt toward Toronto. It was a big transition in a short time heavily facilitated by his new club’s success.
“I mean, it’s pretty easy, isn’t it?” Kessel said, smiling and laughing – a side of the right winger Maple Leafs fans likely would not recognize.
Kessel harbors no ill will toward Toronto.
“I love the city,” he said. “It’s a good city.”
In July, he took the Cup to Toronto, visiting The Hospital for Sick Children. Three months later, Kessel spiffed up for the Penguins’ Oct. 6 visit to the White House. He got red-cheeked and laughed with everyone else when President Barack Obama opened with this line aimed at someone who had barely sniffed the post-season before last spring: “We are here to celebrate an extraordinary achievement – Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion.”
He’s a Cup champion who was overlooked by Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. It’s unclear whether Kessel would have been ready after having off-season hand surgery, but it was still seen as a snub. Kessel rolled with it. The night the Americans played, and lost to, Canada, he tweeted this zinger: “Just sitting around the house tonight with my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”
Then, in the pre-season, cameras followed Kessel, 29, during a day of team photo sessions. He good-naturedly poked fun at himself for being tired and for looking like he was balding in some of the shots.
The topper came when Kessel provided some levity the day before the presidential election when he tweeted a photo of himself wearing a T-shirt touting, “Phil for president…Nice guy. Tries Hard. Loves the Game.”
Teammate Tom Sestito stumbled upon the shirts online at Sin Bin Hockey and ordered several. His teammates got a huge kick out of the stunt, though they aren’t all sure he’s quite ready to hold the highest office.
“Uh, yeah, I don’t know,” captain Sidney Crosby said, barely able to talk because he was laughing hard. “I love the shirt, though.”
Kessel’s teammates have embraced him completely.
“Dry sense of humor,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “I think with us he can relax and be himself. He seems pretty reserved, and then he takes pictures of himself in that shirt and puts it on Twitter, all serious looking. It was funny stuff. He’s a funny dude.”
One who is perfectly willing to be, or even set himself up as, the fall guy when it comes to jokes. “He’s got pretty thick skin,” Crosby said. “He’s pretty good about it.”
Unlike Crosby, winger Carl Hagelin was sold on the Phil for President idea. “I would have voted for Phil, yeah,” said Hagelin, who is Swedish. “Phil’s the man. He’s a funny guy. He’s a great teammate. You just like seeing him when he comes to the rink.”
The now famous ‘HBK Line’ of Kessel, Hagelin and Nick Bonino has played together only at times this season, but Kessel has continued to produce – just not in his usual way. Through Friday, he led the team with 28 assists, dishing up perfect saucer passes and setting up teammates for deflections.
“Phil has that great release, but he also can find those little soft passes,” said winger Chris Kunitz. “He’s really good at being deceptive and throwing people off.”
Kessel insisted it isn’t a new aspect of his game: “I try to make the right play. That’s about it. I’ve always felt like if there’s a pass, I’m going to make the pass. If I feel like I can shoot it, I’m going to shoot it, right?”
Kessel has scored 30 or more goals five times and is closing in on 300 for his career, but he is off his standard pace so far. He was averaging 2.83 shots per game, down from his career average of 3.37. That concerned coach Mike Sullivan.
Sullivan chatted with Kessel in early November to deliver a message. “He is a very good passer and a very good playmaker, but we think when he’s at his very best, he’s thinking shot first,” Sullivan said. “He’s choosing to distribute versus shooting the puck. We’d like to see him shoot a little more.”
At least Kessel has shown a willingness to shoot more from the lip, much to the delight of his teammates.