Category: NHL (page 1 of 10)

2017 NHL Draft first-round results, analysis

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By NHL.com

On Friday, 31 young men each took another step toward fulfilling his dream of playing in the NHL. Get all the picks, analysis, sights and sounds from United Center. 

1. New Jersey Devils – Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 2
2016-17: 57 games, 38-48-86

Hischier (6-foot-1, 178 pounds) is the highest-drafted Switzerland-born player in NHL history. Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter had held that distinction since being chosen at No. 5 by the New York Islanders in 2010. Hischier has elite skill and hockey sense combined with competitiveness that allows him to be effective in any style of game. As a rookie in the QMJHL, he was awarded the Michael Bossy Trophy (best professional prospect) and Michel Bergeron Trophy (offensive rookie of the year) this season. Hischier is not on loan to Halifax from SC Bern of National League A in Switzerland, making him ineligible to play in the American Hockey League in 2017-18.

NHL.com analysis: In bit of a surprise, Devils get player they believe can develop into dynamic top-line center they’ve lacked.

2. Philadelphia Flyers – Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 1
2016-17: 33 games, 20-26-46

The son of former NHL forward Stephen Patrick and nephew of former NHL defenseman James Patrick, Nolan was the second-youngest captain in the Western Hockey League. A right-handed shot, Patrick missed 35 games because of an upper-body injury, but has 205 points (93 goals, 113 assists) in 163 career WHL games. Patrick (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) possesses the hockey sense, vision and skill to become a top-line center in the NHL. In 2015-16, he was tied for the WHL playoff scoring lead with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 games and was named MVP of the WHL playoffs after helping Brandon win the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

NHL.com analysis: Flyers take most NHL-ready player in draft. He was only prospect to visit Philadelphia, and they clearly were satisfied his injury issues were behind him.

3. Dallas Stars – Miro Heiskanen, D, HIFK (FIN)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 4
2016-17: 37 games, 5-5-10

Heiskanen (6-foot-1, 172) is a left-handed shot but also played the right point and earned top-pair minutes for HIFK as a 17-year-old, averaging more than 20 minutes in the Liiga playoffs. He was regarded as the best draft-eligible defenseman at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship for silver medal-winning Finland with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in seven games. Heiskanen likes to join the rush and understands how to get the puck out of danger. He is by far the best international defenseman in the draft, according to Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting.

NHL.com analysis: Stars take defenseman w ho earned top-pair ice time in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, at age 17. He joins John Klingberg, Julius Honka and Esa Lindell as defensemen with top-end puck-moving ability.

4. Colorado Avalanche – Cale Makar, D, Brooks (AJHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 9
2016-17: 54 games, 24-51-75

Makar (5-foot-11, 187 pounds) was named the Canadian Junior Hockey League defenseman of the year, and Alberta Junior Hockey League defenseman of the year and player of the year. A right-handed shot, he has great lateral movement with the puck on his stick, and is quick and elusive. He’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for next season, and his Canadian Hockey League rights are held by Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League. He had six points (two goals, four assists) in five games to help Brooks win a silver medal in the Royal Bank Cup, Canada’s National Junior A championship series. Makar had 135 points (35 goals, 100 assists) in 111 AJHL regular-season games.

NHL.com analysis: Makar fills Colorado’s need for a skilled defenseman. He’ll need time to develop his game next season at the University of Massachusetts, but he projects to be high-end offensive-minded defenseman.

5. Vancouver Canucks – Elias Pettersson, C, Timra (SWE-2)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 2
2016-17: 43 games, 19-22-41

Pettersson (6-foot-2, 164 pounds) has great instincts and can create offense with good speed and quickness. He shows poise and patience, and his best attribute might be his initial burst of speed. His brother, Emil, who is also a center, was selected in the sixth round (No. 155) of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators.

NHL.com analysis: Canucks with minor surprise, but select skilled center who averaged nearly one point per game (41 points in 43 games) against older competition in Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second division. He can be part of the core of the post-Sedin era in Vancouver.

6. Vegas Golden Knights – Cody Glass, C, Portland (WHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 6
2016-17: 69 games, 32-62-94

The right-handed shot was primarily a top-line center who played in all situations. He’s versatile enough to play wing but is better suited to play in the middle because he’s in constant motion, has good hands and is opportunistic in the offensive zone. Glass (6-foot-2, 177 pounds) had 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 69 regular-season games. He’s a skilled forward with great competitiveness and hockey sense.

NHL.com analysis: First pick of expansion Golden Knights is big (6-2, 177), rangy center who is strong in all three zones. When he adds muscle he projects as top-line center.

7. New York Rangers (from Arizona Coyotes) – Lias Andersson, C, HV71 (SWE)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 3
2016-17: 42 games, 9-10-19

A rugged, two-way left-handed center who is effective on faceoffs and hard to knock off the puck. Andersson (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) was interviewed by 30 teams at the NHL Scouting Combine. He competes hard, is strong in 1-on-1 battles and plays a 200-foot game. He can play wing or center. Andersson recently signed a two-year contract with Frolunda in Sweden and will report in 2017-18.

NHL.com analysis: Offensive dynamo projects to be top-six forward as he gets older and stronger). Had impressive showing in Swedish Hockey League this season as 18-year-old.

8. Buffalo Sabres – Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie (HIGH-MN)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 3
2016-17: 25 games, 21-43-64

Named All-USA Player of the Year for a second straight season and Mr. Hockey as the best senior boys’ high school player in Minnesota, Mittelstadt (5-foot-11, 199 pounds) has elite skill and compete. A left-handed shot, Mittelstadt had 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) and led the United States Hockey League with a 1.25 points-per game average in 24 games for Green Bay. He can play center or left wing and is a proven performer at each level he’s played. Mittelstadt was named player of the game at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Top Prospects Game in September.

NHL.com analysis: Could jump into Sabres lineup after one season at University of Minnesota. Having Jack Eichel and Mittelstadt through the middle could be start of bright future in Buffalo.

9. Detroit Red Wings – Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 5
2016-17: 50 games, 32-23-55

Rasmussen (6-foot-5, 221 pounds) is a prototypical power forward with great hands and puck skills around the net. A wrist injury in February limited Rasmussen to 50 games this season but he led Tri-City with 15 power-play goals and was tied for the team lead with five game-winning goals. He adapted to a bigger role with more minutes and was a steady contributor at 5-on-5 and on the power play in his second full season.

NHL.com analysis: The 6-foot-5, 221-pound goal scorer is power-play specialist. His skating and puck possession fits the Red Wings’ style perfectly.

10. Florida Panthers – Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL) 

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 7
2016-17: 60 games, 44-31-75

Tippett (6-foot, 202 pounds) might be the best shooter in this draft class. He was recognized for having the best shot and being the most dangerous in the goal area in the Eastern Conference coaches’ poll for the Ontario Hockey League. He can play either left or right wing, and is dangerous when attacking with speed. As a right-handed shot, Tippett can move down the left wing and cut to the net really well for a good opportunity.

NHL.com analysis: Panthers get forward with NHL-caliber shot and strong skating who has been compared to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel.

11. Los Angeles Kings – Gabriel Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 4
2016-17: 49 games, 29-32-61

A right-handed shot, Vilardi makes players around him better with his relentless compete level and elite hands down low. Vilardi (6-foot-3, 202 pounds) has the ability to create in traffic when nothing is available, and can play center or wing. He won 51.1 of his faceoffs (136 of 266), and tied for the team lead in power-play goals (eight). He has 99 points (46 goals, 53 assists) in 111 games during his two seasons in the OHL.

NHL.com analysis: Surprising that Vilardi was available at this spot, but the big (6-3, 202), powerful center excels in the offensive zone below the faceoff circle. Will be great complement to Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter.

12. Carolina Hurricanes – Martin Necas, C, Brno (CZREP)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 5
2016-17: 41 games, 7-8-15

Necas, a right-handed shot, captained the Czech Republic to its first gold medal at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial, finishing with six points (two goals, four assists) in four games. Necas (6-1, 178 pounds) is mobile, smart and capable of making plays at top speed and with assertiveness. He’s good at handling the puck and effective in traffic.

NHL.com analysis: Another top-end forward added to the Hurricanes burgeoning corps. At 6-foot-1, 178 pounds, needs to get stronger but will fit in well with what they already have assembled.

13. Vegas Golden Knights (from Winnipeg Jets) – Nick Suzuki, C, Owen Sound (OHL) 

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 10
2016-17: 65 games, 45-51-96

Suzuki (5-foot-11, 183 pounds) climbed six spots to No. 10 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters after a strong second half to this season. He continually came through in the clutch, scoring 14 power-play goals, six game-winning goals, five shorthanded goals and five insurance goals. Additionally, 23 of his goals either tied the game or gave Owen Sound the lead. He also won 50.9 percent of his faceoffs.

NHL.com analysis: Championship teams are strong through the middle, and Suzuki and Cody Glass, the No. 6 pick, should form the building blocks for a strong future in Vegas.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning – Callan Foote, D, Kelowna (WHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 1
2016-17: 71 games, 6-51-57

The right-handed son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote has good size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), and hockey sense. He won’t be the physical presence his dad was, but he plays in all situations, plays heavy minutes and uses his reach and strength to contain opponents and gain position. He is more of a two-way defenseman with a good, hard shot.

NHL.com analysis: The 6-foot-4, 215-pound physical defenseman, who is the son of Adam Foote, has NHL-caliber size and the pedigree of Stanley Cup champion. With Victor Hedman, the Lightning could become a very difficult team to play against in a few seasons.

15. Vegas Golden Knights (from New York Islanders) – Erik Brannstrom, D, HV71 (SWE)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 9
2016-17: 35 games, 1-5-6

He compensates for his 5-foot-9, 179-pound frame with great mobility and speed in transition. Brannstrom is an outstanding skater and a two-way player who defends as well as he pushes the offensive pace. He has a good shot, will run the power play, is very competitive and is active on every shift. Brannstrom could turn out to be the sleeper pick of the 2017 draft class.

NHL.com analysis: A surprise with Vegas’ third selection in the first round, reaching for the undersized (5-foot-9, 179-pound) defenseman. But he’s got high-end skills and experience playing against older competition in the Swedish Hockey League.

16. Calgary Flames – Juuso Valimaki, D, Tri-City (WHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 11
2016-17: 60 games, 19-42-61

Valimaki (6-foot-1, 211 pounds), a left-handed shot, finished seventh among WHL defensemen with 61 points and was eighth with 22 power-play assists. He’s a dynamic offensive defenseman who became more assertive and able to dictate tempo with greater confidence this season. He left Finland at 17 to play in North America and has 93 points (26 goals, 67 assists) in 116 games in his two WHL seasons.

NHL.com analysis: With so many young forwards, selecting high-end offensive defenseman who can help get them puck, or lead the rush, is a good decision.

17. Toronto Maple Leafs – Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (SWE)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 6
2016-17: 19 games, 1-4-5

Liljegren (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) missed one month with mononucleosis in November but remains a dynamic prospect. He has tremendous speed, balance and feel for the game, makes good decisions under pressure and can control the play at both blue lines. He expects to return to Sweden after the draft to further his development.

NHL.com analysis: Entered season as top defenseman in draft class, but injury and illness set him back. Maple Leafs needed puck mover and get one with top-end that some scouts said reminded them of Senators captain Erik Karlsson.

18. Boston Bruins – Urho Vaakanainen, D, JYP (FIN)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 8
2016-17: 41 games, 2-4-6

Vaakanainen (6-foot-1, 188 pounds), a left-hand shot, is a smooth, mobile skater with good balance and acceleration. His reliability in the defensive zone is probably his best asset. Vaakanainen, who will play for SaiPa in Liiga next season, finished tied for second among defensemen at the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with six points (three goals, three assists) in five games.

NHL.com analysis: Steady defenseman with well-rounded game, he’ll be nice addition to Bruins defense that is poised to get younger in a few seasons as Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Ryan Lindgren, Jakub Zboril move into major roles.

19. San Jose Sharks – Joshua Norris, C, USA U-18 (USHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 34
2016-17: 52 games, 23-28-51

Norris (6-foot, 188 pounds), who will attend the University of Michigan next season, was among the most impressive performers in the fitness testing at the NHL Scouting Combine, finishing first in five tests, including peak power output on the Wingate bike test. A two-way forward with a left-handed shot, Norris likes to take the puck to the net and has a good compete level.

NHL.com analysis: Surprise selection by the Sharks, but Norris led USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program under-18 team with 27 goals, and had dynamic showing at the Scouting Combine.

20. St. Louis Blues – Robert Thomas, C, London (OHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 22
2016-17: 66 games, 16-50-66

Thomas (5-foot-11, 192 pounds), a right-handed shot, is a highly intelligent two-way center who is impactful at both ends of the ice. He’s regarded as a gifted passer who can be trusted in any situation while excelling at making plays in traffic.

NHL.com analysis: On stacked team in London, he managed to stand out as point-per-game player. He could provide another go-to scorer when he’s NHL-ready in 2-3 seasons.

21. New York Rangers – Filip Chytil, C, Zlin (CZREP)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 11
2016-17: 38 games, 4-4-8

A strong skater capable of making things happen with the puck, Chytil (6-foot-2, 191 pounds) played regularly in the top Czech league. He was good in the traffic areas, has strong hockey sense and did not shy away from battles in the corners. He’s a prototypical power forward capable of playing center or left wing.

NHL.com analysis: Rangers stick with pattern, taking another European center who, at 6-foot-2. 191 pounds, needs to add muscle, but already has experience playing against older competition.

22. Edmonton Oilers – Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane (WHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 17
2016-17: 65 games, 42-57-99

Yamamoto (5-foot-7, 146 pounds) is excitement personified. He possesses high-end offensive instincts, thinks the game extremely well, and is constantly moving without the puck to get himself in good position to receive it. He skates like Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (5-8, 183 pounds), who, like Yamamoto, is from Spokane, Washington. Yamamoto has 227 points (84 goals, 143 assists) in 190 games in the WHL.

NHL.com analysis: Dynamic right wing could fit nice with left-shot center like Connor McDavid. At 5-foot-7, 146 pounds, he needs to get bigger and stronger, but he’s never been pushed out of a game.

23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota Wild) – Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 27
2016-17: 62 games, 6-33-39

The left-handed shot had a strong second half and kept moving up the ladder; he was No. 42 on NHL Central Scouting’s midterm list of North American skaters in January. He makes smart decisions, plays a good two-way game and can distribute the puck well for a smooth transition. Joseph (6-foot-2, 163 pounds), a fluid skater, is the brother of Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Mathieu Joseph, who was selected in the fourth round (No. 120) of the 2015 NHL Draft and won a silver medal for Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

NHL.com analysis: Solid puck-mover who can get the puck to the Coyotes’ pack of outstanding young forwards.

24. Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus Blue Jackets via Vegas Golden Knights)  – Kristian Vesalainen, LW/RW, Frolunda (SWE)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 7
2016-17: 26 games, 1-5-6

Vesalainen (6-foot-4, 209 pounds), a left-hand shot, was named MVP of the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship for silver medal-winning Finland after finishing with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in seven games. He dominated his age group with skating power and puck control, and is a prototypical power forward capable of going straight to the net. Vesalainen will enter the first of a two-year contract he signed with HPK (SWE) in April.

NHL.com analysis: Power forward dominated at 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, will add another big body (6-foot-4, 209) on the wing.

25. Montreal Canadiens – Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State (NCHC)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 13
2016-17: 35 games, 7-6-13

The youngest player in college hockey this season, Poehling was a 200-foot player capable of playing all situations; he was used on the power play and in penalty-killing situations. Poehling (6-foot-2, 176 pounds) has a great work ethic, according to St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko. He is the highest-drafted player from St. Cloud State; center Matt Cullen was selected in the second round (No. 35) out of St. Cloud in the 1996 NHL Draft by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

NHL.com analysis: Canadiens got better through the middle with player who can play both ends of the ice and never looked out of place as the youngest player in NCAA hockey this season.

26. Dallas Stars (from Chicago Blackhawks) – Jake Oettinger, G, Boston University (H-EAST)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking for goalies: 1
2016-17: 35 games, 21-10-3, 2.11 GAA, .927 save percentage

Oettinger (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), the second-youngest player in college hockey, became the ninth BU goaltender named to a Hockey East All-Star Team. He possesses NHL size and covers a lot of the net. Oettinger, who served as the third goalie for gold medal-winning United States at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, has great rebound control and plenty of confidence.

NHL.com analysis: First goalie in the draft is big (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), composed and skilled. He should be NHL ready near the end of Ben Bishop‘s six-year contract.

27. Philadelphia Flyers (from Washington Capitals via St. Louis Blues) – Morgan Frost, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 31
2016-17: 67 games, 20-42-62

An excellent playmaker with good stickhandling ability, Frost (5-foot-11, 173 pounds) is very energetic. He’s a solid skater, difficult to contain in a 1-on-1 situation and drives puck possession. He was usually running the half-wall on the power play and exhibited plenty of poise and composure in that assignment.

NHL.com analysis: Flyers traded forward Brayden Schenn to Blues to to grab smart center whose skating improved dramatically this season.

28. Ottawa Senators – Shane Bowers, C, Waterloo (USHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 16
2016-17: 60 games, 22-29-51

A reliable two-way player who has a strong 200-foot game and is effective in the faceoff circle, Bowers (6-foot-1, 178 pounds) has good hockey sense and speed, is good on the penalty kill and can drive the net hard. A projected middle-six forward, he’s scheduled to attend Boston University in 2017-18.

NHL.com analysis: Bowers is really good at moving the puck and shielding it from the opposition. He’ll gain the offensive zone and is hard to defend at both ends of the ice.

29. Chicago Blackhawks (from Dallas Stars via Anaheim Ducks) – Henri Jokiharju, D, Portland (WHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 19
2016-17: 71 games, 9-39-48

The Finland-born, right-handed shot is an excellent skater and very elusive with the puck on his stick. Jokiharju (6-foot-0, 187 pounds) can beat the forecheck with a pass or by taking the puck himself and using his excellent vision and mobility. He had 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) on the power play and was named most valuable player for Team Don Cherry after getting three assists in a win against Team Bobby Orr in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 30.

NHL.com analysis: The right-handed shot is very smart and makes few mistakes. He’s a good skater in all directions and can move the puck. Jokiharju has been compared to defenseman Ben Lovejoy.

30. Nashville Predators – Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Sioux City (USHL)

NHL Central Scouting final North American ranking: 8
2016-17: 52 games, 30-24-54

Tolvanen (5-foot-10, 189 pounds), a left-handed shot, is always noticeable in a game because of his speed, intelligence and skill. He has a great work ethic, is energetic and has a high compete level. Bound for Boston College next season, Tolvanen led Sioux City with 54 points (30 goals, 24 assists) and a 1.04 points-per game average in 52 games. He had eight points (four goals, four assists) in 10 USHL playoff games for the Clark Cup champion.

NHL.com analysis: The left-handed forward is one of the elite shooters of this draft class, and is regarded as a skilled forward with deceptive speed.

31. St. Louis Blues (from Pittsburgh Penguins) – Klim Kostin, C/LW, Dynamo Moscow (RUS)

NHL Central Scouting final international ranking: 1
2016-17: 8 games, 0-0-0

Kostin (6-foot-2, 207 pounds) can play in the NHL or the American Hockey League next season as an 18-year-old because he has been drafted out of his native Russia. He played 18 regular-season games, including eight for Dynamo in the Kontinental Hockey League, before having season-ending shoulder surgery in late January. He has a very good release, is a good puck-handler and is effective in traffic. Kostin views himself as a power forward and likes to model his game after that of Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine.

NHL.com analysis: Kostin uses his size to dominant down low and has a good understanding of the game. He’ll certainly benefit from playing beside fellow Russian countryman Vladimir Tarasenko at some point in the future.

Fleury, Methot, Neal headline Golden Knights’ expansion draft roster

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By Navin Vaswani – The Score

The NHL’s 31st team is ready to play hockey.

The Vegas Golden Knights‘ expansion draft roster was unveiled Wednesday night, ending months of speculation as to the look of the league’s newest team.

Here are head coach Gerard Gallant’s players, broken down alphabetically by position:

Forwards

  • Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (from Flyers)
  • Connor Brickley [1] (from Hurricanes)
  • William Carrier [2] (from Sabres)
  • David Clarkson [3] (from Blue Jackets via trade)
  • Cody Eakin (from Stars)
  • Mikhail Grabovski [4] (from Islanders via trade)
  • Nikita Gusev [5] (from Lightning via trade)
  • Erik Haula (from Wild)
  • William Karlsson (from Blue Jackets)
  • Brendan Leipsic (from Maple Leafs)
  • Oscar Lindberg (from Rangers)
  • Jonathan Marchessault (from Panthers)
  • James Neal (from Predators)
  • Tomas Nosek (from Red Wings)
  • David Perron (from Blues)
  • Teemu Pulkkinen (from Coyotes)
  • Reilly Smith [6] (from Panthers via trade)
  • Chris Thorburn [7] (from Jets)
  • Alex Tuch [8] (from Wild via trade)

Footnotes

[1] Hurricanes trade 2017 fifth-round pick to Golden Knights as part of Brickley selection.
[2] Sabres trade 2017 sixth-round pick to Golden Knights (so Linus Ullmark wouldn’t be selected, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman).
[3] Blue Jackets trade David Clarkson, 2017 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick to Vegas as part of Karlsson selection.
[4] Islanders trade 2017 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick, forward Mikhail Grabovski, defenseman Jake Bischoff to Golden Knights as part of Jean-Francois Berube selection.
[5] Lightning trade Gusev, second-round pick in 2017, fourth-round pick in 2018 to Vegas as part of Garrison selection.
[6] Panthers trade Reilly Smith to Golden Knights for 2018 fourth-round pick.
[7] Golden Knights flip Jackets’ first-round pick in 2017 to Winnipeg for Jets’ first-round pick in 2017 and third-round pick in 2019 (as part of agreement to keep Vegas from selecting Toby Enstrom in the draft).
[8] Wild trade Tuch to Vegas for conditional third-round pick in 2017 or 2018.

Defensemen

  • Jake Bischoff [9] (from Islanders via trade)
  • Alexei Emelin (from Canadiens)
  • Deryk Engelland (from Flames)
  • Jason Garrison [10] (from Lightning)
  • Brayden McNabb (from Kings)
  • Jon Merrill (from Devils)
  • Marc Methot (from Senators)
  • Colin Miller (from Bruins)
  • Griffin Reinhart (from Oilers)
  • Luca Sbisa (from Canucks)
  • David Schlemko (from Sharks)
  • Nate Schmidt (from Capitals)
  • Clayton Stoner (from Ducks)
  • Shea Theodore [11] (from Ducks via trade)
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (from Blackhawks)

Footnotes

[9] Islanders trade 2017 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick, forward Mikhail Grabovski, defenseman Jake Bischoff to Golden Knights as part of Jean-Francois Berube selection.
[10] Lightning trade Gusev, second-round pick in 2017, fourth-round pick in 2018 as part of Garrison selection.
[11] Ducks trade Theodore to Golden Knights as part of Stoner selection.

Goalies

  • Jean-Francois Berube [12] (from Islanders)
  • Marc-Andre Fleury [13] (from Penguins)
  • Calvin Pickard (from Avalanche)

Footnotes

[12] Islanders trade 2017 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick, forward Mikhail Grabovski, defenseman Jake Bischoff to Golden Knights as part of Berube selection.
[13] Penguins trade 2020 second-round pick to Vegas as part of Fleury selection.

NHL Awards: McDavid wins big while Bobrovsky, Burns, Matthews earn hardware

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By Navin Vaswani – The Score

The league handed out its annual hardware Wednesday night, and here’s a rundown of who won what:

Hart Trophy: Connor McDavid

The kid’s alright.

McDavid scored an awards hat trick Wednesday (he officially collected his Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer), capping off his stellar night by winning the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He’s 20 years old.

Vezina Trophy: Sergei Bobrovsky

Bobrovsky won his second career Vezina Trophy, punctuating a remarkable season for both the 28-year-old and his Columbus Blue Jackets. The goaltender was emotional in victory, noting his return from groin injuries that threatened to derail his career for good.

James Norris Trophy: Brent Burns

Burns has his Norris Trophy. The San Jose Sharks defenseman edged Erik Karlsson for the award, his first, after posting career highs across the board.

Calder Memorial Trophy: Auston Matthews

For the first time in basically forever, a member of the Maple Leafs won an NHL award, with Matthews declared the league’s top rookie. He scored 40 goals and Toronto made the playoffs.

Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson

Anderson had one hell of a year. His wife Nicholle was diagnosed with cancer in the fall, resulting in the goaltender taking multiple leaves of absence from the Ottawa Senators. The club rallied around its goaltender and his wife, though, and the Sens’ deep run into the playoffs was one of the more special stories of the season.

Even better, Nicholle was in attendance in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, cancer-free.

Frank J. Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron

Bergeron won his fourth Selke Trophy on Wednesday, tying legend Bob Gainey for the most all time. Bergeron took the honor for the third time in four years. It’s his until it isn’t.

Jack Adams Award: John Tortorella

The man affectionately known as “Torts” won his second career Jack Adams Trophy, and he deflected praise thrown his way, saying he was glad his Blue Jackets were recognized for their incredible regular season.

Ted Lindsay Award: McDavid

McDavid’s peers know he’s the man. The Oilers captain took home most outstanding honors, as voted by the NHLPA.

NHL GM of the Year Award: David Poile

Poile’s Nashville Predators fell two wins shy of the Stanley Cup, but the general manager was rewarded for how far his team has come.

Lady Byng Trophy: Johnny Gaudreau

Calgary Flames superstar Gaudreau took home his first NHL trophy, the Lady Byng. He finished fourth in voting last season.

Penguins repeat Stanley Cup with Game 6 win against Predators

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By Michael Traikos – National Post

They say dynasties don’t exist anymore. And maybe they are right. Maybe no team will win four straight Stanley Cups like the New York Islanders did back in the day.

But what the Pittsburgh Penguins achieved in back-to-back years is pretty special.

Rookie goalie Matt Murray recorded his second straight shutout and Patric Hornqvist scored with 95 seconds remaining in the third period, as the Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators 2-0 in Game 6 to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

It was the first time that a team has repeated as champions in almost 20 years. And for that, the Penguins mostly have Sidney Crosby to thank.

Crosby, who won his second straight Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, scored eight goals and 27 points in 24 games. He now has three championships. That is one more than Mario Lemieux — and the Penguins captain is not yet 30 years old.

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Sid is obviously an unbelievable player,” said Phil Kessel, who has won in each of the two years since coming to Pittsburgh in a trade from Toronto. “You watch him out there and he does the little things and he does them well. You just follow his lead. We did it again.”

This year’s win might have been harder than a year ago. The team was missing Kris Letang and was missing Murray for the first two rounds. By the time the Penguins reached the final, the team was running on fumes.

But they found that extra gear when they needed it, even if the Predators had been the better team at times.

Evgeni Malkin had 28 points, including three goals in the Cup final. Jake Guentzel, who was in the minors for most of the year, led the playoffs with 13 goals. And Murray, who came back from injury and replaced Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 3 in the Eastern Conference final, played his best when it mattered the most.

But it was Crosby who willed this team to victory.

He might not have scored the game-winner in Game 6, but the Penguins wouldn’t be here without him. He scored seven points in six games against the Predators. In the process, he made a household name out of Guentzel.

“You come to the rink every day and you get to play with him, so it’s special,” said the 22-year-old rookie. “Obviously, he took me under his wing every day. I was fortunate to have him. It’s crazy how this year went. Lots of ups and downs. But this is definitely the way to end it.”

The Penguins had been in this situation before in the playoffs, having led 3-2 against the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators. Both times, they failed to close things out in Game 6 and needed a win in Game 7.

Pittsburgh had hoped to learn from that mistake. But it’s not always about the team trying to close. The Predators were a desperate team. They were also confident, having outplayed the Penguins for most of the series. And they were at home, where they had a near spotless record in the playoffs.

This one was a nail-biter, the first competitive game in a series that had followed no formula except that the home team had won each of the first five games. That obviously changed in Game 6. But it wasn’t easy.

The first three periods were like watching an extended overtime. No one wanted to give up the first goal. No one even wanted to give up a scoring chance.

When they did, the goalies were there to bail them out.

Both Rinne and Murray had been good at times during this series — but never in the same game. In Game 6, we were finally treated to a goalie duel.

When Nashville finally put one in the net, it didn’t count.

About a minute into the second period, Filip Forsberg took a wrist shot that Penguins goalie Matt Murray got a piece of, but ended up sneaking underneath his arm and dribbling towards the goal line. Nashville’s Colton Sissons poked the puck into the net, but just as the crowd started cheering the referee was waving the goal off.

The refs, of course, were not to blame for Nashville’s lost.

The Predators had chances. They had four power plays in the game, including back-to-back opportunities midway through the second. It should have resulted in one, if not two goals. But Pittsburgh’s penalty kill, which was basically Murray standing on his head, kept Nashville off the board.

With Murray holding down the fort, the Penguins finally snuck one past Rinne. It was a weird one. A shot from Justin Schultz bounced off the back of the net and Patric Hornqvist somehow banked the puck in off Rinne and into the net.

Carl Hagelin added an empty-netter for good measure.

“It’s the toughest trophy in all of sports to win,” said Lemieux. “It’s something special.”

Is Europe an underrated coaching market?

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By

At some point the Winnipeg Jets are going to have to find a new head coach because all coaches are hired to get fired. When they get to that point with Maurice, they should look to European leagues and the KHL for coaching options. The Jets should look beyond those who they know and interview new candidates to see what they think they could do with the Jets. There are good pieces in Winnipeg if they are used smartly.

This is where the NHL making itself an even smaller world than hockey already is hurts them. Hockey is big in Russia and Europe, but there has not been a European coach since the failed experiment of Ivan Hlinka in Pittsburgh. Hlinka was not the first European-born coach to coach in the NHL, that honour goes to Johnny Gottselig, but he is the first European raised coach. Hlinka did not work out because of the language barrier amongst other reasons, but that does not mean that another coach might not work. Since Hlinka’s time globalization has made it so more and more European coaches speak strong English, allowing them to potentially be able to coach in North America.

There are so many people out there that could potentially offer new ideas to North American hockey as a whole that it would be foolish to not at least interview some good coaches in Europe to hear their thoughts and bring in some fresh ideas. This means going beyond the Marc Crawfords and Paul Maurices and interviewing coaches who have never coached in North America to see how their perspectives differ from someone who learned hockey on this side of the Atlantic. They may not find a match for a head coach; they may only find an assistant or no one at all, but it is better to try and not find the match than never try at all. Europe and Russia have had professional leagues for years and yet only three men have ever called themselves European and coached in the NHL. There are others who have coached in Europe between NHL jobs, but that is not the same as growing up in the different culture and having different perspectives on the same game. It is about having a broader world view and wanting to bring in a different perspective.

Every coach in professional sports is hired to be fired. The NHL has not had a European coach since Ivan Hlinka in 2001. The league as a whole would benefit from including Europeans as coaches. The first team that does this might just get rewarded with some new thinking that changes their tactics for the better.

Stanley Cup final preview: Nashville Predators vs Pittsburgh Penguins

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By Mike Zeisberger – Toronto Sun

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins will be Monday, May 29 at 8 p.m. The two teams have never met in a playoff series.

TOP STORYLINES

1. THE FEAT TO REPEAT

In reaching the final for a second consecutive spring, the defending titleholders are attempting to becoming the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998. Of course, in order to go back-to-back, the Pens will have to do it without a true No. 1 defenceman after Kris Letang was lost late in the season. Since the Carolina Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006, every champ has sported a stud blueliner including: 2016, Letang, Penguins; 2015: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; 2014: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; 2013: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; 2012: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; 2011: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins; 2010: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; 2009: Sergei Gonchar/Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins; 2008: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings; 2007: Scott Niedermayer/Chris Pronger, Anaheim Ducks.

2. CAROLINA CONNECTION

When it comes to winning the Stanley Cup, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford and Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette are no strangers to each other. Back in 2006, Rutherford and Laviolette served in those same respective positions with the Carolina Hurricanes and helped bring the Cup to Tobacco Road. Since that time, Laviolette led the Philadelphia Flyers to the 2010 final where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks; while Rutherford’s Penguins won the Cup a year ago.

3. JILTED JAMES?

One of Rutherford’s first acts as GM of the Pens came at the 2014 draft when he traded former 40-goal scorer James Neal to the Predators in exchange for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The trade came within an environment of speculation that there had been chemistry issues within the Pens dressing room. Whatever the case, Neal would like nothing better than to gain retribution against his former team.

REGULAR SEASON

Penguins: 50-21-11, 111 points, 2nd, Eastern Conference.

Predators: 41-29-12, 94 points, 8th, Western Conference.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Penguins

  • Defeated Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1
  • Defeated Washington Capitals 4-3
  • Defeated Ottawa Senators 4-3

Predators

  • Defeated Chicago Blackhawks 4-0
  • Defeated St. Louis Blues 4-2
  • Defeated Anaheim Ducks 4-2

2016-17 SEASON SERIES

(Tied 1-1)

Oct. 22: Pedators 5, Penguins 1 @ Nashville

Jan. 31: Penguins 4, Predators 2 @Pittsburgh

ALL-TIME SEASON SERIES

Penguins lead 12-10-2-1

STANLEY CUPS

Penguins: 4 (1990–91, 1991–92, 2008–09, 2015–16)

Preds: 0

THE BIG MATCHUP

Pens Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin/Phil Kessel Vs. Preds G Pekka Rinne

The Penguins obviously edge in this series comes up front, where the likes of Malkin, Crosby and Kessel can be difference makers on each and every shift they step onto the ice. But they’re up against a formidable force in the Preds crease in the form of Rinne, who has to be considered one of the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy after leading Nashville to series wins over the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

GOALIE MATT MURRAY, PENGUINS

A year ago, Murray backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup with just 13 regular season NHL games on his resume. Now, after taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final against the Ottawa Senators, can he do it again? A second Stanley Cup ring in less than two full NHL seasons would be an incredible way to start a career.

DEFENCEMAN P.K. SUBBAN, PREDATORS

Even though he was one of the most popular players among Habs fans we’ve seen in a long time, the Montreal Canadiens brass decided a shakeup was needed within the dressing room. Subban ended up being the fall guy, dealt in a blockbuster for Shea Weber. Now Subban is in the Stanley Cup final. This will be a huge story on both sides of the border.

THE SCHEDULE

G1: May 29 at Pitt

G2: May 31 at Pitt

G3: June 3 at Nash

G4: June 5 at Nash

G5: June 8 at Pitt

G6: June 11 at Nash

G7: June 14 at Pitt

Stanley Cup Outlook Before Conference Finals

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By Alec Nathan – Bleacher Report

The NHL‘s conference finals are set following a pair of Game 7s on Wednesday night.

In the evening’s first tilt, the Pittsburgh Penguins dispatched the Washington Capitals 2-0 in hostile territory to set up an Eastern Conference showdown against the Ottawa Senators—who sent the New York Rangers packing thanks to a 4-2 win in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

The nightcap, meanwhile, featured the Anaheim Ducks taking home a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers to snag a spot in the Western Conference Final against the Nashville Predators.

With those matchups locked in, here’s an overview of what to expect as the chase for the Stanley Cup heats up.

Eastern Conference: Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

If the regular season were any indication, the Penguins and Senators may well engage in an explosive set of contests.

In the teams’ first meeting, on Dec. 5, the Penguins captured a whopping 8-5 victory at PPG Paints Arena thanks to a hat trick from Bryan Rust. However, the Senators counterpunched a month later by thrashing the Penguins 4-1 back at Canadian Tire Centre.

The rubber match on March 23 wasn’t quite as high-scoring, but it was a nail-biter that saw the Senators escape with a narrow 2-1 shootout victory.

Now primed for a postseason collision, the Penguins appear to have a slight edge on the Senators as Game 1 approaches.

Although Ottawa will have the benefit of extra rest after they escaped Round 2 in six games, Pittsburgh is coming off a statement win over the top-seeded Washington Capitals.

Combine that triumph with home-ice advantage and the fact the Penguins have been able to stave off injury-induced adversity, with Matt Murray, Trevor Daley, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang all banged up to varying degrees, and the defending champions should be a force to be reckoned with.

That’s not to say the Senators won’t put up a fight.

Not only is Erik Karlsson—who tallied seven points against the Penguins in the regular season—dialed in and playing as well as any player left in the playoffs, but goaltender Craig Anderson has proved brilliant at times—including Game 6 against New York, when he racked up 37 saves to send the Rangers packing.

“He was extremely calm,” head coach Guy Boucher said of Anderson in Game 6, per the Ottawa Citizen‘s Don Brennan. “If you look at his saves, a lot of them, they’re right in his stomach. And it’s not necessarily shots that were thrown at his stomach. It’s because he was there. He made it look sometimes easier than it was.”

Anderson should propel the Senators to a couple of wins, but the Penguins simply have too much firepower to be contained for extended stretches.

Prediction: Penguins in 6

Western Conference: Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks

The lone division champion remaining in the playoffs, the Ducks will be tasked with holding their ground against a Predators team that has been scalding since the postseason started.

As if a first-round sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks weren’t impressive enough, the Predators dispatched the St. Louis Blues in six games and have enjoyed an extended rest following Sunday’s 3-1 series-clinching victory.

“I don’t think I can stress it enough,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said of the rest and short travel times to this point in the playoffs, per Brooks Bratten of the team’s official website. “I really felt that in the Game 7 [against the San Jose Sharks] last year, the gas kind of ran out. Right now, two short series with travel, four games, six games, it’s almost too good to be true. We’ve really got to emphasize that we’re in a good spot and take advantage of the rest that we’re getting.”

However, the Predators are in for a shakeup now that they’ll have to travel to California to face a Ducks team that will enjoy home-ice advantage after shaking off some historical postseason woes by virtue of Wednesday’s win over Edmonton, according to NHL Public Relations on Twitter:

Thanks to their resilience, the Ducks will enter the Western Conference Final riding a wave of positive momentum as they seek a return to the championship series for the first time since 2007. 

That said, they’ll have to solve a stingy Predators defense that has allowed a grand total of 14 goals through 10 playoff games.

To put that number in perspective, the other two teams that allowed 14 goals in the playoffs—the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames—participated in 10 playoff games combined before bowing out of this year’s proceedings. 

The Predators are in for a lengthier battle as the scene gets set to shift to the Golden State, but with P.K. Subban and Pekka Rinne leading the charge, they should be able to put the clamps on the Ducks just enough to slip by. 

Prediction: Predators in 7  

Golden Knights expect major production from Vadim Shipachyov

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By Jesse Granger – Las Vegas Sun

Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee found the first real contributor for his team’s upcoming inaugural season last night, but he had to fight for him.

 Russian forward Vadim Shipachyov could be the first star player for the Golden Knights. He will certainly be paid like one, signing a 2-year, $9 million deal with the club last night.

McPhee said there was a bidding war between multiple NHL teams for the rights to Shipachyov.

“I don’t know who specifically was involved but there were many NHL teams trying to get him,” McPhee said today on a conference call. “We were comfortable with ($4.5 million per year) because the player was in demand and was going to get that or more elsewhere.”

The Montreal Canadiens were among Shipachyov’s suitors, according to tweets from Rogers Sportsnet reporter Eric Engels, but moved on when the offers got too high.

The Golden Knights were willing to pay a premium because they know it will be difficult to find premier offensive players like Shipachyov in the upcoming expansion draft.

“He’s a skilled center iceman and those are very, very hard to get,” McPhee said. “They are rare. They are hard to find. Now we have one and we expect that he’ll be a great fit for our hockey club.”

Shipachyov finished third in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia with 26 goals and 50 assists for SKA Saint Petersburg. The 30-year-old center led the team to league championships in two of the last three seasons (2015 and 2017).

For comparison, players around the league with similar contracts to Shipachyov’s include stars like the Washington Capitals’ T.J. Oshie, the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand, the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty and the Panthers’ Roberto Luongo.

“It’s an important acquisition for us,” McPhee said. “We are going to need skill and trying to get that position in the expansion draft would be difficult. I’ve seen him play at the World Championships. We thought it would be a big addition to our club.”

Shipachyov will also bring much-needed leadership to an inevitably young Golden Knights’ team. He served as either a captain or an alternate captain in the last three years for SKA St. Petersburg. In his entire KHL career, he registered 137 goals and 275 assists for 412 points in 445 games split between Saint Petersburg and his hometown team, the Severstal Cherepovets.

“He is prepared to play a lot and sees that there could be a lot of ice time,” McPhee said. “We fully expect him to be one of the top-6 forwards, as well as a major contributor on play on power plays and the penalty kill.”

The chance to be a premier player may be what drove Shipachyov to Las Vegas, but it certainly wasn’t the only factor.

Brand new facilities like T-Mobile Arena and the soon-to-be completed practice facility in Summerlin are great bargaining chips for the Golden Knights, but above all is Nevada’s no state income tax.

“I think it will be a factor if we’re doing everything else right,” McPhee said. “If we are building a good team people will want to come to Las Vegas to play. It’s easy to get around, the cost of living is great and the weather is excellent.

“No state income tax is basically like getting a free house, because what you’re saving in taxes can pay your mortgage.”

Reid Duke will always be the Golden Knights’ first player in franchise history, but he’ll be fighting for a roster spot during training camp. Duke has yet to take the ice since joining the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League in early April.

Shipachyov won’t face the same uncertainty with his role. It’s more than likely he’ll end up with the letter “C” stitched onto his jersey than not being on the Golden Knights’ opening night roster.

“This is a case of seeing a really good player and trying to bring him in,” McPhee said. “We want a talented, up-tempo, fast paced team. When you see talent you sure love to acquire it. I’ve never had a problem of having too much talent.”

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs second-round preview: Blues vs. Predators

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By Jared Clinton – The Hockey News

THE BLUES WIN IF…

The Wild understood following their first-round defeat that the difference-maker in the first-round against the Blues was Jake Allen. Minnesota out shot St. Louis in all but one of the five first-round games, but it was the Blues who emerged victorious thanks to the standout play from their starting netminder. No one should have been surprised ‘Jake the Snake’ played so well, though.

Heading into the post-season, Allen was playing the best hockey of his campaign. Of course, when measured on a personal scale, that’s not saying all that much. Allen was terrible in the early part of the season and even an average performance in the back half would have made him look vastly improved. But the truth is that over the final months of the season, few netminders were as sound as Allen. Since coach Mike Yeo took over on Feb. 1, no goaltender who played at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 had a better save percentage or stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots than Allen. He was outstanding. And if the Blues are going to get through to the Western Conference final, it’s likely going to have to be the Allen show once again.

Nashville, like Minnesota, has a balanced attack with plenty of scoring throughout the lineup. That means beyond Allen, a lot of pressure is going to be on the St. Louis defense to slow things down. In the first round, the Blues had a tough time shutting down a deep Wild team, but the possession numbers in the one meeting between the Predators and Yeo’s Blues seems to indicate the teams are fairly evenly matched. That wasn’t the case against the Wild. It’s also going to be key for St. Louis to stop the counter-attack and odd-man rushes that Nashville generates. As good as Allen has played, he’s going to have a tough time if he’s consistently seeing 2-on-1s or 3-on-2s.

What the Blues do with the opportunities they do get against a stingy Predators club might be what eventually separates St. Louis, though. In shutting down Chicago in the opening round, Nashville showed a smothering, suffocating defensive structure that didn’t offer many — or really any — options to an attacking team. The Blues are going to face a similar structure, no doubt, but if they can break it down and get to the net, chances will arise. At that point, it’s going to be up to the Blues to do what the Blackhawks couldn’t: capitalize. 

THE PREDATORS WIN IF…

One would be hard-pressed to find a single hole in Nashville’s first-round game plan. The execution was perfect. The Predators shut down everything through the neutral zone and made a star-studded Blackhawks team look pedestrian in a four-game sweep of the Western Conference leaders. Beyond that, Nashville showed strength in the possession game, ability to turn the puck up ice in a hurry and the Predators got contributions from up and down the lineup. And if the second round is a continuation of the first, Nashville might be on their way to the first conference final in franchise history.

Defensively, the Predators are going to have their hands full once again. The Blues aren’t lacking for high-end offensive talent, but luckily for Nashville coach Peter Laviolette, his team has a stable of defenders that might be able to do what Minnesota couldn’t and shut St. Louis’ offense down. Laviolette isn’t afraid to trot his top four our regularly, either. In the four-game series against the Blackhawks, the Predators’ top four defenders all averaged more than 25 minutes per game. The combined averages of Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber, fifth and sixth in the rotation, didn’t match that.

It’s going to be important, too, that Nashville somehow manages to beat Allen, who was seemingly impenetrable in the Blues’ first-round win. The best way might not be through the Predators’ most noteworthy stars, however. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen are going to see big minutes against the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester, the best defenders St. Louis has at the ready. The same goes for James Neal and Mike Fisher. They’ll still be important to the attack, but Nashville’s edge might come from the bottom six.

There were a few games during the opening round where Kevin Fiala, who played little more than half the season with the big club, looked like as terrorizing as any other Predators forward. In Game 2, he scored a power play marker and followed that up with a Game 3 in which he put seven shots on goal and scored the overtime winner after having a few chances to end the game. It was proof of the type of offensive punch Fiala can provide when he gets free, and the focus put on Nashville’s top six might give Fiala a shot at making some noise. Don’t sleep on the rest of the third and fourth lines, either. The Predators got nine points out of the bottom half of their lineup. 

X-FACTOR:

Blues: Someone eventually needs to break down the Predators’ defense and who better than Vladimir Tarasenko? Tarasenko has the speed and skill to go around defenders, but the first round was evidence that Nashville won’t let that happen easy. Luckily for the Blues, then, that Tarasenko also isn’t opposed to going right through defenders. He didn’t exactly have an earth-shattering performance against the Wild, but he did score one goal and three points while generating 21 shots. Tarasenko is the perfect example of an attacker that defenders simply hope to contain, but that’s hard to do for long. If he breaks out this series, expect the Predators to be shoveling a few pucks out of the back of the net courtesy of the Russian sniper.

Predators: If the first round was any indication, Allen better get ready for a goaltending duel with Pekka Rinne. Nashville’s veteran netminder didn’t just win all four games against Chicago, he blanked the powerful Blackhawks offense twice and allowed only three goals against across the four-game series. His .976 save percentage and 0.70 goals-against average are the best marks of any starter in the post-season. That said, St. Louis was far better at generating scoring chances during the regular season than Chicago, so Rinne could be set to see more rubber from in close. If he can carry his first-round performance on to the second round, though, Nashville might not have a problem getting past the Blues. 

KEY MATCHUP:

Two young snipers square off and they’ll be the heart of the offense in this series. Both teams are coming in with goalies that stole series and broke hearts in Round 1 and it’ll be up to Vladimir Tarasenko and Filip Forsberg to solve those puzzles in net. They’ve got the skills to do it as they were each one of the league’s best scorers this season. The depth on both these teams at forwards leaves a bit to be desired, but the top lines are amazing and more than make up for it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two teams go power on power here and trade goals in this series, so it’ll fall on these two stars to carry the load. Both look to be close in value, with Tarasenko being the more dynamic offensive threat while Forsberg looks more responsible defensively. That defensive edge might be the difference maker if he can at least match him offensively. Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne had magnificent first rounds, but with these two guys on the ice, I’m expecting some regression in round two. 

THN’s PICK:

PREDATORS in six games.

2017 Stanley Cup playoffs second-round preview: Penguins vs. Capitals

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By Matt Larkin – The Hockey News

THE PENGUINS WIN IF…

The Penguins are the NHL’s best team at sticking to a system. They play endlessly fast under coach Mike Sullivan, relying on their forwards’ superb wheels. Doing so means quick puck movement from the Pens’ defensemen, and that makes the team effective despite having no go-to blue liner right now. Kris Letang is out for the playoffs, yet the Pens ousted the NHL’s No. 6 offensive club in five games. As long as they follow their style, they can get by without Letang and rely on the veteran group of Justin Schultz, Ian Cole, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey. Every one of those blueliners except Hainsey played on the Pens’ 2015-16 championship squad, which eliminated the Capitals in Round 2.

And let’s face it: the Pens’ defense corps only has to be adequate. It’s the forwards pushing the play. Pittsburgh led the NHL regular season and the first round of the playoffs in goals per game. Not even probable Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky could handle the Pens’ blitz in Round 1, which included 11 points from Evgeni Malkin and the usual heroics from Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel, but also some surprising contributions. The Pens just keep unearthing speedy, effective scoring wingers from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust have duplicated last year’s success and then some – and Jake Guentzel enjoyed a coming-out party this season. After racking up 16 goals and 33 points in 40 games, he led the first round of the playoffs with five goals in five games. He became the first rookie since Rocket Richard to score five in his first four post-season contests.

The Penguins overwhelm their opponents with speed, and that’s scary news for the Washington Capitals. The Toronto Maple Leafs gave Washington quite a scare in Round 1, forcing a crazy-close series that included five overtime games and six one-goal games. How did Toronto do it? Wheels. The Leafs were at their best when moving their young, fleet feet and causing chaos. Toronto faltered when the jitters kicked in and caused the young group to stop skating and start watching Washington dominate down low. The Penguins are like a better, more mature, more experienced version of the Leafs. The Penguins play a similar style but won’t be intimidated by the Caps. They’re in Washington’s head, not the other way around. If the Leafs turned out to be a surprisingly dangerous match-up for the Caps, the Penguins are the Leafs on steroids. 

THE CAPITALS WIN IF…

Do we view the Capitals through an optimistic or pessimistic lens? If we choose the former, we see a team that got pushed to the brink in six consecutive nail-biter games, spent very few minutes of the series leading and still ground out four victories. Washington could’ve choked and instead delivered in the clutch more often than not, with three overtime wins, including a series-ender from Marcus Johansson after he tied the game in the latter half of the third period. Washington showed mental toughness.

The Caps also won the Presidents’ Trophy for a reason. They are hockey’s deepest, most complete all-around team. They have a clear advantage in goal with icy-nerved Braden Holtby. They have a powerhouse top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, plus great secondary scoring options in Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and, of course, Justin Williams, ‘Mr. Game 7.’ The bottom-six forward group boasts some big, heavy players, from Tom Wilson to Jay Beagle to shutdown center Lars Eller. The Caps forecheck as well as any team in the game, and that’s the one thing Columbus did pretty effectively against Pittsburgh in Round 1. Washington can hem a team in for many minutes at a time, as Toronto learned the hard way.

The Caps also enjoy a deep defense corps, even if Karl Alzner isn’t healthy enough to return yet. Matt Niskanen was particularly effective in Round 1, and speedy Nate Schmidt held his own replacing Alzner. Brooks Orpik and Kevin Shattenkirk struggled at times but are still an experienced pair that should iron out their game in time. All that and we haven’t mentioned John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov. This is a loaded group. 

X-FACTOR:

Penguins: It doesn’t look like Matt Murray, who sustained a lower-body injury in the Game 1 warmup against Columbus, will return to the Penguins’ crease anytime soon. He hasn’t even resumed skating. That puts Pittsburgh’s fate in Marc-Andre Fleury’s hands again. ‘Flower’ flashed his early-career playoff form in Round 1, with a .933 save percentage against the Jackets, but what if the ugly recent-career playoff Fleury returns against Washington? Holtby gives Washington the edge in goal no matter what, but Fleury has to be at least average to keep the series competitive. If his game goes in the tank, it will change the series dramatically.

Capitals: Justin Williams is so universally revered as an X-Factor that he hardly qualifies as one anymore. He’s not a sleeper. Instead, watch out for Tom Wilson. Because he’s such a brute, 6-foot-4, 217 pounds and known for devastating hits on the forecheck, it’s easy to forget he was a first-round pick in 2012. Wilson can play. He showed that in Round 1 with three goals against the Leafs, earning himself a promotion to the third line from coach Barry Trotz. If Wilson can chip in some offense while putting licks on an already-weakened Penguins D-corps, look out. 

KEY MATCHUP:

The Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry gets all the headlines, but the story of this series might come on the “second” line and that’s in name only as both teams pretty much have two first lines. That’s mostly because of the star centers on both sides, Evgeni Malkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who’d be No. 1 guys on any other team. It’s an Evgeni(y) battle for the ages here, though Kuznetsov is really going to have to step up if he wants to match up to Malkin. He’s been a bit lackluster in the playoffs during his career and had just three points in the first round – nothing compared to Malkin’s 11. Neither is all that great at possessing the puck (though they’re unfairly penalized by being compared to superstar top lines), so it all comes down to production here where there’s a sizeable chasm between the two players. With deficiencies elsewhere throughout the lineups, this is one battle the Pens have to win as their forward depth is the only thing they’ve got on Washington. It starts here with Geno. Let’s see if he’s got some more playoff magic up his sleeve. (Dom Luszczyszyn

THN’S PICK:

PENGUINS in six games.

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