Hejdå Nils! Lundkvist traded to Stars, Chara headlines three defensemen who announce retirement, MacKinnon gets paid, camps open

In the second post of the new season, we have some Rangers news mixed with the retirements of three defensemen. Plus one of the game’s best gets a well deserved raise from the Stanley Cup champs.

The first order of business is Chris Drury again delivering for the Rangers. Faced with the task of moving an unhappy player who didn’t have much of a future with the team, the Team President and GM was able to get a good return for camp holdout Nils Lundkvist.

Credit goes to Shayna Goldman of The Athletic for breaking the story. She got the scoop. Something none of the Rangers beat reporters seem capable of sans Larry Brooks. Goldman sent out this tweet below that spread quickly.

She also nailed the details. Nils Lundkvist was traded to the Stars in exchange for a conditional 2023 first round pick plus a 2024 conditional fourth.

The condition on the 2023 first round pick is that it’s top 10 lottery protected. Considering that the Stars are a good team that should make the playoffs once they figure out how to re-sign key restricted Jason Robertson, it’s insurance.

Realistically, the Rangers will come out with a mid first round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. That’s unless they decide to use that pick as a chip for a trade by next deadline on March 3.

If the Stars somehow miss the postseason, then they could wind up in the top 10 due to the Draft Lottery. In the event that happens, the first round pick would slide to 2024. Either way, Drury was able to pry a first round pick for a disgruntled player whose trade request actually dated back to January. Hejda Nils!

That’s when more recent 2019 first round pick Braden Schneider was recalled from Hartford and supplanted Lundkvist on the third pair. He proved capable of filling that role. His size and strength combined with skating made Lundkvist expendable. Once the young defenseman stuck, it was obvious that Nils was going bye bye.

In an ironic twist, it’s actually Schneider’s birthday today. He turned 21 on 9/21. Happy Birthday!!! He enters his second year as the right defenseman on the third pair. Of course, there’s anchor Adam Fox and captain Jacob Trouba on the top two pairings. As Schneider continues to grow, the Rangers look to have one of the game’s best trio of right D.

In regards to Lundkvist, he had his chance. Even with a new GM and coach, they gave him the opportunity to sink or swim. When it was obvious that 2021 free agent addition Patrik Nemeth wasn’t working out, Lundkvist’s days were numbered. That isn’t to say he failed. He only got into 25 games where he tallied a goal and three assists. However, he never got much power play time due to Fox running the top unit and Trouba playing on the second unit.

For the 22-year old Lundkvist, it’s a fresh start with a new team. Though it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in the Stars’ plans. They do have some good defensemen including Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell and Ryan Suter. They also signed free agent Colin Miller, who could slot in on the second pair. However, he could be sidelined to start the season. Perhaps that’s why they went out and acquired Lundkvist.

Obviously, he has a lot to prove. For a player who cried once he lost his spot, now comes an opportunity to prove himself. He possesses the skating and capability to contribute offensively. It will all depend on how he’s used in Dallas. They obviously feel he’s worth it. Time will tell.

The takeaway is Drury did what was best for both sides. The Rangers didn’t have room for the player. Lundkvist needed a new home. He gets it in Big D. He could pair up with Lindell on the second pair. No doubt he’ll see more power play time there than he did in the Big Apple.

That the Rangers received a first round pick and a conditional fourth in 2025 is a plus. They got fair value for a former top prospect who’s on the young side. It’s a win win for both parties. One less distraction for the Blueshirts with training camp opening Wednesday.

Although the first official day was Wednesday, every player arrived early. They held unofficial workouts at the Rangers practice facility in Greenburgh, NY. They’re chopping at the bit to get going. That comes as no surprise after how close they were to playing for the Stanley Cup.

Undoubtedly, expectations are high. Why wouldn’t they be? Despite losing key deadline pieces Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte and Justin Braun, the Rangers boast a plethora of talent that combines veteran experience and youth. Led by a core that includes new captain Jacob Trouba along with Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Artemi Panarin and rating Vezina winner Igor Shestyorkin, it’s a good roster capable of having a huge amount of success.

They did lose key locker room leader and second pivot Ryan Strome, who signed with Anaheim along with Vatrano on what should be an improved Ducks that features Trevor Zegras, Calder candidate Mason McTavish and Troy Terry. But Drury went out and signed former Hurricane Vincent Trocheck to fill the void. He’ll center the second line that’ll feature Panarin. We’ll see who wins the job on the right side.

Don’t forget that Gerard Gallant likes to mix and match. He’ll do it during games if things aren’t going well. While I’m a person who likes to pencil in lines, nothing is guaranteed. Turk keeps us honest. Buck Showalter he’s not. He is more like Aaron Boone. If you’ve seen the Yankee lineups, you know what I mean. Aaron Judge hitting leadoff in his pursuit to match Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. It’s been exciting to watch.

As the baseball regular season winds down, we know both the Mets and Yankees will be playing meaningful games in October. That should be fun. The Mets clinched their first postseason since 2016. With both Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, they have a good chance to go far. The Yankees are more of a question mark despite Judge’s all-time season.

Let’s segway back to some hockey news and notes. There’s a lot to cover on a before camps get going.

Let’s call today (Tuesday) the day of retirements for defensemen. Zdeno Chara, Keith Yandle and P.K. Subban all announced they were hanging up the skates. All three were elite players with both Chara and Subban former Norris winners.

Yandle was an upper echelon offensive defenseman who currently holds the record for most consecutive games played. An astounding 989 combined with the Coyotes, Rangers, Panthers and Flyers where he finished up his career. That record won’t last long if Phil Kessel can play in the first eight games with Vegas. He enters the season with 982 straight. It was previously held by Doug Jarvis, who played in 964 consecutive games.

For a player who wasn’t selected until 105th in the fourth round of the 2005 Draft, the Boston, Massachusetts native went on to have a superb 16-year career. He became a fixture on the Coyotes’ blue line. A good passer of the puck who could get his shot through while running the power play, Yandle posted 12 straight seasons of 30 points or more between ’08-09 through ’19-20.

That included producing at least 40 points in 10 of 12 seasons during that run. With the Coyotes, he reached double figures in goals four consecutive seasons including the shortened season of ’12-13 when he had 10 goals and 20 assists for 30 points over 48 games.

After spending nearly a decade in the Desert, Yandle was traded to the Rangers in ’14-15 for Anthony Duclair, John Moore, a first round pick and second round pick on March 1, 2015. Added to a blue line that featured Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman, he performed well as a rental over two seasons. In the 2015 playoffs, Yandle had two goals and nine assists for 11 points in 19 games.

Although it wasn’t enough to help get the Rangers back to the Stanley Cup Finals for a second straight year, Yandle did his part. Over a full 82-game season in ’15-16, he posted 47 points (5-42-47) to pace all Ranger defensemen in scoring. That included 22 power play points (2-20-22) which tied Derick Brassard for the team lead.

After the season, Yandle moved on to Florida where he signed a new contract to play for the Panthers. He was very productive over the first four years. That included him achieving a career bests in assists (53) and points (62) during ’18-19. It was following a disappointing ’19-20 where his production dipped to 27 points over 56 games that Florida decided to move on.

Yandle spent his final year with the Flyers. At 35, it was a challenging season for the prideful Yandle, who finally was a healthy scratch near the conclusion of a difficult ’21-22 campaign in Philadelphia. He finished with a goal and 18 helpers for 19 points over 77 games.

It was evident that was it for Yandle. With the game continuing to shift towards a younger generation due to the salary cap, he didn’t draw interest this summer. Like P.K. Subban, who decided to call it quits a little later yesterday at 33, Yandle knew it was time. He finishes his career with 103 goals, 516 assists and 619 points in 1,109 games.

Subban is two years younger. Originally selected by the Canadiens in the second round number 43 in the 2007 Draft, he wowed fans in Montreal with his physical skills. Combined with splendid skating, Subban was an exciting player who played the game with a passion.

Love him or hate him, he was entertaining to watch. After recording two assists in a cameo for ’09-10, Subban delivered early with an impressive rookie year. He posted 14 goals with 24 assists for 38 points and 124 penalty minutes during ’10-11 for the Habs. In a strong rookie class that included Calder winner Jeff Skinner along with future stars Logan Couture, John Carlson, Corey Crawford, Taylor Hall and Brad Marchand, Subban finished sixth for Rookie of The Year.

Known also for his theatrics which highlighted playing to the crowd with some emotional goal celebrations, his celly’s certainly caught the eyes of both opponents and broadcasters. Up North, he would sometimes receive criticism for showing raw emotion. However, he also could embellish to draw penalties.

There was no doubting the unique talent and personality Subban was. Whether it was on or off the ice, he had fun. He got to fulfill a lifelong childhood dream by playing for the Canadiens in Montreal. He loved it. You could see it in his smile and how he handled the media.

Subban also gave back to the community. His commitment to raise $10 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital is exceptional. Along with other various donations including P.K.’s Blue Line Buddies in Nashville, his charity work has earned him accolades off the ice. He won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2022 for all of his hard work to make hockey accessible for youth hockey along with providing COVID-19 relief.

Among the highlights of his 13-year career includes winning the Norris in only his third season with the Canadiens. During the abbreviated season in ’12-13, Subban had 11 goals and 27 assists totaling 38 points over 42 games with a plus-12 rating. He was voted as the league’s top defenseman.

He followed that up by going 10-43-53 in ’13-14. A season that saw the Habs reach the Eastern Conference Final. Subban had 14 points (5-9-14) in the playoffs. They would lose to the Rangers in six games. A series best remembered for Carey Price being knocked out of Game One when Chris Kreider collided into him following losing his balance due to Alexei Emelin. Even without Price, the Habs made it interesting. They came up short losing 1-0 in Game Six.

It was following that season that Subban and the Canadiens agreed on a new contract that paid him $72 million over nine years. The deal was announced following salary arbitration. He became the highest paid defenseman in the NHL.

At 25, Subban delivered in Year One of the big contract by achieving new career highs in goals (15), assists (45), points (60), plus/minus (21) and game-winning goals (5). He finished third for the Norris behind Drew Doughty and ’14-15 winner Erik Karlsson. Ironically, Shea Weber was fourth. That would prove poetic.

Following a season where he had six goals and 45 assists for 51 points in 68 contests, the Canadiens agreed to trade Subban to the Predators for Weber. They were able to do so by beating the July 1 date when his no-trade clause would’ve kicked in.

The one-for-one blockbuster of two of the game’s best defensemen took place on June 29, 2016. It sent shock waves throughout the league. Montreal fans were torn over the trade. Subban was very popular. Although he had his detractors, he was a great player for the Habs. However, they did land Weber, who went from being captain of Nashville to wearing the ‘C’ for Montreal.

The deal worked out for both sides. In Year Two as a Predator, Subban set a career high with 16 goals while adding 43 assists for 59 points to finish third again for the Norris in ’17-18. Backstopped by Pekka Rinne, the Preds went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. They lost in six games to the Penguins. Subban finished with 12 points (2-10-12).

After an injury riddled ’18-19 that affected his play, Subban was dealt to the Devils for a pair of second round picks and two players (Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies). By taking on Subban and the salary, the Devils were hoping he could return to form. It never happened.

Subban totaled 59 points in 189 games over his final three seasons in Newark. Having lost a step due to the wear and tear, he struggled with consistency. Unfortunately, that meant far less production and defensive lapses. While he still played with an edge, his game suffered.

He also developed a reputation for injuring opponents. Slewfooting players is a dangerous thing. It’s common in the sport yet goes unpunished. His illegal takedown of Sammy Blais in a game last season ended Blais’ year. He tore his ACL. Although Subban was made accountable for his actions, he was never suspended. It wasn’t the first time either.

While he became hated by the Manhattan side of the Hudson rivalry, perhaps angry fans should place the blame on a league that doesn’t always get it right. They sometimes look the other way. Maybe if the rules were more like the IIHF, you wouldn’t have such incidents. Zero tolerance for cheap plays that seriously injure players would go a long way. I don’t see it ever happening.

Following the ’21-22 season where the Devils missed the postseason, Subban joined ESPN’s Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage as a guest analyst. Having had previous experience up north during his playing career, he’s natural. He’s able to breakdown the game well and provide good insight. Expect Subban to become a regular in the studio. He has a bright future.

I’ve seen quite a few of our fans ask how could Subban be allowed to analyze games after what happened on the ice. You have to be able to separate your dislike of a player, who will be an asset talking hockey during telecasts. If Denis Potvin can do it along with plenty of other former tough guys including Stu Grimson, who ironically is a lawyer when he isn’t on NHL Network, what does that tell you?

Some of the best analysts are former players. I view Subban similarly to Kevin Weekes, who’s become one of the best voices to listen to. Whether it be NHL Network or ESPN, he’s got the personality and knowledge. Something Subban possesses. He also has a keen sense of humor like Weekes. That’s why he’ll be successful.

Having gone a little longer on Subban due to his role as a player, who was much better than what we saw in Jersey, it’s time to pay homage to Zdeno Chara. It’s truly astonishing how long his career lasted.

For nearly a quarter century, a player the Islanders drafted in the third round 56th overall way back in 1996, became one of the best overall defensemen. Most amazing is he is the tallest player in NHL history. Nobody would ever have believed a player listed at 6-9, 250 would be able to accomplish what Chara did. It’ll probably never be done again by a player that size.

When the Islanders took the risk some 26 years ago, few knew how good he’d become. Chara first debuted at 20 during ’97-98. He played 25 games and racked up 50 penalty minutes with an assist. Back then, the kid from the former Czechoslovakia could fight and deliver punishing checks. That was before hits were recorded.

In what was the Mike Milbury Error Era, the Islanders were not exactly a good team. They missed the playoffs annually and were considered a laughingstock. Let’s just say that Milbury made a lot of questionable decisions that hurt the team. At least he wasn’t a fraud like former owner John Spano. If you’ve seen the documentary on Spano, that sums up that era.

It was much harder for a young player to break through. There were so many distractions with the Islanders. You never knew what would happen. As a rival fan, it was both amusing and puzzling to observe. Of course, the Rangers became a punchline once Mark Messier left after a run to the Conference Finals with Wayne Gretzky and Brian Leetch in ’97. So, we had our own struggles that were hard to watch. I refer to it as the Dark Ages (’98-04). It truly was a dark time at MSG.

Chara lasted four years on Long Island. As a young player who obviously was a long-term project due to his size and position, he didn’t put up many points. But he sure was tough. In ’00-01, he played all 82 games for the Islanders. Chara recorded just nine points (2-7-9) and was a minus-27. But also had 157 penalty minutes. He averaged over 22 minutes on the blue line. Maybe they should’ve been more patient with him.

Instead, in a memorable blockbuster trade that defined the Milbury Error, he dealt Chara, Bill Muckalt and a first round pick that became Jason Spezza to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin. The big move was made on June 23, 2001. Milbury then handed Yashin a ridiculous 10-year, $87.5 million contract. At the time, it was overpayment. Although he was a premier center who had success with the Senators, there was no way Yashin could live up to that deal.

Although the Islanders made the playoffs thanks to Milbury also adding former Sabre Michael Peca and even Chris Osgood for a short term, they never got past the first round. Milbury also decided to trade Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Florida for a package that included Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. That was due to selecting Rick DiPietro over both Marian Gaborik and Dany Heatley. DiPietro would eventually get his own absurd contract that backfired.

While the Islanders teased their fans with first round exits, Chara blossomed into one of the game’s best defensemen. It happened immediately. In ’01-02, he set career highs in goals (10), assists (13) and points (23) while going plus-30 with 156 penalty minutes.

After reaching the playoffs again, this time Ottawa won their first round against the Flyers. But they were again eliminated by the hated Maple Leafs in the second round. However, with a core in place that included Chara, Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Radek Bonk, Mike Fisher and eventually Spezza, the Senators quickly became a Stanley Cup contender.

They lost in seven games to the Devils in a closely fought Eastern Conference Final the next year. One which they probably should’ve won. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the team and its fans. Especially with Patrick Lalime matching Martin Brodeur save for save. But Jeff Friesen’s goal with over two minutes left crushed Ottawa hearts.

As Chara grew in stature by scoring double digits in goals with a rocket shot and bone crushing hits, it was gonna be tough for the franchise to keep him. Following ’05-06 when he posted 16 goals and 27 assists for a career high 43 points and 10 power play goals, he left Ottawa by signing with the rival Bruins.

Although his former team had success without him by reaching their first Stanley Cup Finals in ’06-07 before falling prey to the powerful Ducks, it would ultimately be Chara who got the last laugh in Boston. He became captain of the Bruins and led by example. Whether it be a thunderous check, fight, or big goal, he did it.

In ’08-09, Chara put together his best season. He had 19 goals with 31 assists for 50 points and a plus-23 rating. That included 95 PIM, over 100 hits and 100 blocked shots. The complete year for the Big Z was recognized. At 31, he won the Norris as the league’s best defenseman. A well deserved honor for a dominant force.

Although they didn’t achieve their goal of winning it all, the Bruins were on the right track. Featuring a nucleus that included former second round pick Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi, Tim Thomas, Johnny Boychuk and eventually Brad Marchand, they eventually climbed the mountain to win the Stanley Cup in ’10-11.

That team did it in comeback fashion by rallying back from an 0-2 deficit and being down 3-2 to stun the Canucks in seven games. Most shocking was how they dominated them in hostile territory winning Game Seven 4-0 to win their first Cup since Bobby Orr skated it around MSG in 1972. Thomas won the Conn Smythe for a remarkable postseason.

Under the leadership of Chara, they continued to compete for Lord Stanley throughout the last decade. They fell short of winning it in ’12-13 when the Blackhawks stunned them with consecutive goals late in regulation to defeat the Bruins in six games. They would also get back to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019. But this time, it was the Blues who left Boston fans in a state of shock by winning a road Game Seven to deliver their first Cup in franchise history.

For 14 years, Chara called Boston home. He defied logic by continuing to be a staple into his 40’s. The final season as a Bruin came in ’19-20. Having finally slowed down, he remained a positive influence on new ace defenseman Charlie McAvoy. A hard-nosed player from Long Island who plays with the same edge Chara did. He said his final goodbye to close teammates and coaches after they lost to the eventual champion Lightning in the second round. It was a heartfelt handshake.

He didn’t retire. Instead, he signed with Washington for a Covid abbreviated ’20-21. Even at 43, Chara played in almost every game only missing one. It’s a testament to the kind of high character player he has been. Ultimately, the Caps would be eliminated in the first round by his former team in five games. The handshakes were emotional between Chara and former teammates who loved him.

Maybe that’s how it was supposed to be. Although he played one final season in Long Island where it started with the Islanders, injuries and Covid doomed their year. Even at 44, Chara still played in 72 games finishing with two goals and 12 assists for 14 points with his plus-eight a reflection of how consistent he was.

The most amazing thing occurred in the final game. Playing in front of the home crowd at UBS Arena, Chara gave them one more moment to remember him by. With the goalie lifted, he scored his second goal with 46 seconds remaining from Mat Barzal and Zach Parise. It was a magic moment for the legend to go out on.

After the Lightning iced the game, they stuck around at center ice to shake hands with Chara, who hinted that it was his final game. He received congrats from every player on the ice and got a standing ovation from the crowd. It truly was a special night.

When one thinks of Zdeno Chara, it isn’t about the 209 goals, 471 assists or 680 points with a terrific plus-301 and 2,085 penalty minutes over a remarkable 1,680 games. It’s not even about the additional 200 career playoff games he played in which he posted 18 goals and 52 assists for 70 points with a plus-49. Nor about all the hard hits, blocked shots or fisticuffs.

It’s really about how he handled himself on and off the ice. Like a true professional. Chara is one of the classiest players to ever lace ’em up. When he made it official on Tuesday, it was the end for one of the good guys. A true leader in every sense of the word. By his words quoted most recently, he wasn’t supposed to make it past Juniors. Instead, he finishes a brilliant 24-year career as a first ballot Hall Of Famer.

Congratulations to Chara! There will never be another player like him.

Finally, Nathan MacKinnon got a well deserved raise. One of the game’s best players who helped lead the Avalanche to their third Cup, Nate The Great signed an eight-year contract extension worth $100.8 million. He will earn $6.85 million for this season with a bargain cap hit of $6.3 million. Then, he’ll become the highest paid player starting in ’23-24. The cap hit will nearly double at $12.6 million AAV and run through 2031.

The former top pick in 2013 has been a brilliant player for the Avalanche. A Calder winner and two-time runner-up for the Hart Trophy, the 27-year old center is a remarkable player. Over his first nine seasons, he’s averaged over a point-per-game by totaling 648 points (242-406-648) in 638 games. That included a career best 41 goals and 99 points in ’18-19 as a 23-year old.

Following a couple of disappointing playoff exits, MacKinnon was very focused on getting the Avalanche over the hump. They had a great season finishing with 119 points and home ice throughout the playoffs due to the Lightning eliminating the Panthers in the second round.

MacKinnon was a big part of it. Despite missing 17 games, he still finished with 32 goals and 56 assists totaling 88 points to place second in team scoring behind Mikko Rantanen. The quartet of Rantanen, MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri and Norris winner Cale Makar all scored at least 28 goals and 86 points. Team captain Gabriel Landeskog went for 59 points in 51 games and Devon Toews had 57 points and a plus-52 rating.

Chalk it all up and the Avalanche from top to bottom were a powerhouse that conquered their demons by beating the Blues in the second round. That was a test. They won in six games. Then, they swept Edmonton to advance to their first Stanley Cup Finals since GM Joe Sakic led the ’00-01 Avs to the Cup.

MacKinnon and the Avalanche were stronger than the two-time defending champion Lightning. They won the series in six games. MacKinnon scored and set up the series winner in a 2-1 victory to take Game Six on the road and celebrate the franchise’s third Stanley Cup.

He paced all Avalanche with 13 goals including seven even strength and six on the power play. He wound up with 24 points (13-11-24) to rank third in team scoring behind Rantanen and Conn Smythe winner Makar, who was brilliant in leading them with 29 points (8-21-29). His postseason capped a memorable year in which he had 86 points (28-58-86) and a plus-48 rating to win the Norris. Makar will get even better. A scary proposition for the rest of the league.

Although they lost both Kadri (Calgary) and Darcy Kuemper (Washington) along with Andre Burakovsky (Kraken), the Avalanche should still very formidable. A full year for promising young blue liner Bowen Byram along with a healthy Sam Girard will make the Colorado back end even stronger. Plus they kept Josh Manson. It’s the best defense in the game.

It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds in net between former Ranger Alex Georgiev and steady backup Pavel Francouz. It’s a golden opportunity for Georgiev to prove he’s fully capable of becoming a reliable starter in the league. It could be that Francouz and Georgiev push each other, allowing for each to take turns under coach Jared Bednar.

With key addition Evan Rodrigues added to a supporting cast that still includes Darren Helm, Andrew Cogliano along with big pickup Artturi Lehkonen, J.T. Compher and youngsters Alex Newhook and Logan O’Connor, they’ll be a handful.

We’ll see how the Avalanche can offset the departure of Kadri, who had a great season to silence the doubters by winning in Colorado. The Flames could be one of those teams the Avs have to deal with. That’ll depend on how Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar jell on the new look Flames.

This took some time to finish. I wanted to devote proper space to all three defensemen who called it a career. They all deserved it. Even Subban, who some of our fans have lost their minds over. He’s a a model citizen off the ice who’ll be a welcome addition on TV. If you hated Cam Janssen, think about how likable he is now having a podcast. These guys are more than hockey players. They’re people.

With Day Two of camp over and Gerard Gallant hinting at Blais and Vitaly Kravtsov as his top candidates for the openings on the first two lines, I’ll get more into that in the next post. Plus I’ll have a regular season preview at some point.

It’s time to see which players can stand out in camp. Preseason begins next week. In the meantime, Aaron Judge has 60 home runs. Here’s hoping he ties Roger Maris this weekend. Enjoy the baseball.

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Rookie Weekend for prospects, Jones and Robertson get early start before camp, Motte signs with Ottawa, Lundkvist waits for trade, Tales of Stan Fischler, Jaromir Jagr

Halfway through September, there are only a few days left of summer. As usually happens, we’ll get a last taste of temperatures in the 80’s over the next week. Then maybe Indian summer.

After what felt like an eternity at least for this blog, hockey is finally back. With players already holding unofficial workouts at the Rangers practice facility in Greenburgh, it’s a hint of what’s around the corner.

Training camps open up soon. That includes the Rangers, who still haven’t announced the date when they’ll officially get underway. Having exchanged emails with well respected NY Post columnist Larry Brooks, it should begin next week. He did some good coverage of the US Open. So, I sent him a note.

In the meantime, rookie camps have begun. In fact, it’s Prospect Weekend. The Rangers rookies are playing the second of two games today against the Flyers prospects. They lost the first game 2-1 last night.

The 23-man roster features Zac Jones, who is the team captain. A young player who’s looking to make the big club out of training camp after spending most of last year with the Wolf Pack, Jones will be one of three defensemen vying for the third pair on the left side next to Braden Schneider.

Jones and Matthew Robertson are both part of the prospect roster. They will compete with Libor Hajek for that opening. On Friday night, it was Robertson who got the lone tally against the Flyers. He enters his second pro season. The same as Jones, who paced all Hartford defensemen in scoring with 35 points (9-26-35) last season. Robertson went 1-10-11 in 65 contests.

The irony is that the Blueshirts took both defensemen in the 2019 NHL Draft. Robertson was selected in the second round at number 49. Jones went in the third round at number 68. It’s actually Jones who’s older. He’ll turn 22 on October 18. Robertson won’t be 22 until next March 9.

With veteran defenseman Justin Braun returning to the Flyers and the Rangers realizing that Patrik Nemeth was a mistake by dumping him to Arizona, it leaves an open competition for the left third pair. Hajek is the only holdover from the failed Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trade. Now 24, time is running out for the former second round pick. He played 17 games last season as basically the eighth defenseman.

Most observers have wondered why Team President and GM Chris Drury kept him. Considering that Jones has 22 NHL games while Robertson has yet to debut, it’s an insurance policy. An affordable one with Hajek making only $800,000 in ’22-23.

While I didn’t necessarily agree with it along with Drury keeping Julien Gauthier ($800,000), my opinion doesn’t matter. Like some of my blogger peers including Rangers author Sean McCaffrey of bluecollarblueshirts.com, who is set to release a great four volume series on the best and worst trades in Rangers history along with A Season To Remember: One Game At A Time , it was my thought process that the money could’ve been better spent on Tyler Motte. Instead, Motte recently signed with Ottawa for a year at an affordable $1.3 million.

At the end of the day, it is what it is. In the salary cap error era, good teams often lose key pieces. The ’21-22 Rangers lost Andrew Copp (Detroit), Ryan Strome (Anaheim), Frank Vatrano (Anaheim), Braun (Philadelphia) and Motte (Ottawa) due to their cap situation. Only Motte could’ve been re-signed. Instead, they signed veteran Ryan Carpenter to the league minimum and Jimmy Vesey is on a pro tryout. Vesey could make the roster as a fourth line/penalty killing forward.

The Blueshirts will get Sammy Blais back. He’ll need to have a good season. How he recovers from the ACL tear suffered last year in a game against the Devils (P.K. Subban), will help determine what the bottom six forwards could look like. Blais is set to make $1.525 million in a contract year. His future is at stake.

It’ll be interesting to see what Gerard Gallant decides to do with his lines. While we know the top two D pairings and five of the six defensemen before camp, we don’t know who will emerge as the top right wing on both the top line and second line. Alexis Lafreniere could find himself on the right side next to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider if things go well. Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov will compete to play on a new second line with free agent pickup Vincent Trocheck slotted in to center Artemi Panarin.

There are also two younger prospects to keep an eye on. Both Will Cuylle and Brennan Othmann had success in helping Canada win the U20 World Junior Championships last month. They’re both on the rookie camp roster along with Canadian goalie Dylan Garand. Garand will likely begin his pro career with Hartford. Cuylle will try to impress Rangers brass this preseason. He can be optioned to Hartford. But Othmann can’t be. It’s either the promising 19-year old scoring forward does enough to get a minimum of nine games with the Rangers, or he must go back to the Flint Firebirds of the OHL.

The full Rangers roster for Rookie Camp includes 2022 draft picks Adam Sykora, Maxim Barbashev and Bryce McConnell-Barker. Here’s the breakdown:

FORWARDS (13)

38 LW Adam Sykora

47 C Bryce McConnell-Barker

48 LW Bobby Trivigno

49 RW Lauri Pajuniemi

50 LW Will Cuylle

59 C Karl Henriksson

73 C Matt Rempe

78 LW Brennan Othmann

82 C Patrick Khodorenko

83 C Ryder Korczak

84 LW Adam Edstrom

89 LW Maxim Barbashev

96 C Jayden Grubbe

DEFENSEMAN (7)

39 D Ty Emberson

54 D Louka Henault

6 D Zac Jones

90 D Luke Martin

44 D Matthew Robertson

58 D Brandon Scanlin

53 D Hunter Skinner

GOALTENDERS (3)

56 G Talyn Boyko

98 G Dylan Garand

60 G Olof Lindbom

The second game is taking place now in Allentown, Pennsylvania. No. Billy Joel isn’t performing. He has too many dates at MSG. I like Billy. But don’t understand the fascination with The Garden. Let’s just say some of the stuff they air is puzzling. MSG Network can’t be bothered to provide a stream to its own prospect games or barely any postgame interviews.

For the loyal diehards who want to watch, I’m sure you can find a link on the Flyers site or official Twitter. For me, it’s only two games. And one wasn’t even available unless you followed someone. Oh well.

There’s plenty of college football on. I’ll just track what happened in the second game. To be honest, it isn’t what it used to be. Ever since Traverse City which they actually used to air on NHL Network, these games are hard to find. For the aforementioned players who’ll be looking to make the team, it’s meaningless. Kudos to Jones for wearing the ‘C.’

As for Nils Lundkvist, he remains home waiting for Drury to trade him. Whatever. This guy was over promoted and overhyped by the organization. That’s always been how they operate. It dates back to the Ferraro Brothers and Christian Dube. At least Manny Malhotra had a good NHL career. Jamie Lundmark never quite panned out. Pavel Brendl. Hot dog? Lias Andersson. Enough said.

My take on Lundkvist is this. He had the hype and they handed him a spot last year. Does he have the skating? Yes. Did he provide the offense with ridiculous expectations. No. He was on the third pair and hardly used on the second power play due to Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba.

Once Schneider came up and passed him by, it was time to trade him. I wonder if anyone was interested last trade deadline. Ironically, Lundkvist’s former Swedish WJC teammate Rasmus Sandin is in a similar situation with Toronto. He’s blocked. Maybe he’ll get moved.

I don’t agree with camp holdouts from unproven players. Lundkvist has 25 NHL games under his belt. He produced one goal and three assists. Once considered a replacement for exiled Tony DeAngelo (now a hated Flyer after a good year in Carolina), Lundkvist was the first round pick in 2018 the Rangers used as part of the McDonagh deal.

At least the Rick Nash trade continues to net positive results with Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller. To think they also turned Ryan Spooner into Strome. Arguably the best deal Jeff Gorton ever made. Although you could certainly argue stealing Zibanejad from Ottawa for Derick Brassard. Speaking of Big Game Brass, he’s on a PTO with the Senators looking for a second stint. They could be a playoff team.

Of all the pieces they got back for McDonagh/Miller, Brett Howden has turned himself into a solid NHL player. He is part of the fourth line in Vegas. He needed a change.

The Rangers not only lost Strome, Vatrano, Motte and the good Copp. But Kevin Rooney, who signed with Calgary. Good luck to him in Alberta. He was a solid citizen for the Blueshirts playing in that checking line, penalty kill role. The Flames should be interesting after not only acquiring and signing Jonathan Huberdeau to an extension, but landing Avalanche Stanley Cup hero Nazem Kadri. They should be interesting to follow.

Speaking of prospects, the Devils are playing the Canadiens this weekend. They took the first game last night. Alex Holtz tallied twice in the win. That included this overtime winner on the power play that second pick Simon Nemec set up:

As much silly stuff as they post on their social media account, at least the Devils are providing coverage of the kids. Matt Loughlin is doing the games. A guy I have always respected since my stint working the production truck 21 years ago back when Stan Fischler was still doing his shtick. Wow. I feel old.

Speaking of Fischler, he’s still at it providing valuable hockey columns in The Hockey News. His stories such as what happened to the New York Americans- New York’s first ever hockey team- are treasured for history buffs like myself and Sean M. The Maven recently released a new book called, Tales of Brooklyn.

Stan’s latest Bluelines details the ugly side of Canada’s memorable Summit Series victory over Russia. Being that it’s the 50-Year Anniversary since Paul Henderson played the hero, it’s been mentioned a lot lately. It sure looks like a fascinating read.

What I’ve always admired about Fischler is his willingness to tackle anything good or bad. He has a unique style. He has given Sean McCaffrey a voice in those feature columns. Sean has a keen sense of humor and deserves the recognition. But as we once discussed, Stan doesn’t have to do it. That’s his kind nature. He has given so much back to the game. Isn’t it about time they do the right thing? Please while he’s still around. At 90 years young, nobody has more enthusiasm and passion for the sport than Fischler.

QOTD: As I posed to our NYR Twitter group, why hasn’t Jaromir Jagr been inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame yet? He’s been playing for his hometown team in Kladno, Czech Republic since exiting the NHL after a brilliant three decade career.

Jagr is 50 and still plays to help support his father’s team. Of our group, I was one of the few who recalled that both Lemieux and Gretzky went in right away without the waiting period. Why do you think that is?

It’s always nice to have an open discussion on such relevant topics. To be blunt, Jagr deserved induction after he left the Rangers to honor his commitment to return to the KHL and play for Omsk Avangard in ’08-09. Number 68 spent three seasons back in Russia which means he lost out on four-plus years including the cancelation of the 2004-05 season.

Jagr ranks second on the NHL all-time scoring list with 1,921 points. Gretzky put up a ridiculous 2,857 including a league record 1,963 assists. In ’21-22, Alex Ovechkin passed him for third all-time in goals. He enters this season needing 22 goals to pass hockey legend Gordie Howe for second. Jagr wound up scoring 766 goals in 1,733 games. His 1,155 assists place fifth. Nobody has more game-winning goals (135). Ovechkin is tied for second with Howe at 121. He should catch Jagr and eventually pass him.

The living legend won two Cups teaming with Super Mario to go back-to-back with the Penguins in ’90-91 and ’91-92. They probably should’ve three-peated. But were upset by the Islanders in the second round of the ’92-93 playoffs. Had they prevailed, it’s hard to believe the Canadiens beat them. Even with Patrick Roy. Guess we’ll never know.

It’s one of those what if’s. But also, what if the ’91-92 Rangers didn’t blow it in the Patrick Division Final to those Pens? What if they won the arbitration case for Eric Lindros? History would be a lot different. Hindsight is 20/20. At least there’s the one Cup in ’93-94. Unfortunately, it has “lasted a lifetime.” Who knew Sam Rosen’s memorable call would be prophetic.

Isn’t it about time the Rangers made some more history? There will be a lot more pressure on the team this season. Expectations are sky high. It won’t be easy. They’ll get everyone’s best shot. No sneaking up on anyone.

As much as it hinges on Igor Shestyorkin (Игорь Шестеркин), along with Broadway stars Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox and new captain Jacob Trouba, much will depend on kids Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov. Ditto for K’Andre Miller and either Zac Jones or Matthew Robertson.

This is the first post of the new season. I will finally have more to come as my favorite season of autumn approaches. Happy hockey!

Derek

kovy274hart@yahoo.com

BattleOfHudson

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Writing was on the wall last January for Nils Lundkvist, Rangers

When Nils Lundkvist finally put in a trade request this past week as reported by veteran New York Post columnist Larry Brooks, it wasn’t too surprising.

The writing was on the wall way back last January for Lundkvist and the Rangers. Once former 2020 first round pick Braden Schneider came up from Hartford and proved fully capable of handling key minutes on the third pair, there was no room for Lundkvist to stay.

Once thought of as the key final piece to the failed trade that sent former captain Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over to the Lightning, the 22-year old Lundkvist was passed on the depth chart by Schneider to fall out of favor on Broadway.

Unlike former architect Jeff Gorton who drafted him late in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft, current Rangers Team President and GM Chris Drury had no allegiance to Lundkvist. However, both Drury and snubbed Jack Adams candidate Gerard Gallant gave him the opportunity to sink or swim.

Unfortunately, Lundkvist never produced the kind of offense he was able to back home on the wider ice surface in Sweden. In 25 games, he scored one goal and added only three assists for a total of four points with the Rangers last season.

Not the biggest in stature, Lundkvist lost his roster spot to the more physical and steadier Schneider, who fit the bill under Gallant. In 43 games, the 20-year old defenseman showed poise and maturity while playing with the necessary edge the team needed.

Referred by teammates as Baby Troubs which is a nice compliment to new captain Jacob Trouba for his open ice hits, Schneider also showed the capability to make smart reads and jump into the play. He tallied two goals and nine assists for 11 points over 43 contests in his rookie campaign.

The unique combination of his skating, positioning, hockey sense and tenacity are exactly why the Rangers traded up to number 19 with the Capitals to grab him. Had they not, Schneider most likely would be part of the enemy Devils, who are building quite a blue line that should be heard from the rest of the decade.

It would be hard to picture a Rangers blue line without Schneider, who can continue to learn while playing third pair on the right side behind ace Adam Fox and Trouba. In fact, that right trio is among the best in the league. Just wait until Schneider blossoms. He’s not in full bloom yet.

While the Blueshirts will move forward with Schneider taking key shifts behind big minutemen Fox and Trouba, Lundkvist will likely be moved soon. However, Drury will look to recoup a position player who can possibly help the big club.

Why not? It’s not like Lundkvist is suddenly a bust because he didn’t stick in Year One. It was the first season in North America for the former first round pick. It just so happens that there isn’t realistically an opening for him to get the ideal ice time and power play duty needed to produce at the NHL level.

There likely should be some interest around the league. Maybe it just isn’t in the cards for another Lundkvist to have the kind of success in the big city. So be it. We’ll always have the King to talk about and hopefully continue to enjoy watching provided MSG Network can keep him happy. Henrik Lundqvist is already a big hit on the screen. Let’s hope we see more of him.

While Lundkvist appears on the outs with the Rangers, they actually did decide to give a former player another chance. As had also been speculated by Brooks earlier this summer, Jimmy Vesey indeed signed a pro tryout (PTO). He will compete for a roster spot in training camp.

Believe it or not, camp is just around the corner. As hard as it is to believe, October 11th versus the Lightning is only 37 days away. That counts the upcoming Sunday that’s ahead in the Big Apple on Labor Day weekend.

By curiosity, how many baseball fans are ready for hockey? Hint: it could depend on who you root for in NYC. Is it October yet? Let’s leave it at that.

With plenty of tennis being played at the National Tennis Center where Serena Williams played her final match on a stirring Friday night at Ashe Stadium that mirrored a legendary career if you watched until the last point, I’m enjoying the US Open.

Even if there’s no Novak Djokovic to enjoy, which is mind numbing. At least there’s still Rafa Nadal, Danil Medvedev and Nick Kyrgios who are facing off this weekend. Iga Swiatek and American headliners Coco Gauff, Danielle Collins plus Jessica Pegula are among the top players who could win on the women’s side.

If you’re not a fan of tennis, you’re probably pumped for the return of football. There have already been some big college games with Ohio State defeating Notre Dame earlier Saturday night in Buckeye country. If you care, the Jets and Giants start up soon. Already Big Blue resembles a hospital unit. Perhaps they should be sponsored by one.

As for hockey related news, good for J.T. Miller and the Canucks who agreed on a seven-year extension that keeps him in Vancouver through 2030. Eight million AAV is a fair term for a top 10 center coming off a career year. Good luck to the former Ranger for what looks like the remainder of his career. It’s also good for Vancouver fans, who must feel like they can take their team seriously.

I’m still trying to picture the Coyotes playing home games at Arizona State. It’s an arena that seats just over 5,000. Not that that’s much different from what they were drawing at their latest arena. At least they’ll have the real diehards there. It’ll probably feel more like a college atmosphere. College hockey is an interesting watch. Will a marching band also be playing during stoppages?

If we were to rate the top defensemen, start with Cale Makar and go from there. Yes. Adam Fox would make the top five. If you’re a Red Wings fan, I believe in Moritz Seider. He’d be in my list. That’s how much I believe in him.

Ottawa could have company in competing for the playoffs. The Red Wings made some good moves. Of course they did. Steve Yzerman is running it the way he did Tampa.

Will someone sign Tyler Motte already? What about Evan Rodrigues? They both can be valuable late additions for competitors.

Aaron Judge must feel like Mike Trout had felt all these years. Brian Leetch’s remainder of his prime was wasted by awful Rangers teams. Come to think of it, Judge is like Don Mattingly now. Crazy how quickly things change.

See you real soon.

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Mets ’86 hero Orosco tells great story on Old-Timer’s Day, Zibanejad ranked in top 10 centers by NHL Network

On a warm August day in Flushing, the Mets held their first Old-Timer’s Day since 1994 ironically, one ’86 hero had a great story to tell. As it turned out, he shared a unique connection to the Rangers.

During the game that brought together Mets from all different eras back out to Citi Field, it was former closer Jesse Orosco -who after showing even now he can still pitch- discussed what it was like to be back with former World Series teammates and other close friends he played with. 

After indicating how much fun it was to see everyone, Orosco was asked the question everyone wanted to know.  After he got Marty Barrett swinging for the final out in Game Seven to beat the Red Sox, what happened to the glove he tossed high up in the air in jubilation? He gave a surprising response to SNY Mets reporter Steve Gelbs.

Instead of the memorable glove that held the pitched ball before the final out for the Mets’ second World Championship being in either Cooperstown or the New York Mets Hall of Fame, Orosco actually told Gelbs he gave it to former NYPD detective Steven McDonald. His explanation was great. He spoke about how it could help McDonald pay medical expenses after he got shot in the line of duty. 

What a noble thing to do. As has been well documented over the years, Steven McDonald was paralyzed after sustaining serious injuries that made him quadriplegic and on a respirator the rest of his life. An inspirational figure, he became a symbol of the New York Rangers when they started the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in 1987-88.

Ever since, the Rangers have presented the Steven McDonald Award to the one player who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Chris Kreider won the prestigious award in ’21-22. He beat out a competitive field that included Team MVP and Vezina winner Igor Shestyorkin, Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Lindgren.

Since his father passed away on Jan. 10, 2017, son Conor has presented the award along with Mom Patti. For three decades, Steven McDonald lived on and showed this city what it was like to be a New Yorker. He always had a smile on his face and gave great speeches that always had The Garden cheering loudly. Now a NYPD lieutenant, Conor continues to make his father proud.

It’s nice to be able to tie in a classic baseball team with the Rangers. All in all, a very cool story Orosco shared 36 years since the Mets won the World Series. These days, the 2022 Mets are atop the NL East on pace for over 100 wins. Their best team since ’86, maybe they can get back to their first World Series since 2015. Winning it would be the ultimate for the Amazin’s.

With the Yankees finally winning again, might there be a Subway Series in October? We’ll have to wait and see. While hockey hasn’t been around, the NYC baseball teams have provided sports fans with an exciting summer. It could keep baseball fans preoccupied until Halloween.

It’s this blogger’s opinion that Mets and Yankees fans sure wouldn’t mind. Even if it distracts us from a long hockey season. As much as I can’t wait for October 11th against the Lightning, if the Yankees and Mets reach the World Series, that would be the ultimate.

Earlier this month, NHL Network presented their top 20 centers. Mika Zibanejad made the top 10. I also tweeted out a list for comparison. Here are my top 10:

10. Patrice Bergeron

9. Sebastian Aho

8. Mika Zibanejad

7. Aleksander Barkov

6. Steven Stamkos

5. Sidney Crosby

4. Auston Matthews

3. Leon Draisaitl

2. Nathan MacKinnon

1. Connor McDavid

My list was a little different than theirs. They had Auston Matthews higher following his memorable Hart Trophy season where he hit 60 goals and topped 100 points. I moved Nathan MacKinnon up to two following his great postseason in which he led the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup.

I put more emphasis on postseason over regular season. No disrespect towards Matthews, who was amazing for the Maple Leafs. But unfortunately, the Leafs couldn’t escape the first round again. The pressure is mounting in Toronto.

I split up McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with MacKinnon in the middle. So, I have Matthews fourth. The legendary Sidney Crosby is number five. Even at 35, he still belongs in the conversation. That’s how special a player he is. What if he didn’t lose almost two seasons? There’s no telling how many more goals, assists and points he’d have.

In terms of 6-10, I went Steven Stamkos, Aleksander Barkov, Mika Zibanejad, Sebastian Aho and Patrice Bergeron. On the NHL Network list, they had Bergeron higher and put Aho ahead of Zibanejad. I decided Zibanejad deserves to be ahead of Aho. Both are very good overall centers. But Zibanejad outplayed Aho in the Rangers’ second round win over the Hurricanes.

As for Bergeron, he’s an outstanding player. The best two-way center to ever play the game, which says a lot considering some of the past legends, Bergeron is remarkable to watch. Even now, he still can get it done at 37. That’s why he returned for one more shot in Beantown. He continues to center Brad Marchand and sometimes David Pastrnak for the Perfection Line.

You can’t go wrong with the 10 centers listed. It all depends on your preference. If I did an 11-20, it would look like:

11. J.T. Miller

12. Ryan O’Reilly

13. Mat Barzal

14. Nazem Kadri

15. Brayden Point

16. Elias Lindholm

17. Jack Hughes

18. Evgeni Malkin

19. Jack Eichel

20. Dylan Larkin

Forty-four days until the season opener at MSG.

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WJC Wrap: O’ Canada! Kent Johnson scores golden goal in overtime to lift Canada over Finland 3-2, Mason McTavish makes huge save and wins tournament MVP, USA disappointment

The 2022 U20 World Junior Championships finally concluded in Edmonton at Rogers Place over the past weekend.

A prestigious tournament many avid hockey fans follow due to catching a glimpse of the future, they were able to finish up in August instead of January due to Covid. Thankfully, there weren’t anymore issues.

In the end, a very strong Canadian roster proved to be the best. They captured their 19th World Junior Championship on Saturday night by edging Finland 3-2 in overtime.

Kent Johnson etched his name in Canadian lore by scoring the golden goal at 63:20 of OT to touch off a wild celebration in front of the home fans. The Blue Jackets’ future star wouldn’t have even been the hero if not for a remarkable defensive play by tournament MVP Mason McTavish.

Moments earlier, after Finland cut it too fine on a three-on-one that allowed Ranger prospect Dylan Garand to make the save and keep play moving, a hit behind the net created a turnover.

It looked like game over. But at the last split second, a hustling McTavish broke up the potential game-winner when he calmly knocked down the puck on the goal line to prevent a great comeback by Finland. They trailed by two entering the third. But goals from Aleksi Heimosalmi and Nashville 2022 first round pick Joakim Kemell allowed them to rally back and stun the pro Canada crowd.

Finland dominated the whole third and nearly won it in regulation. Give Garand credit for making the key saves. He did have puck luck in overtime. Finland had the winner off a turnover for what would’ve been an easy put away similar to Kemell’s tying goal.

However, McTavish was in the right place at the right time. The captain of Canada had been brilliant throughout the WJC. His two assists on goals from Joshua Roy and William Dufour gave him a tournament best 17 points (8-9-17). But it was the clutch defensive play that he’ll be most remembered for. Future captain in Anaheim? Maybe.

It was right after that clutch play that Islanders’ 2021 second round pick Aatu Raty turned over the puck in the neutral zone. He had a very good tournament producing three goals and seven assists for 10 points for Suomi. But that turnover led directly to Johnson’s memorable winner.

The winning play was made possible when Logan Stankoven perfectly led Johnson in on Finland goalie Juha Jatkola. It was the play of Jatkola that gave the Finns a chance to tie it when he denied a Canadian player of a certain goal in tight prior to Kemell’s equalizer.

On the winner, Jatkola denied Johnson’s forehand, backhand attempt to make a great save. But the puck came right back to the forward, who was able to rebound it home for the emotional golden goal.

It was a great ending to a well played championship game. Even if the IIHF officials made a few soft calls that made you roll your eyes after Finland tied it. Fortunately, a penalty didn’t decide it. Canada went 0-for-6 on the power play. Finland only drew one and didn’t connect on either.

If there was something I wasn’t fond of, it’s playing three-on-three at the start of what can be sudden death. Especially with the rules now including a full 20 minutes. If they’re playing 20, it shouldn’t be three-on-three. Make it at least four-on-four.

All it takes is one mistake during three-on-three. Canada nearly got burned twice. They probably should’ve lost after that three-on-one. It’s astonishing that Finland had two cracks at it and didn’t score. You could see the pain all over Raty following Johnson’s overtime winner.

While Canada poured off the bench to celebrate, the Finland coach made a desperate challenge to see if the shot McTavish blocked crossed the goal line. It was obvious that it didn’t. His players knew it. It was a tough way to lose. Especially after the heart they showed coming back and dominating the third.

That’s hockey. A game of inches. The puck bounced Canada’s way. They won their second gold medal in three years. They also won in 2018. Congrats to #FutureBlue Will Cuylle, Garand and Brennan Othmann on winning gold. The excitement on their faces was priceless.

The one country who’s prevented Canada from more glory is Team USA. They got them twice in 2017 and 2020. ’17 was the Troy Terry game in a shootout. ’20 was all about Spencer Knight.

Along with ’04 and ’10, those were special moments for USA Hockey. It’s easy to recall most of the heroes. From Al Montoya to Zach Parise to John Carlson, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, etc. American hockey continues to churn out talent.

That’s why this year was so disappointing. After running the table in preliminary play to win a weaker Group B sans Russia (banned), they were upset by Czechia in the quarterfinals 4-2 last Wednesday.

To be complimentary, the Czech Republic played a great game and deserved the win. They really got momentum when captain Jan Mysak was able to score on a nice deflection to tie the game with 2:55 remaining in the first period.

It was a well executed play. They won a board battle in the corner. Jiri Kulich got the puck up for Jiri Tichacek, whose point shot had a double screen when Mysak was able to get his stick on the puck for a nice tip-in.

After the goal, you could sense the Czechs gaining confidence. It’s not like they didn’t create chances off counters prior to the Mysak tally. They had. They had a bit of bad luck when a funny carom off the back boards allowed Logan Cooley to connect in front from Matt Coronato and Matt Knies.

But Team USA never could get that big second goal to create some doubt. The Czechs played solid defense by keeping most of the chances to the outside. They used their size well on the blue line. Then countered with good speed. It was a great strategy.

When Devils prospect Petr Hauser took a pass from Ivan Ivan and blew a rocket past Kaidan Mbereko at 27:34, that gave Czechia the lead. They then got a crusher Mbereko let in a soft one to Matyas Sapovaliv 3:11 later. It went right through the wickets.

For a while, it looked like there’d be no comeback. Ranger prospect Brett Berard got tossed for slewfooting Sasha Pastujov less than three minutes into the third period. But the American penalty kill was strong and drew a penalty on Stanislav Svozil. He’d later get nabbed for a kneeing major on Cooley, who fortunately was okay.

While the Czechs did a solid job on the kill, it was Carter Mazur who was able to cash in on a rebound of a Landon Slaggert shot directly in front for a big power play goal that cut the deficit to one with 8:29 left. Mazur had an outstanding tournament finishing with five goals and seven points. It looks like the Red Wings have a good one for the future. He’ll return to Denver for his sophomore year.

After the Czechs killed the remainder of the major penalty, they clamped down. Even though USA pushed for the equalizer, they never could get the kind of high quality chance needed to force overtime.

For most of the game, Luke Hughes played through an injury he sustained on an early shift. He played over 24 minutes despite clearly struggling. He only had two shots on goal. Not having the Devils top prospect as a scoring threat hurt Team USA. Maybe Nate Leaman made a mistake using him so much.

Of all the defensemen, Tyler Kleven stood out. His physicality and edge was notable. The Ottawa future looks like a rugged player who should help bolster that blue line. Kleven enters his junior year at North Dakota.

With time running down in the third, Leaman pulled Mbereko for an extra skater. They went six-on-five. However, after a face-off win by Thomas Bordeleau, Hughes tried to go through the middle up top. It was easily intercepted by Kulich for an unassisted empty netter at 58:28.

A visibly frustrated Hughes broke his stick on the net. You couldn’t blame him. It was a tough moment for a player who looks to have a high ceiling like older brother Jack Hughes. He fought hard throughout. It just wasn’t Team USA’s night.

The thing about this tournament is it doesn’t matter what you do in Group play. Once it gets to the knockout stage, anything can happen. As long as you qualify, that’s a great chance to make something happen.

Upsets are possible. That same day, Switzerland gave Canada a game. They lost 6-3. But anyone that watched knows it was competitive and wide open. It wasn’t over until the empty netter. Even Latvia was even with Sweden until their best player Emil Andrae scored off a face-off for the winner with over 10 minutes left. The defenseman looks to have a bright future in Philadelphia.

You never know. Czech was down 4-0 to Canada in the semis before they made it interesting with two goals in the third. Eventually, Canada put it away. Finland, who was clearly better than rival Sweden, only managed to beat Jesper Wallstedt once. It was enough to hold up as the only goal in their semifinal.

This wasn’t as good a WJC. Not having Russia hurt along with the schedule. When you factor in how expensive tickets were due to the pandemic, it made for a lot of empty seats until the final. Hockey Canada needed this tournament more than some of the players who dropped out to get ready for NHL training camp.

Regardless what your opinion is on Russia, it’s ridiculous to penalize young athletes for the gross actions of a lunatic. That kind of thinking is flawed and comes off xenophobic. Ditto for Wimbledon earlier this summer.

I heard a well respected TSN broadcaster question whether Matvei Michkov should go second behind Connor Bedard in the 2023 Draft because he’s, “Russian.” It didn’t come off well. Sometimes, no words are better. We don’t tune into these games for biased opinions. Leave that stuff alone.

As far as the WJC, congrats to all the players who competed and its organizers. As usual, the medal ceremony was outstanding. You had Canadian players embracing Finnish players. That was fantastic. Plus the winners singing O’ Canada along with the crowd.

Here is the media All-Star Team.

G Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden 🇸🇪

D Olen Zellweger, Canada 🇨🇦

D Emil Andrae, Sweden 🇸🇪

F Mason McTavish, Canada 🇨🇦

F Joakim Kemell, Finland 🇫🇮

F Jan Mysak, Czechia 🇨🇿

Most Valuable Player Mason McTavish, Canada 🇨🇦

IIHF Directorate Awards

Best Goalkeeper: Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden 🇸🇪

Best Defender: Kasper Puutio, Finland 🇫🇮

Best Forward: Mason McTavish, Canada 🇨🇦

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WJC 2022: USA holds on to beat Sweden and win Group B, Berard nets goal, Othmann thumps Jiricek, scores as Canada beats Finland to win Group A, Latvia makes quarterfinals

Less than a week into the rescheduled U20 World Junior Championships at Rogers Place in Edmonton, things are starting to take shape. There’s only a few more preliminary games before the knockout stage.

After having no problem with Austria on Saturday, Team USA dominated large portions of Sunday night’s final game against Sweden. On goals from Brett Berard and two pair from Matt Coronato, that three-goal cushion was enough to hold off a strong push.

They hung on to defeat Sweden 3-2 Sunday night. If you watched closely, it wasn’t that close a game. After playing on fairly even terms during the first period which saw Berard get the only tally on the power play by stuffing home his own rebound past Jesper Wallstedt, the grittier Americans carried most of the play.

Following a closely fought opening period that saw them hold a 15-13 edge in shots, it was all Team USA in a lopsided second. They outshot a timid Sweden 15-3. Coronato increased the lead to two when he steered in a rebound of a Logan Cooley shoot that Wallstedt couldn’t control.

In fact, the second line stood out in USA’s fourth game of Group play. Cooley, Matt Knies and Coronato played extremely well. They created a lot of forecheck pressure and put together strong shifts down low.

The trio were involved in the first goal from Coronato. A simple play where Knies got the puck to Cooley for a sneaky shot from a sharp angle that Coronato potted for a 2-0 lead at 25:37.

There was also an extended shift where the five-man unit that included top pair Luke Hughes and Brock Faber had the Swedes pinned in for a long stretch. Sweden had a difficult time handling the physicality of Team USA. Their relentless pressure made a big difference.

Part of the strategy was to win loose pucks along the walls and crash the net. They made life difficult on Wallstedt, who delivered a good game in making 38 saves on 41 shots. When he sees the puck cleanly, the Wild prospect usually stops it. Getting traffic on a good goalie is always a smart tactic.

In the second period, Sweden hardly had the puck. Unlike the first when they had looks on American starter Kaidan Mbereko (28 saves on 30 shots), it was tough sledding. When they did attack, it was mostly one and done, or even none due to the stingy USA defense and Sweden’s inability to hit the net.

It was the aggressive puck pressure by Nate Leaman’s team that dictated play. The Providence College coach is back for his second year behind the American bench. Having guided Team USA to gold last year thanks to 2021 WJC heroes Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras and Arthur Kaliyev, Leaman is looking to make history by becoming the first American coach to go back-to-back in the prestigious tournament.

If last year’s group was more skilled, this one brings their hard hats to the ice. You see it during each shift. There’s no panic. Even when things got tight when Ake Stakkestad converted on a six-on-four with 1:15 left to suddenly cut it to 3-2, Leaman had full confidence in his players.

Sharks’ prospect Thomas Bordeleau took the key defensive face-offs and won them. He and Landon Slaggert both did a stellar job protecting the one-goal lead. The checking was solid enough to limit Sweden to a couple of long tries that never made it.

That kind of attention to detail is why USA ran the table to win Group B. They went a perfect 4-0-0 to advance to the knockout stage. They’ll play Czechia in the quarterfinals later this week tomorrow night.

As it turned out, they needed one more Coronato goal to earn the 3-2 victory. On a sloppy turnover by Sweden that Cooley helped force, Slaggert pounced. He then dished across for a Coronato laser top shelf that made it 3-0 at 45:26 in the third period.

The game felt over. USA continued to dominate thanks to their tight checking and strong forecheck. But Wallstedt kept the deficit at three for his team.

On one of the rare instances where they won the battle, Oskar Magnusson and William Wallinder were able to set up Emil Andrae for a point shot through traffic that Mbereko had go off his glove and in to make it 3-1 with still 8:22 remaining. It was one he should’ve had. The goal gave Sweden life.

However, until Kaiser Wyatt fired the puck out for a delay of game minor with 1:48 left in regulation, it didn’t seem like Sweden would draw any closer. But that mishap allowed them to lift Wallstedt for an extra skater.

On another fluky play where he lost his goal stick, Mbereko made a good save on a tough Andrae shot. However, the loose puck was put in by Stakkestad, who beat USA captain Brock Faber to the spot to make things interesting.

That quickly, it was a one-goal game with 82 seconds remaining. Although they were able to get a couple of shots set up, a poised Mbereko shut the door. He closed up the five-hole and allowed no rebound on two scoring chances.

Another attempt was blocked. Some diligent checking from Bordeleau killed off the final seconds before Sweden could get a last shot. That kind of hard work allowed Team USA to come away with the well deserved win.

They’ll take on the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. They are on Wednesday. With Canada doubling up Finland 6-3 on Monday night to win Group A, and Latvia pulling an upset over Slovakia, here are the match-ups:

Finland vs Germany

Sweden vs Latvia

Canada vs Switzerland

USA vs Czechia

Rangers prospect Brennan Othmann has had a good tournament for Canada. After being scratched for the first game, he’s been involved offensively and physically. In his second game this past weekend, he leveled Czech defenseman David Jiricek with a big hit. The above video highlights the clean check from the #FutureBlue.

What’s most encouraging is Othmann went from sitting out to becoming part of the big scoring line for Canada. Since putting up three points in his WJC debut in which he got moved up with leading scorer Mason McTavish and 17-year old phenom Connor Bedard, Othmann has been impressive.

In Monday’s 6-3 triumph over Finland to go undefeated and take Group A, he got the scoring started with a nice deflection of an Olen Zellweger point shot. It showed some grit. Othmann simply got in front and made a nice tip-in to beat Levi Merilainen. The goal was reviewed to make sure his stick touched the puck legally. It wasn’t in doubt.

While Othmann has been a bright spot among #FutureBlue with six points (2-4-6), it’s been a mixed bag for Will Cuylle. After a good start in which he tallied a goal and assisted on future teammate Othmann’s goal, he took an undisciplined kneeing major yesterday. It was a dangerous hit.

Cuylle became the third Rangers prospect to receive a match penalty and get tossed from a game in the tournament. He joined Jaroslav Chmelar (boarding major) and Adam Sykora (kneeing major) for a reckless play that could’ve caused serious injury. He’ll likely be out for tomorrow’s quarterfinal match against Switzerland.

That probably won’t matter. Like USA, Canada is too strong for the Swiss. They barely made the knockout stage by edging Austria 3-2 on Monday.

Latvia is the best story. Having never won a game in the U20 WJC, they shocked Czechia 5-2 over the weekend to make history. The huge win was highlighted by a hat trick by defenseman Ralfs Bergamanis.

They also got goals from Martins Lavis and Rainers Rullers. Bruno Bruveris made 33 saves on 35 shots to backstop Latvia to the memorable victory. That win eliminated Slovakia, who watched in shock in the arena.

What makes this tournament unique is seeing the reaction of the players after such a big win. It was awesome watching the excited Latvian players celebrate their country’s first ever victory. The smiles and them singing their national anthem is what it’s all about.

We all love a good underdog story. That was great. Congrats to Latvia on making the knockout stage. Even if it ends tomorrow against Sweden, those players and coaches will remember that forever.

As far as tournament MVP candidates, it’s Mason McTavish in the lead. The Ducks former ’21 first round pick is having an outstanding WJC. He leads all scorers with seven goals highlighted by a four-goal game.

McTavish is tops in scoring with 13 points (7-6-13). I can’t wait to see what he’ll do in Anaheim. They could be fun to watch with Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and the smart addition of Ryan Strome.

Both Joakim Kemell and Aatu Raty have had splendid showings for Finland. Each forward has three goals and six assists totaling nine points to tie for second behind McTavish. Kemell is a Nashville first round pick last month while Raty dropped to the middle of the second round for the Islanders. He looks like a steal.

Bedard has three goals and four assists for Canada as a 2023 Draft Eligibile. By now, everyone’s heard of him. He’s going to go first in next year’s draft. Only 5-9, 180, Bedard absolutely flies during shifts and has a lethal wrist shot. He’s also right-handed. Possessing elite skill and a quick release, he’s the next franchise player.

He doesn’t need much room to get off his shot. It’s very accurate. Bedard will be a scoring center who also can set up teammates. Think 50/50 for an early projection. That’s how impressive he is. The way the game is now, he won’t have a problem lighting it up at the show.

Although they don’t have the same kind of skill, Thomas Bordeleau, Carter Mazur and Matt Coronato have been standouts for Team USA. Bordeleau leads America with seven points (1-6-7) followed by both Mazur and Coronato, who each are 4-2-6.

Also boasting Devils top prospect Luke Hughes (1-5-6) and recent Coyotes first pick Logan Cooley (1-4-5), there’s a lot to like about USA’s chances. With role players Mackie Samoskevich, Berard and the overlooked Landon Slaggert providing energy, they have a very complete roster.

Led by captain Brock Faber, Team USA is one team who could challenge Canada if they were to meet for the gold. First, both must take care of business.

It all starts tomorrow. All games will be shown on NHL Network. See you there!

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WJC 2022: Othmann and Cuylle connect for Canada in blowout win over Slovakia, Luke Hughes out fast for USA

It’s rare that we have hockey in August. However, Covid Omicron forced the postponement of the 2022 U20 World Junior Championships after Christmas.

There were only a handful of games played in Edmonton last winter. The only one people remember is the four goal game for consensus 2023 top pick Connor Bedard. He put on a show in a Canada rout of Austria.

Fast forward nine months and Bedard is only part of the story in a rescheduled WJC. The setting is the same with games at Rogers Place in Alberta. The 17-year old phenom has two goals and two assists so far as part of Canadian wins over Latvia and Slovakia.

Team Canada is a lot more complete than Connor Bedard. In an 11-1 blowout victory over Slovakia yesterday, captain Mason McTavish (Ducks) matched Bedard with a four goal game. He added two assists to record six points to improve the tournament favorite to 2-0 in Group A.

McTavish was a third pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Originally from Zurich, Switzerland, the 19-year old center is a future star for the Ducks. He debuted last season by scoring two goals with an assist in nine games.

McTavish is up to eight points (4-4-8) in two games. There’s no reason to think he won’t make the Ducks out of training camp and contend for the Calder in ’22-23. He could form a 1-2 punch with Trevor Zegras at center.

While McTavish and Bedard are front and center, also representing Canada are Rangers prospects Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle. Along with starting goalie Dylan Garand, they boast some promising #FutureBlue on Canada.

In fact, Cuylle and Othmann connected on a goal during Thursday’s win. The play saw Cuylle steal the puck and center across for an Othmann finish that made it 3-0. One day soon, we could see that same connection in the Broadway Blueshirt.

Both forwards had good games. Cuylle scored a goal and added a helper. Othmann had a goal and two assists. In fact, the 2021 first round pick the Rangers selected at number 16, got to play with Bedard and McTavish during the third period. He certainly enjoyed the experience.

https://www.tsn.ca/video/~2500702

During the interview, Othmann pointed out how easy it is to play with such elite players. He also discussed his close relationship with McTavish, who he played with in Switzerland due to the pandemic.

Othmann was asked about Shane Wright. They have exchanged texts during the tournament. The Seattle Kraken first round pick isn’t participating in the rescheduled U20 WJC. However, he told his friend to have fun and enjoy it.

From what he said, it sounded like Othmann wished he could’ve played with Wright one more time. Obviously, with what lies ahead, they’ll most likely be opponents down the road. That’s part of the journey.

Seeing the early success for both Othmann and Cuylle is exciting. Cuylle was the 2020 second round pick the Rangers used in the Lias Andersson trade.

Taken at number 60, he could be a steal. After scoring 43 goals and 80 points for Windsor last season, Cuylle went 15-16-31 for the Spitfires during the playoffs. He’s expected to compete for a roster spot this September.

Both Othmann and Cuylle will be looking to force their way onto the roster. Given their youth, it probably isn’t realistic that the Rangers would keep either up. They can send Cuylle down to Hartford. But Othmann only can be opted back to Flint of the OHL. Part of the puzzling rules that exist. If he were from Europe, he could turn pro.

That rule should be changed. It’s archaic and makes no sense. If a young North American player is ready at 19, why can’t they be assigned to the AHL? The NHL clubs should have better options.

As for Garand, he quietly made 22 saves on 23 shots for Canada. The number one goalie didn’t play against Latvia. They gave Sebastian Cossa the first game. He allowed two goals on 24 shots in a 5-2 victory on Aug. 10.

A fourth round pick taken 103rd in 2020, he could become another gem in net for the Rangers. Ironically, they stole Vezina winner Igor Shestyorkin with pick 118 in Round 4 back in 2014. As has been proven throughout history, you can find goalies late. See Hasek, D. Lundqvist, H. Rinne, P.

Garand is an interesting case. At 20, he’s coming off a superb final season in the WHL. In ’21-22, he went 34-9-1 for the Kamloops Blazers with a 2.16 GAA, .925 save percentage and four shutouts. He was even better during the playoffs posting a 1.92 GAA and .933 save percentage in 17 games.

If you listen to Jess Rubinstein of The Prospect Park, he’s a huge fan of Garand. He believes in him. What if Garand develops into the next big goalie for the Rangers? That would be quite the conversation. Don’t forget most goalies usually take a while to develop. We’ll wait and see.

Jess also noted that Hugo Ollas is another goalie prospect to keep an eye on. He was taken in the seventh round of 2020 at number 197. Ollas had a good freshman year for Merrimack College posting a 10-6-0 record with a 2.24 GAA and .920 save percentage.

The Rangers also have Talyn Boyko in the system. He went number 112 in Round 4 of the 2021 Draft. After struggling with Tri-City, he fared better following a trade to Kelowna. Boyko went 28-12-4 for the Rockets with a 2.79 GAA and .913 save percentage.

In terms of the WJC, #FutureBlue is well represented. Seven players are competing. Aside from the Canadian trio of Cuylle, Garand and Othmann, Brett Berard is playing on the third line for Team USA. Jaroslav Chmelar is on Czechia. He scored a goal in a game. Adam Sykora plays for Slovakia. Kalle Vaisanen for Finland.

Sykora certainly was disappointed with the lopsided result for his team yesterday.

It’s been a tough start for Sykora. The 2022 second round pick is without a point in two games and a minus-five. Hopefully, he can help a thin Slovakia minus top pick Juraj Slafkovsky and second pick Simon Nemec turn it around.

While Canada looks like the class of Group A which includes Finland and Czechia, Group B features Team USA and Sweden. Can the Americans repeat? It’ll be a challenge. The Swedes are led by future Wild starter Jesper Wallstedt. He has the look of the next big goalie. He’ll be tough to beat.

Sweden features Simon Edvinsson, Daniel Torgersson, Fabian Lysell, Emil Andrae, Theodor Niederbach and Sabres’ prospect Isak Rosen. They are 2-0 so far with wins over Switzerland and Austria.

For USA, they are undefeated entering this weekend. After defeating Germany 5-1, they blitzed Switzerland 7-1 last night. It was the top line that led the way. The trio of Thomas Bordeleau, Landon Slaggert and Carter Mazur who had an impressive showing.

They combined for eight points. Both Bordeleau (Sharks) and Mazur (Red Wings) each had two goals and an assist. Mazur notched a power play goal and was selected as USA top player. Slaggert (Blackhawks) chipped in with a goal and helper.

Most of the damage came during a dominant second period. Mazur opened the scoring on the power play on a good centering pass from Mackie Samoskevich.

The play wouldn’t have been possible without a great keep from Luke Hughes. The Devils 2021 fourth pick has looked brilliant. After recording a goal and assist against Germany, he set up three more goals on Thursday night.

The Swiss were able to draw even less than three minutes later on a nice breakaway goal from Joel Henry. He was able to go to a forehand, backhand deke to beat USA goalie Kaidan Mbereko five-hole. The 2023 Draft Eligible goalie will be crucial to any repeat chances.

But the game changed a few shifts later. On just a clean face-off win by Bordeleau back to Hughes, he fed captain Brock Faber. He was able to score from the point to put USA ahead for good.

Only 1:53 later, Faber combined with Slaggert to set up the second for Mazur. The American onslaught continued. A few minutes later, Slaggert was able to tip-in a Wyatt Kaiser point shot to make it 4-1. Mazur made the play behind the net by taking the body.

Before the period concluded, Hughes made a breathtaking play to set up a goal for Coronato. At the point, he spun around to get free and fired a wrist shot that Coronato was able to get a piece of for the fourth straight USA goal. A terrific play by a great skating defenseman, who plays a bit like Cale Makar. He’s always moving and shooting the puck.

Team USA added a second power play goal in the third. Samoskevich moved the puck up for Hughes, whose diagonal feed was buried by Bordeleau for a 6-1 lead. Terrific puck movement.

On what was a fairly quiet night where he took a couple of undisciplined minor penalties in the offensive zone, Cooley made a drop for Riley Duran, who beat Swiss replacement Noah Patenaude. He came in for starter Kevin Pasche, who was hung out to dry.

Team USA took care of business. They aren’t overly skilled. But make up for it with their team speed and aggressive forecheck. Hughes is probably the best player. It’s hard to believe he’s a defenseman. But we now see how both Makar and Adam Fox activate by moving all over in the offensive zone. That makes it harder to defend.

If Nemec pans out, the Devils will boast two studs on a revamped blue line for the rest of the decade. Hughes has the look of a player who’ll score 15 to 20 goals. That’s how unique he is. He lit it up in his freshman year at Michigan with 17 goals and 39 points in 41 games. By next Spring following his sophomore campaign, Devils fans could see him next to Jack Hughes.

This weekend, Canada faces Czechia. USA will see Sweden on Sunday night at 10 EST. All the action can be seen on NHL Network. E.J. Hradek and Dave Starman are doing the USA games from the studio. Starman knows a lot about the game and provides good insight. He’s excellent.

In one game earlier today, Sweden blanked Austria 6-0. Slovakia and Latvia are tied at two currently. Sykora has a goal for Slovakia.

Those are the only two games today. USA takes on Austria tomorrow at 2 EST. Canada takes on Czechia. Germany battles Switzerland in a key game.

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Trouba named the 28th captain in Rangers history, why they selected him, WJC gets going

In a little surprise, the Rangers announced Jacob Trouba as the new captain of the team at a short press conference yesterday at Madison Square Garden. They even aired it on MSG Network and streamed it for fans. A rarity.

Acquired by the club on June 17, 2019 from Winnipeg in exchange for Neal Pionk and a 2019 first round pick (Ville Heinola), the 28-year old Trouba is coming off his best season as a Blueshirt.

In 81 games played, the right defenseman set a new career high with 11 goals while posting 39 points (11-28-39) and a career best plus-25 rating. He also had a career high 88 penalty minutes.

If there is an area the big defenseman makes an impact, it’s with his physicality. A tough player who never passes up a chance to finish a check or block a shot, Trouba recorded 207 hits to lead the Rangers and his 177 blocked shots ranked second in the league.

That tenacious style led to some big hits including one on Sidney Crosby that helped swing the first round series. The Pens captain missed the rest of Game Five and didn’t play in Game Six. The Rangers rallied back to defeat the Penguins in seven games to complete a 3-1 series comeback.

Trouba continued to catch opponents with clean checks that went un-penalized. Another huge hit against the Hurricanes turned a crucial game around during the second round series won by the Rangers in seven games.

When he wasn’t delivering thumping hits, he was sacrificing his body to get in the path of shots. Something that exemplifies leadership. Of course, he wasn’t alone. You had defensive leaders Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox doing the same. That gritty style was instrumental in the Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final.

Although he wasn’t as consistent his first two years on Broadway, it was the calming influence of Trouba that helped defense partner K’Andre Miller settle in. The younger blue liner made some strides in his second season. He improved and showed more of an edge like his older teammate.

For Trouba, he is the first Rangers’ captain since Ryan McDonagh. After he was traded to the Lightning in 2018, the club didn’t have any player wear the ‘C.’ Instead, they were patient in their search for a new captain.

Quite often, we saw the leadership role bestowed upon the trio of Chris Kreider, Trouba and Mika Zibanejad. Along with ex-Ranger Ryan Strome, Fox and Barclay Goodrow, it was those six who donned alternates in ’21-22.

Although Gerard Gallant went back on his promise to name a captain last season, he discovered that he had plenty of team leaders who could assume the role. When Trouba wasn’t front and center answering questions following games, it was Kreider and Zibanejad who were accountable.

In what was a special season for him where he tied Adam Graves with 52 goals for the second most by a Ranger in a single season while besting single season goal scoring leader Jaromir Jagr with 26 power play goals which led the NHL, Kreider seemed to be the top candidate for the next captain.

Having been the longest tenured Ranger dating back to a memorable debut during the 2012 Playoffs, he certainly was someone many fans including yours truly wanted to see as the new captain. However, there is nothing wrong with GM Chris Drury’s choice of Trouba as the 28th captain in Rangers franchise history.

To hear him eloquently speak to reporters at the press conference on Monday, it’s an honor that Trouba takes very seriously. With overwhelming support from both Kreider and Zibanejad along with Gallant and Fox, he will assume the mantle. No small task.

Vowing to remain the same player he’s been, Trouba understands the importance of such an honor. Throughout their long history, only 27 players have held the captaincy wearing the Blueshirt. Featuring such legendary names as Bill Cook, Art Coulter, Neil Colville, Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate, Vic Hadfield, Brad Park, Phil Esposito, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Jagr, it’s definitely a great class to be mentioned with.

Former captain Ryan Callahan, who has moved on to a successful broadcasting career for ESPN, welcomed Trouba to the club yesterday. What else would you expect from the classy ex-Ranger who wore the Broadway Blueshirt with pride?

I’ll also give credit to Kevin Weekes. He was the first to break the story via his classic Breaking News segments he posts on Twitter. He sure has a unique way of providing fans with an entertaining approach to big stories. Although not always 100 percent accurate as Hasan noted in his most recent Devils piece, Weekes continues to make covering the sport more fun.

A day following the announcement which saw Trouba put on his new Rangers sweater with the ‘C’ draped on the front along with the number 8 we’re accustomed to seeing, his D partner had high praise for him.

There certainly is a lot of responsibility that comes with being captain. However, I like what Trouba said. He plans on being the same person. That’s exactly as it should be. He leads by example on the ice with a rugged style similar to former Devil Scott Stevens. I’m not comparing them. Just noting how hard Trouba plays the game.

I definitely didn’t see them revealing the new captain in the dog days of an unforgivable summer that feels like it’ll never end. Second week of August. But that’s exactly what they did. They wanted to get this out of the way.

A couple of thoughts on Trouba as the 28th captain. For a long time, we saw fans complain about the Rangers not having a captain. Predictably, the same losers whined about the selection of Trouba over Kreider and Zibanejad. Talk about hypocrisy. Give it a rest.

To Sean McCaffrey’s assertion in his well thought out post on bluecollarblueshirts.com about the team not revealing who the alternates are, we know who they’ll be. It’s not that big a deal now. There’s still over a month until training camp opens.

We already know the first two A’s will be Kreider and Zibanejad. The dynamic duo who were largely responsible for the Rangers’ first Final Four appearance in the playoffs since 2015. By not giving either the ‘C,’ they can just go out and perform. Maybe that was part of the thought process.

As far as who else could be an alternate, Barclay Goodrow and Fox are likely to. They did last year. The only player I’d love to see also get one is The Warrior, Ryan Lindgren. But you can only give out so many letters.

Artemi Panarin doesn’t need an ‘A.’ His job is to produce. Having a very limited grasp of the English language, the Russian star must put an up and down postseason behind him. While his overtime goal on the power play to beat the Pens will be fondly remembered, the Bread Man was streaky throughout and shied away from taking the body.

Now, he’ll play with new two-way pivot in former Hurricane Vincent Trocheck. I like the potential of it. It’ll be most intriguing to follow the battle for the right wing. Both Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov will be competing for a spot in the top six. If neither grab it, it wouldn’t surprise me if Gallant goes with Goodrow or the returning Sammy Blais to start.

As for potential newcomers, both Will Cuylle and Brennan Othmann will have the chance to impress Rangers brass. Currently, they’re representing Team Canada at the rescheduled U20 WJC in Edmonton. Along with recently signed goalie prospect Dylan Garand, they comprise three of seven prospects taking part in the tournament.

Brett Berard is playing on the third line for Providence College coach Nate Leaman representing Team USA. They won easily 5-1 over Germany in their first preliminary in Group B action. Devils prospect Luke Hughes had a goal and assist in the victory. He’s gonna be a good one.

Adam Sykora is the youngest player for Slovakia. The 2022 second round pick had a tough introduction to the World Juniors going minus-3 without a point in a 5-4 loss to Czechia yesterday.

Other NYR prospects taking part are Jaroslav Chmelar (Cze) and Kalle Vaisanen (Fin). Games can be seen on NHL Network. Currently, Canada is tied with Latvia 1-1 after a period in Group A play.

Highly touted Connor Bedard has his first goal of the new tournament. Don’t forget he scored four in a game last December before Covid canceled it. The future top pick in 2023 is a franchise player. He’s a must watch if you have any interest in hockey futures.

USA next plays on Thursday against Switzerland. That could be more of a test. But they should prevail. Look for scoring and dominant puck possession from the second line featuring Coyotes number one pick Logan Cooley (goal), Matthew Coronato (assist), and Matt Knies (TOR).

There could be some more hockey news soon involving the Islanders. They’re close to signing unrestricted free agent center Nazem Kadri. He has been patient hoping he could land a big payday. But he might have to settle for less. Nothing is official yet. Stay tuned.

Larry Brooks also recently hinted that Jimmy Vesey could be signing with the Blueshirts. Obviously, he never went on to have the success once thought. His best seasons came in the Big Apple. Then, he carved out a niche as a checking type forward who kills penalties effectively. Something he did for the Devils. Let’s wait and see.

While I still don’t get the Rangers not re-signing Tyler Motte, who remains available, it is what it is. They decided Julien Gauthier was more important along with team ornament Libor Hajek. Why I’ll never know. At least Ryan Carpenter should help replace Kevin Rooney, who signed with Calgary.

A final observation. It’s nice to see Patrice Bergeron returning for one more year with the Bruins. A five-time Selke winner who’s the greatest defensive forward in NHL history, he is a future Hall Of Famer who’s more than just statistics. All you have to do is watch him play the game.

Interesting how Bergeron took only $2.5 million and David Krejci returns after spending a year playing at home for a year at $1 million with performance bonuses. The more you see how business is done in Boston, they get it.

Players taking less to take one last kick at the can. If only more teams had players who do that. It would be better for fans of the sport.

Max Pacioretty out six months due to a Achilles surgery is a big hit for the Hurricanes. Shocking how this comes out less than a month after Vegas unloaded him. Odd indeed.

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Bratt one-year deal looks to be an uneasy stopgap

In many ways, the conclusion of contract negotiation number two between GM Tom Fitzgerald and budding star winger Jesper Bratt with the signing of a one-year contract isn’t exactly an ideal solution for the team or the fans. Of course, you can’t always compel a player to sign for longer term despite Fitz’s good fortune, foresight or persuasiveness to do just that with star center Jack Hughes earlier this year, or more recently with breakout defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. Obviously, taking a shorter term and proving his breakout season of 73 points in 76 games this year wasn’t a fluke may well pay off long-term financially for Bratt and his previously anonymous agent Joakim Persson.

Yet, the organization being forced to kick the can down the road felt inevitable somehow. After all, it was Bratt who held out two years ago deep into camp (and even missed some games due to post-COVID visa complications), despite the fact he really had zero leverage and finally wound up signing a short bridge deal to get to this point. With more leverage now after one career season, I figured there was no way he would be any easier to pin down on a long-term extension in round two. While signings of other key players like Hughes, Siegenthaler and captain Nico Hischier a few years back went swimmingly without complaint, it’s been this back-and-forth that’s turned into a CBA-style staredown, albeit without any public back and forth.

To everyone’s credit I suppose, we still know very little about the details of either negotiation – two years ago or now, so don’t count on either side leaking anytime soon – at least until (and if) Bratt is ever in another uniform. All we know from a tangible standpoint is that each side’s arbitration number showed a pretty significant gap, between the Devils’ insanely low submission of $4.15 million and Bratt’s submission of $6.5 million. Not that we can really read anything into what the long and short-term offers were beyond that. What seemed most disturbing is that both sides looked like they would go through with the actual hearing this morning, and not even be able to negotiate a one-year compromise. Finally, an hour after the hearing was supposed to have began word leaked out that yes, the two sides came to their own detente.

The fact that the negotiated settlement wound up slightly closer to Bratt’s number probably shows which submission was based closer to reality. Yet it feels more like a whoopdie darn doo, they did the bare minimum sigh than an actual cause for celebration. With Bratt now signing, he’s not eligible for renegotiation until January 1, 2023. Which in all likelihood means we probably won’t have a full resolution to the ‘will he stay or will he go?’ saga until next offseason, unless the Devils are out of the playoff race again and Fitz finally comes to the realization that this player may not re-up before free agency so he flips him at the deadline. But that’s certainly not an ideal end, both because it would mean another season in the second division and because we’d likely get futures back for a key player now, kicking the can of the rebuild down even further.

I’m not sure how much I buy the theory that the Devils weren’t prepared to offer Bratt a real long-term deal because they’re now suddenly coming close to the cap celing in 2022-23. After all, it was Fitz who said either before or just after UFA day that they made a substantial long-term offer to Bratt, whatever the heck that means. Of course, everyone’s definition of substantial is different. If I had to guess I’d say the Devils’ offer was probably anywhere between 6.25 and 6.75 million a year, which would be a bit low given other comparables signed this offseason but consistent with Fitz getting other guys on as team-friendly deals as possible. On the other hand, if the Bratt camp wanted full market value this offseason that probably wasn’t realistic either given the fact he’d never so much as cracked 40 points before this year and still has two RFA years to go before hitting UFA.

So yes the battle is over for now, but I’m already dreading round three whether it takes place this January or over the summer before the draft.

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A disappointment so far, Kakko must prove worth on bridge deal

It was three years ago that the Rangers moved up to the top two in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery.

At that point, before the number one pick was revealed to the Devils, fans were ecstatic at the prospect of landing Kaapo Kakko. Maybe it was just a hunch. I was actually disappointed that the Manhattan side of a unique Hudson rivalry wound up second behind the New Jersey side.

Sometimes, you just know. In that moment, I was right. The Devils made the right choice by selecting center Jack Hughes with the top pick. Despite playing it close to the vest, they wound up with a franchise player.

The Rangers picked Kakko at number two. It felt like a consolation prize. After he scored the gold medal winner for Finland in an exciting win over Team USA at the 2019 U20 World Junior Championships, many experts loved the forward. He had the size and strength to win board battles and keep puck possession.

Classified a goal scorer, Kakko was considered the finisher the Rangers lacked. At the time, Chris Kreider still hadn’t hit 30 goals. Artemi Panarin had yet to sign with the Blueshirts. That would soon follow leading to more excitement over adding a star forward who makes teammates better.

It was a different time. The Rangers were an afterthought. But you felt it was about to turn around when they drafted Kakko and then signed Panarin away from Columbus. What followed was a trade for defenseman Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg. He soon signed an extension to further improve the roster prior to ’19-20.

As big a year as Panarin had in what amounted to the Covid interrupted season that ended in August when the Rangers were swept by the Hurricanes in an uncompetitive Stanley Cup Qualifier Series, they somehow struck gold when that three-game sweep landed them future 2020 top pick Alexis Lafreniere.

With Mika Zibanejad also having a breakout ’19-20 where he scored 41 goals and 75 points in 57 games along with Panarin finishing third for league MVP after a career best 95 points (32-63-95) alongside Ryan Strome, it felt like the beginning of something special.

Thanks to the rookie debut of Igor Shestyorkin, who soon would supplant Henrik Lundqvist in net with Alex Georgiev backing up, it truly was the beginning. With future Norris winner Adam Fox finishing fourth for the Calder and Tony DeAngelo (remember him?) leading the way on the blue line, the Rangers were on their way back.

Due largely to the performances of the aforementioned players with three having since moved on, Kakko’s rookie year got overlooked. Considering how much he struggled to adjust to the North American style, maybe that was a good thing.

In 66 games, he scored 10 goals and added 13 assists for 23 points with a minus-26 rating. It wasn’t what was expected. However, Hughes also had a tough time. In Year One, he had 21 points (7-14-21) and an identical minus-26 rating in 61 games for the Devils.

Perhaps the weight of expectation was too high on both teenagers. Not every highly rated prospect comes in and takes the league by storm. For every Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin, there’s a Barkov or Draisaitl. In other words, it depends on the player no matter how much hype.

A key part is development. Let’s just politely say that I didn’t agree with how Kakko was handled early on. His skating was lacking and he was lost defensively. Nothing a stint at Hartford couldn’t have helped fix. But the organization decided to keep him up.

To his credit, Kakko never showed any frustration despite how former coach David Quinn deployed him. It wasn’t exactly the way anyone envisioned. That’s why San Jose GM Mike Grier had to come to the newly hired Quinn’s defense at an introductory press conference last week.

Quinn didn’t handle Lafreniere well either. A more mature player who still had to earn his ice time under Gerard Gallant last season. Despite minimal opportunities on the second power play, he scored all 19 of his goals at even strength in Year Two. He also showed improvement as the year went on, posting 2-7-9 in the team’s run to Eastern Conference Final.

For Kakko, who only had seven goals and 11 assists in 43 games during an injury riddled third season, he’s still just 21. There’s plenty of time for him to evolve. Having totaled only 26 goals in 157 regular season games, there’ll be more attention focused on him as he enters his fourth season. Especially after voicing his displeasure over being a healthy scratch in Game Six against the Lightning.

Who could blame him? Gallant chose his guy Dryden Hunt over Kakko and played a hobbled Strome, who couldn’t go after one period. Kakko had at least displayed a more consistent forecheck while being teamed with Lafreniere and Filip Chytil on the Kid Line. The trio were effective throughout the postseason. It stands to reason not playing Kakko was a mistake.

But if you followed that series closely, you know it was lost as soon as Ondrej Palat scored in the final minute of Game Three. That swung the momentum. He’d also get the crusher that doomed them in Game Five. There’s nothing else to add.

While Chytil posted seven goals and totaled nine points like Lafreniere, Kakko tallied a pair of goals and added three helpers for five points in the playoffs. He then indicated that being benched would serve as a motivator. We’ll see.

For a while, nothing happened when it came to contract negotiations between the Rangers and RFA Kakko. Team President and GM Chris Drury took his time. He’d already handled the departures of Strome, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano by signing Vincent Trocheck to fill the void at second center.

After dealing Georgiev to the Avalanche, Drury zeroed in on veteran Jaro Halak to replace Georgie as the new backup behind Shestyorkin, whose remarkable season culminated in his first Vezina. The best year a Ranger goalie had since Lundqvist exactly a decade ago when he also won the Vezina. Ironically, both netminders finished in the top three for the Hart while losing in six during the Conference Finals.

For reasons only known to him, Drury opted to keep Julien Gauthier and Libor Hajek. Once they signed plugger Ryan Carpenter, that took them out of the mix for Tyler Motte. The invaluable checking forward and penalty killer remains unsigned. It doesn’t look like he’ll be back.

With all the usual silly rumors circulating about Kakko, the two sides finally reached agreement on a bridge deal that’ll pay him $2.1 million a season. Considering where he is in his development, the two-year, $4.2 million deal is fair.

Having totaled 58 points (26-32-58) over his first three years, it’s time for Kakko to prove his worth. The subtraction of key contributors Copp, Vatrano and Strome have opened the door. With Vitaly Kravtsov deciding to get serious (at least so far), Kakko could be in direct competition with the once exiled Russian for a potential spot on the right side next to Panarin and Trocheck.

For a player who has been underwhelming so far, it’s a good opportunity to take the bull by the horns. Kakko has improved overall. He is more responsible defensively. He also has become more of a playmaker. His passing is better than expected. At times though, you want to see him shoot the puck. Something he hasn’t done enough of.

Consistency is the key. If Kakko is out to prove the doubters wrong, it’s important for the Finn to take a step forward in ’22-23. He should have more chances along with Lafreniere, who could wind up as the new right wing on the top line. Something I’m in favor of.

As much as I like the chemistry the trio of Chytil, Kakko and Lafreniere have, isn’t it about time to find out what they’re fully capable of? Lafreniere has the look of a finisher who could top 30 goals and put up points while playing with Zibanejad and 52-goal man Kreider. He also is very active during shifts. Why shortchange him when they don’t boast a number one right wing at the moment?

It’ll be up to Gallant. Training camp is less than two months away. With football back in full swing as we approach August, it’ll be here before you know it.

Not only will they be assessing former first picks Kakko, Lafreniere and Kravtsov. But recent 2021 first rounder Brennan Othmann. A promising player who dominated the OHL last year. Will he force their hand or wind up back at Flint?

2020 second round pick Will Cuylle is ready to go pro. It’ll either be with the Wolf Pack or Rangers. A tremendous playoffs that saw him notch 15 goals with 16 assists for Windsor who fell short of winning the Memorial Cup, certainly bodes well for the 20-year old forward. He was acquired for Lias Andersson from the Kings. That one is looking good so far.

With under a million left in room, the Rangers probably are done with the off-season. Unless they can free up some salary, Motte will wind up elsewhere. He is the kind of gritty player any team can use. I wonder if the Red Wings would want to bring him home like they did Copp. It shouldn’t cost over $2.4 million. Who knows what the msrket is for Motte, who’s more than statistics.

As for Kakko, there is much to prove. He isn’t established yet. You hope he can finally put it together. The Rangers need him to. But if he’s not there yet, Gallant could have other options like Sammy Blais or Kravtsov if he isn’t traded.

The best case scenario is Kakko wins the second line RW job. He would get to play with Panarin and Trocheck, who’s a two-way pivot that wins draws. That would bode well.

It won’t be given to him. He’ll have to earn it. The same applies to any young player including Lafreniere. The Rangers are a win now team. Even if they’ll be a bit younger both up front and possibly on the blue line with Matthew Robertson, Zac Jones and Nils Lundkvist likely competing for a job on the third pair that features Braden Schneider, expectations have increased.

There’ll be more pressure. No matter how you slice it, ’21-22 was a pleasant surprise. They weren’t supposed to reach the Final Four. A couple of bounces a different way, it’s the Rangers who reach the Stanley Cup Finals and play Colorado. Pretty crazy.

Can Kakko hit 20 goals and put up at least 40 points? That has to be the goal. If he wants to shed the bust label, there’s no time like the present. October 11th is not far away. The pressure is on.

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