NHL.com's seven 'breakthrough players' for 2010-11

jonathanberniergoalie.jpgLast season, Steven Stamkos went from a disappointing rookie to a sophomore sensation, tying Sydney Crosby for the most goals in the NHL. His breakthrough season inspired NHL.com to name its seven candidates for a breakout season in 2010-11. Here’s the list, plus a few selected paragraphs and some commentary.

Jonathan Bernier, LA Kings

If there were any doubts, Bernier laid them to rest with a superb showing (3-0-0, 1.30 goals-against average) during a late-season call-up that left Kings fans wondering if he should be their team’s playoff starter — and with little doubt that he’s their goaltender of the future.

Eh, I don’t know if three starts erase all doubts of Bernier being an answer in net. Don’t get me wrong, Bernier seems super-promising but let’s not get carried away here. Still, Jonathan Quick has reason to look over his shoulder.

Michael Grabner, Florida Panthers

Peter Mueller, Colorado Avalanche

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture showed in junior hockey (39 goals and 87 points in 62 games his final season) and in the AHL (20-33-53 in 42 games for Worcester) that he has the skills to contribute offensively. That could be just what the Sharks need as they look for more scoring from their bottom-six forwards to keep teams from overloading on the likes of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.

johncarlson.jpgI expected a lot more change in San Jose, to be honest. Still, the team had to let Manny Malhotra go and that will open up some room for Couture to make an impact.

Karl Alzner, Washington Capitals

John Carlson, Washington Capitals

Carlson has been an offensive force at every level he’s played at, including the AHL, where he was 4-35-39 in 48 games for the Bears last season (he had 1 goal and 5 assists in 22 games with the Caps). With a couple of openings coming on the blue line in D.C., there’s room for Carlson to join Alzner and step in.

The Capitals won the Southeast division and Presidents Trophy without Carlson and Alzner. Can you imagine how scary that team will be once those guys develop?

Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators

With Jason Arnott sent to New Jersey in an offseason trade, the first-line center role is there for Wilson to grab. Wilson has been an offensive force at every level he’s played at, and the Predators will give him every opportunity to play a major role this season.

If any team could use a little “oomph” from a young player – especially on offense – it’s the Nashville Predators.

So, there’s NHL.com’s list of possible breakthrough players. I’m not quite as sure about Grabner, Wilson and Couture but the Capitals’ defensive duo, Mueller and Bernier look like they could make a big impact. Later today, I’ll share a few of my own guesses.

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    Devils putting no pressure on Nico Hischier

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    NEWARK, N.J. (AP) As Nico Hischier is discovering, being taken No. 1 in the NHL Draft has its perks.

    Since being selected by the New Jersey Devils with the top pick Friday night, Hischier has flown from Chicago to New Jersey, watched the New York Red Bulls play a MLS game and gone to a New York Yankees game.

    And that was just Saturday and Sunday.

    The Swiss center did a radio show Monday morning, met Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, visited a famous city deli to eat a new sandwich named after him and held his first major press conference at the Prudential Center, the home of the Devils.

    And if you are wondering about the 2017-18 season, general manager Ray Shero says the Devils are keeping a roster spot open for Hischier. No pressure.

    At least that’s what Shero and coach John Hynes are telling the kid. There’s no pressure at all.

    “It’s great,” Hischier said. “Obviously as the first pick you have some pressure, but to hear that guys that are close to you and from the organization say there is actually no pressure from them, it’s all that counts.”

    Hischier plans to return to Switzerland soon and start training for next season. He has a Devils development camp on July 11.

    When asked about his goals for next season, Hischier says make the team and go from there.

    Hynes, who saw the Devils finish last in the 16-team Eastern Conference this past season, sees Hischier as a second-or-third line center at the start of training camp. He expects to put at least one veteran on his line, adding that chemistry may determine Hischier’s linemates.

    It’s a starting point.

    Hynes said Hischier is competitive, skates well and knows the game. He can also play on the power play and kill penalties.

    “We’re counting on him and planning on him to be a real important part of our team,” Hynes said.

    Shero was quick to point out that the Devils are not expecting Hischier to put up monster numbers like Connor McDavid of Edmonton or Austin Matthews of Toronto, the last two top picks. They were franchise makers.

    “The expectation we have for Nico is to be himself and I will say it will make a difference,” Shero said.

    Hischier had 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this past season. He played the previous two seasons in the Swiss professional league.

    Shero views him an unselfish player who has the ability to make the other players on the ice better.

    “He is not coming here to be the savior,” said Shero, whose team won 28 of 82 games in 2016-17, and missed the playoffs the past five seasons.

    Shero added it is unfair to put pressure on an 18-year-old to make a major difference in the Devils next season, joking he can’t even get his 19-year-old son to respond to the pressure of taking out the garbage at home.

    “I know what I can do, but I still know I have to work hard for that,” said Hischier, who does not think he will have a hard time adjusting from living in Switzerland and Halifax to live in the New York City metropolitan area.

    And if he did, Hynes offered him a solution.

    “You can stay at my house and take out the trash,” he quipped.

    NOTES: Hischier visited Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant a couple of blocks from the Prudential Center and ate the new item on the menu: “The New Nico (hash)1. It’s grilled chicken, authentic Swiss cheese, red Jersey tomatoes with lettuce, onions, honey mustard and mayo on roll.

    Kariya and Selanne, one of NHL’s most dominant duos, enter Hall of Fame together

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    Paul Kariya probably had to wait a couple of years longer than he should have to get his induction into the Hall of Fame, but it was at least fitting that the wait allowed him to enter alongside his long-time running mate, Teemu Selanne.

    Both players were among the class of seven inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday. They spent several years alongside one another in Anaheim (plus one year in Colorado) and were one of the most lethal offensive duos the NHL has ever seen.

    The magic they were able to work on the ice together was simply incredible, and at times jaw-dropping.

    For example…

    Selanne said on Monday that he played some of his best years in the NHL alongside Kariya, while added that he would not be getting the call without his years alongside Selanne.

    Their production together can not be understated.

    Between the 1995-96 and 2000-01 seasons, the years they spent together in Anaheim, 35 percent of the Ducks goals were scored by one of those two players.

    What is most incredible about that production is that Kariya only played in 395 out of 492 games due to injury, while Selanne only played in 382 after being acquired in a mid-season trade in 1995 and then traded during the 2001 season.

    While Selanne had the ultimate combination of sustained dominance and longevity in his career to make him one of the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorers and point producers, Kariya’s career came to an unfortunate and premature end due to concussion issues. While his final stat line may not stack up among the NHL’s all-time greats, he was one of the league’s most dominant offensive players for more than a decade.

    Kariya said on Monday that it took him a year after his retirement to feel normal again, but that he is now no longer having headaches.

    He also mentioned that while the NHL seems to be heading in the right direction when it comes to player safety, but that targeted head shots have no place in the game and he would like to see them eliminated.

    Yakupov becomes UFA after Blues don’t extend qualifying offer

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    Nail Yakupov, the first overall draft pick only five years ago, has become an unrestricted free agent.

    The 23-year-old winger was not extended a qualifying offer by the St. Louis Blues, thus providing him UFA status. He played 40 games for the Blues in 2016-17, battling a knee injury and scoring just three goals.

    Yakupov wants to remain in the NHL, saying in May he has zero plans to return to Russia. It’s possible he could re-sign with the Blues at a lower salary than his qualifying offer would’ve been.

    If not, there are 30 other teams he can speak with now.

    Yakupov is currently in the conversation with Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan in terms of biggest first overall busts in NHL history.

    The Blues did extend qualifying offers to five players: defensemen Colton Parayko and Petteri Lindbohm, forwards Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist, and goalie Jordan Binnington.

    ‘Hawks sign Forsberg, who should be Crawford’s new backup

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    Anton Forsberg, the former Columbus goalie Chicago acquired in the Brandon Saad-for-Artemi Panarin blockbuster, has signed a two-year extension with the ‘Hawks.

    Forsberg, 24, came to North America in the ’13-14 campaign and has spent most of his time with Columbus’ AHL affiliate. He helped the club capture the Calder Cup in 2016, and that performance was part of the reason Chicago GM Stan Bowman went out and acquired him.

    In the aftermath, Bowman said Forsberg would get the “first crack” at the No. 2 gig behind Corey Crawford. The ‘Hawks have been without a backup since sending Scott Darling to Carolina.

    While Forsberg is the favorite for the gig, he’s not a lock. He only has 10 games of NHL experience — a pretty small sample size — and lost out on a similar opportunity with Columbus. Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo were battling to be Sergei Bobrovsky‘s understudy, with Korpisalo eventually winning out.

    In other Chicago news, the club gave depth forward Tomas Jurco a one-year extension today. Jurco was acquired from Detroit at last year’s trade deadline and appeared in 13 games for the ‘Hawks, scoring one goal. He didn’t dress for the club’s first-round playoff sweep at the hands of Nashville.

    No word yet on financials for either guy.