Penguins, Capitals might turn to two career AHLers to fill lineup gaps

keithaucoingoal.jpgAs Ray Shero discussed in a story we referenced on Sunday, NHL teams can’t stock their teams with high-end players like they did in the pre-salary cap days. Instead, general managers must look for bargains to fill out their rosters, whether that means a savvy veteran, a reclamation project or – sometimes – an AHLer.

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy discusses two AHL veterans hoping to make the leap from the minors to the big-time. He discusses Brett Sterling, who came to the Penguins this off-season after failing to stick with the Thrashers and Keith Aucoin, a 31-year-old center in the Capitals’ system. As Kennedy points out, the two teams are in opposite situations; Pittsburgh needs wingers while Washington could use a center or two.

This is where Sterling can make his mark. Much like Haydar, Sterling has wreaked havoc on the AHL throughout his career – 97 points with the Chicago Wolves in ’06-07 (with Haydar, no less) was his best – but failed to impress in the NHL with Atlanta. Of course, as a left winger, he was buried behind Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov at the time. In Pittsburgh, a good camp could mean Crosby or Malkin feeding him pucks.

Plus, the Pens have about $2 million in cap space left for the season and Sterling’s stipend is a very reasonable $500,000.

Pittsburgh’s archrivals, the Washington Capitals, have the opposite problem – great wingers, but only one great center, Nicklas Backstrom. Last season, the Caps tried to plug the second-line center hole with Brendan Morrison, but decided against a sequel this summer.

That opens the door for 31-year-old Keith Aucoin, another career minor leaguer with an impressive resume. The 5-foot-9 Aucoin (sensing a theme here?) actually had five points in nine games for the Caps last year, so he has contributed. Now, he’ll have to fight off fellow Hershey Bears alumnus Mathieu Perreault and Swedish rookie Marcus Johansson for a spot on the big club.

Considering the fact that both teams have Stanley Cup dreams, I’d imagine each club would rather not settle for AHL table scraps.

Still, if players like Matt Moulson teach us anything, it’s that some players take time to develop or simply benefit from a change of scenery. Time will tell if they finally find a way to stick in the NHL or if their teams go in a new direction.

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    Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

    Steven Stamkos
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    He’s in.

    As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

    Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

    More:

    Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

    That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

    Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

    It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

    To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

     

    Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

    In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

    And then Stamkos took the warmup.

    As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

    “If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

    No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

    Stay tuned…

    Parise rehabbing back injury without surgery, ‘no question’ he’ll play in World Cup

    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 17:  Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 17, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Wild 7-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    EDINA, Minn. (AP) Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise has been rehabilitating his back injury without surgery, putting him on track to be at full strength by September.

    Parise said Thursday he’s “happy with the way everything’s going.” He said he’s been able to work out as he normally does during the summer, despite missing the playoffs because of the injury.

    Parise said there’s “no question” he’ll be ready to play for Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey tournament.

    Parise joined teammates Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Jason Zucker at an autograph signing to raise money for people affected by the wildfires in Alberta. The parents of Spurgeon’s wife, Danielle, lost their home to a fire in the Edmonton area.

    WATCH LIVE: Lightning at Penguins, Game 7

    TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Alex Killorn #17 of the Tampa Bay Lightning falls to the ice at the net against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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    Not much more to say than this:

    GAME 7.

    Puck drop is at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, but you can also catch the game online using NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

    Some relevant linkage for tonight’s affair:

    It’s been a ‘roller coaster’ — Pens, Bolts ready for Game 7

    Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

    Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

    Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay