Panthers prospect Erik Gudbranson to sign entry-level deal, get chance to stay in NHL

GYI0061888122-gudbranson-joelauerbach-getty.jpgFlorida Panthers 2010 first round pick Erik Gudbranson is getting his wish. At the very least, he’s getting his chance to prove to the Panthers that he can stick in the NHL. The Florida Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov gives us the scoop on the news that Gudbranson will sign an entry level contract with the team and get his shot to show the Panthers that the future is now for him.

…Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon confirmed before Saturday night’s final preseason game against the Lightning that he will present a contract offer to the 18-year-old defenseman’s agent Monday morning.

“I’m not even thinking about juniors right now,” Gudbranson said Friday.”I’m playing for the Florida Panthers. I’m not thinking about what could happen or should happen.

“Basically, what they want me to do is to come to play hockey.”

Well yes, they want you to come play hockey and play it better than some of the guys the Panthers initially had slated to start the season on the blue line. For Gudbranson, he’ll get a nine-game window to show Tallon and coach Pete DeBoer that he’s worthy of staying around in the NHL or else the team can send him back to junior hockey.

The Panthers have given Gudbranson a long look during training camp playing him in all of the team’s preseason games. While the Panthers are in the process of building a bigger, better team, they’re also a group that could benefit by having all their young guys learning together at the NHL level and winning games. For Gudbranson, his preseason has been regular season-like all along and he gets nine more games to prove that he belongs with the big boys. For an 18 year-old kid that might be asking a lot, but at the NHL Draft in Los Angeles, many experts felt that he was the defenseman most ready to make it to the NHL right away. It’ll be fun to see if he can make it through his audition and stay in the NHL.

(Photo: Joel Auerbach – Getty Images)

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    Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson leaves game against Coyotes

    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks to pass against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on January 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    After taking just four shifts in in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had to leave Thursday’s game with an unspecified injury.

    The Blackhawks did not offer any update on what forced Hjalmarsson out of the game, only to say he would be out for the remainder of the evening.

    Fortunately for the Blackhawks they dressed seven defensemen for the game when Michal Rozsival drew back into the lineup, so they still have a full lineup of defenders to finish the game. Surprisingly, Rozsival scored his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period, breaking what had been a 3-3 tie following a wild first period that saw the teams combine for six goals.

    In 59 games this season Hjalmarsson had five goals and nine assists while playing more than 20 minutes per night, mostly on a pairing with Duncan Keith.

    Blackhawks and Coyotes combine for six goals in wild first period

    CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 18:  Nick Schmaltz #8 of the Chicago Blackhawks moves against the Edmonton Oilers at the United Center on February 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Oilers defeated the Blackhawks 3-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    The first period of Thursday’s Blackhawks-Coyotes game had just a little bit of excitement as the two teams combined for six goals, including two by the Coyotes in the final three minutes of the period to erase what had been a two-goal deficit.

    All of the action started just 37 seconds into the game when Nick Schmaltz, playing on his 21st birthday, scored his sixth goal of the season (shown above) on a feed from a still white hot Jonathan Toews.

    Seven minutes later, Coyotes rookie defenseman Jakob Chychrun scored his second goal in his as many games to get things even at one.

    That is when the chaos started to break out. The Blackhawks quickly struck for two more goals when Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane scored six minutes apart to give the Blackhawks what would end up being a very short-lived 3-1 lead. Just one minute after Kane’s goal Ryan White netted his seventh of the season to bring the Coyotes back to within one, a goal that was followed by Radim Vrbata‘s 13th of the season just one minute after that.

    Here are the two Coyotes goals that tied it.

    Chicago came into the game on Thursday on a goal scoring tear, scoring at least four goals in seven of their past eight games. They are off to a great start when it comes to reaching that mark again on Thursday.

    Trouble is, they can not seem to keep the puck out of their net on Thursday.

    WATCH LIVE: Arizona Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks

    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 07:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates with the puck against the Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Phoenix Coyotes in the second period at Jobing.com Arena on February 7, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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    Winners of seven of their past eight, the Chicago Blackhawks are back home on Thursday night to take on the Arizona Coyotes.

    The Blackhawks have been on a roll lately, especially offensively, scoring 34 goals in their past eight games. They have scored at least four goals in seven of those games. Captain Jonathan Toews has been doing a lot of the work offensively lately and is having a huge second half after a disappointing start to the season offensively.

    On Thursday they host a Coyotes team that has shown a lot of improvement in recent weeks, putting together an 8-4-1 record since Jan. 20.

    Puck drop for Thursday is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and you can catch all off the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

    Click here for the Live Stream

    Preview: Jonathan Toews looks to stay hot against Coyotes

    Penguins’ Rutherford would prefer to keep Fleury this season

    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a pad save on a shot from the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    For the better part of the past year it has always been a matter of when, and not if, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to part ways with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

    Matt Murray has taken over as the starter, and given his age, salary, and the fact he has simply outplayed Fleury since the end of the 2015-16 season he is going to continue to be the starter for the long-term.

    But through months of speculation and rumors Fleury has remained with the Penguins. With the NHL trade deadline less than a week away, general manager Jim Rutherford addressed the situation on Thursday and said that it continues to be his preference to keep Fleury with the team through the rest of the season.

    “I’m going to say what I’ve said all along. I’d prefer to keep him,” Rutherford said, via NHL.com “We play a lot of games in March. You don’t know when players are going to get hurt. He’s handled the situation very well. I’m going to have some communication with him in between now and the [deadline] and see exactly where he sits and how he feels. That will play a part in the final decision. But I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself because he very well could be a part of our team going down the stretch.”

    That all very well could be true.

    Fleury is a great safety net to have on the roster in case something happens to Murray (Murray has been injured on more than one occasion in the early part of his career), but he still carries a significant salary cap hit and the Penguins, pressed right up against the cap, would probably still like to make another addition or two before the deadline.

    Even though it is almost certainly not on the Penguins’ radar at the moment, there is also the expansion draft issue over the summer.

    Trading him sooner, rather than later, would clear out a lot of potential headaches and give them some short-term flexibility when it comes to adding to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

    But even if the Penguins would want to go in that direction right now the biggest obstacle in actually completing a trade before the deadline is just how soft the market is for starting goaltenders. Looking at the teams that are in a position to be buyers there are really only one or two that would be in the market for a starting goalie — Calgary, and maybe St. Louis. Pretty much every other playoff team — or potential playoff team — is set in net.

    It takes two teams to make a trade, and right now there might not be another out there that makes sense as a partner.