Rangers rookie Derek Stepan hoping to stick around NHL for a while

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GYI0061782060-stepan-andrewburton-getty.jpgThe preseason for the New York Rangers has provided a fair bit of intrigue. From the Wade Redden-to-Hartford situation, to captain Chris Drury breaking his finger, Vinny Prospal having knee issues, to today’s action on waivers with Tim Kennedy and Todd White there’s been more than enough drama for everyone in the organization and their fans. Out of all that, there is an upside and it comes from a rookie forward out of the University of Wisconsin Derek Stepan.

Stepan joined the Rangers in training camp after leaving Wisconsin early to turn pro and with inconsistent performance out of Todd White and Drury’s injury, the door has opened for Stepan to seize the opportunity and prove he belongs in Manhattan. While his former Wisconsin teammate Ryan McDonagh was already sent down to Hartford, he’s hoping it won’t be long until they’re both dominating on the ice for the Rangers as the New York Daily News’ Jesse Spector finds out.

The duo were roommates throughout training camp, and Stepan helped his friend pack. At some point this season, they should be reunited – the question is whether that will happen on Broadway or in Connecticut.

“It could be just until injuries get cleared up and stuff like that,” Stepan said of his job with the Rangers. “But right now I’ve just got to enjoy it and not try to think about stuff like that.”

The Rangers are waiting for one center, Chris Drury, to return from a broken finger. Meanwhile, Vinny Prospal, who could have been the center on the top line with Marian Gaborik and Alex Frolov, won’t skate again until at least mid-October due to knee inflammation.

Their returns might force Stepan back to the minors, but he forced his own way to the NHL with three goals and two assists in five preseason games. After the preseason finale on Saturday in Ottawa, John Tortorella told the Daily News, “his play speaks for itself.”

Being a young player and impressing John Tortorella says a lot for Stepan’s play. Tortorella, while not against playing young players, certainly seems to prefer the refined edge of a veteran player. As it is with the Rangers of late, sometimes the situation dictates playing younger players more. Last season saw the Rangers start the year with Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy on defense. This season sees the Rangers at least starting the year with Stepan at center and Mike Sauer in competition on defense.

Stepan has a potentially bright career ahead of him. After a stellar year at Wisconsin making the NCAA Championship game and being captain of the United States’ gold medal-winning World Junior Championships team, it’s been a pretty good year. Being able to break camp and make the Rangers in his first chance would make for another ringing endorsement of the sort of player he is. While he may still yet end up in Hartford in the AHL at some point, at the very least he can make things difficult on GM Glen Sather for considering sending him back down.

(Photo: Andrew Burton – Getty Images)

Video: Jets’ Stafford suspended one game for ‘forceful, reckless’ high-stick

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The NHL has dinged Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford one game for his ugly high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden over the weekend.

“While we accept Stafford’s assertion that he did not intentionally strike Holden in the face, he is responsible for the consequences of swinging his stick in such a forceful and reckless fashion,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Stafford, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will now miss Winnipeg’s next game — tonight, in St. Louis — and will be eligible to return on Thursday when the Jets host the Bruins.

Stafford will also forfeit $23,387.10 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Big Buff, Big Bucks: Jets ink Byfuglien to five-year, $38 million extension

Dustin Byfuglien
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One of the most prized trade deadline targets is no longer.

On Monday, Winnipeg locked in pending UFA d-man Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million extension, one that carries a $7.6M cap hit and makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

Byfuglien, 30, was in the last of a five-year, $26 million deal with a $5.2M average annual cap hit. One of the league’s most unique players — a 6-foot-5, 265 pounder that’s played forward and defense, and participated in this year’s fastest skater All-Star skills competition — his bio from the Jets’ release pretty much sums up how much he means to the club:

[Byfuglien] has recorded 32 points (15G, 17A) so far this season while appearing in all 52 games and sits in a tie for second amongst all NHL defencemen with his 15 goals.

Byfuglien leads the Jets so far this season in shots (163), penalty minutes (78) and ice time (24:14 per game).

The native of Roseau, MN, was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, TN where he recorded a goal and an assist for the Central Division team.

Byfuglien has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last four seasons that the game has taken place (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016).

The deal keeps Byfuglien in Winnipeg through 2022 and is the latest long-term deal on the blueline: Tobias Enstrom is at $5.75M per through 2018, and Tyler Myers is at $5.5M per through ’19. Byfuglien’s deal also comes after some questioned how badly he wanted to stay in Winnipeg — at All-Star weekend, he raised eyebrows by responding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you,” when asked about his playing future.

The five-year term is also down from Byfuglien’s reported original ask, which was $55 million over eight years.

With this move done, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can now turn his attention to another prized pending UFA: Andrew Ladd, the club’s captain and another player that’s believed to have high interest around the league as a trade deadline rental.

Slumping Wild want ‘a little home cooking’ from ‘restless’ fan base

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo argues a call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Minnesota Wild are in a funk right now.

They’re 3-10-3 in their last 16 games, three points back of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference and just put key blueliner Jonas Brodin on IR with a broken foot.

So, clearly, the team and head coach Mike Yeo are hoping for better times ahead, and Yeo hopes they begin tonight when the Wild kick off a three-game homestand with a date against Central Division rivals Dallas.

It’s interesting that Yeo’s addressing the Xcel faithful, while also acknowledging fans are irked by the team’s recent play. The timing of these remarks comes with the Wild boasting a good record at home (14-8-3) but having really struggled on the road — Minnesota has just nine away wins this year, the fewest among all Central teams.

Of course, there could be other reasons Yeo’s trying to get fans pumped for the upcoming home swing.

The next three games at Xcel are of the measuring stick variety. Dallas currently sits third overall in the NHL and boasts the league’s highest scoring offense (the Stars have also beat the Wild three out of four times this season already).

After the Dallas game, there’s another big one — the NHL’s top team, Washington, comes to town on Thursday.

After the Caps game, Boston — 7-2-1 in its last 10 — takes on the Wild in a Saturday matinee.

Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 10:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (L) and Fidelity National Financial Inc. Chairman and President of Hockey Vision Las Vegas Bill Foley pose during a news conference at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino announcing the launch of a season ticket drive to try to gauge if there is enough interest in Las Vegas to support an NHL team on February 10, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A Las Vegas franchise would play in a USD 375 million, 20,000-seat arena being built on the Strip by MGM Resorts International and AEG that is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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On a scale of 1 to 10, Bill Foley is “9.5” confident that the NHL will grant him an expansion team for Las Vegas.

That was the main takeaway from an interview Foley did with KSNV NBC in Las Vegas.

At the same time, despite his high level of confidence, Foley would appreciate an answer sooner rather than later — especially if the team is to start playing in 2017-18.

” I don’t want to give the league too much time,” he said, smiling. “They’re doing their job, they’re doing their process and so on. We would really like to have the word by June.”

Foley was asked what he believed to be the biggest “concern” the NHL had about expansion. He replied that it was a matter of whether the league expanded by one team or two (Quebec City has also applied for a franchise), but also the expansion draft.

“Who’s available in the draft? Are players with no-trade clauses…are they going to be part of the draft or not part of the draft?” Foley wondered. “So the owners and the league have a lot of things to do and to figure out.”

Full video of the interview can be found here.

Related: Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle