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)

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

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Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.

 

Report: Defenseman Viktor Antipin expected to join Sabres next week

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Earlier this month it was reported that defenseman Viktor Antipin was on the verge of joining the Buffalo Sabres after terminating his contract in the KHL.

Following the IIHF World Hockey Championships on Sunday, where Antipin was a key player for the Russian team that won the Bronze Medal, Antipin told a Russian news outlet (via the Buffalo News) that he will be leaving for Buffalo on May 29th so that he can join the Sabres.

The 24-year-old Antipin spent the past six years playing for Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the KHL.

In 59 games this past season he scored six goals and added 18 assists.

He had a really strong showing at the recent World Championship tournament, playing close to 18 minutes per game and recording four assists to go with a plus-five rating.

The Sabres defense was a major sore spot this season as the team took a pretty significant step backward in its ongoing rebuild, resulting in the firing of general manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma. As a team the Sabres allowed more than 34 shots on goal per game (the worst mark in the league) and 2.82 goals per game (20th in the league).

The only defensemen the Sabres have under contract for the 2017-18 season at the moment are Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe and Justin Falk so Antipin should get a pretty good opportunity to get a significant role right from the start.

Blues owner gives Armstrong vote of confidence

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Given all the upheaval in St. Louis this season, it was fair to ask questions about GM Doug Armstrong’s job security.

So last week the Post-Dispatch did exactly that, posing the query to Blues owner Tom Stillman: Do you think Armstrong’s the right guy for the job?

“Yes, I do,” Stillman replied. “A lot of GMs, I think, are inclined to be focused on what’s going to keep my job next year and the year after. Some would perceive it as taking a risk to be looking farther down the road even though it might not lead to as many wins in the current year.

“That’s an important quality, looking long-term for the organization and not looking at your short-term survival. I think Doug knows that I am in tune with looking at things in that longer-term way.”

Speaking of term, Armstrong is heading into the last of a five-year deal signed back in 2013. At that time, the Blues were coming off an 109-point campaign and Armstrong was the reigning NHL GM of the Year.

In announcing the deal, Stillman was full of praise.

“First, [Armstrong’s] an outstanding general manager, so we want to make sure he’s with us for a longer period,” he said, per NHL.com. “And second, I think you have to give him time to do his work and develop the team he wants to develop.”

If he extends Armstrong, Stillman could probably use the same quote again.

Because the Blues are, again, sort of in a developmental phase.

First, there was the massive hockey operations overhaul. Over the last three months, Armstrong has given six coaches their walking papers: Ken Hitchcock, Jim Corsi, Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, Rick Wilson and Ty Conklin.

Mike Yeo was inserted as the head coach, while Martin Brodeur temporarily added goalie coach to his assistant GM duties, before dropping the role at the end of the season.

(Brodeur will lead the charge to find a replacement, now that he’s back to being AGM and Conklin was let go.)

The coaching shakeup wasn’t the only significant change Armstrong oversaw.

The club’s younger prospects continued to push for bigger roles at the NHL level. At forward, the likes of Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford both worked their way into the mix, while Robby Fabbri was on pace for a career year before a season-ending ACL tear in early February.

The youth movement could continue into next season, too. Tage Thompson, the 6-foot-5 forward taken 26th overall last year, left Connecticut after his sophomore year to turn pro, and gained some valuable experience with AHL Chicago. Vince Dunn, a defenseman taken in the second round in 2015, had a great year with the Wolves and led all d-men in scoring.

So if there’s going to be an ongoing developmental phase in St. Louis, it makes sense that Stillman wants Armstrong to oversee it. He’s done a good job of it throughout his seven years on the job — he’s the NHL’s ninth longest-tenured active GM — and the club has been successful, with five consecutive playoff appearances.

It is worth noting, however, that “club policy” kept Stillman from talking about actually signing Armstrong to an extension.

Report: ‘Hawks could add Ulf Samuelsson to coaching staff

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The Chicago Blackhawks are searching for an assistant coach, and Ulf Samuelsson might just be their guy.

According to the Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Samuelsson is the “top candidate” to replace Mike Kitchen, who was fired after the ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round the playoffs.

The obvious connection here, is that Samuelsson and head coach Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers back in the 1980s.

Samuelsson, 53, was an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 to 2011 and he was an assistant with the New York Rangers from 2013 to 2016. Last season,  he served as the head coach of Carolina’s farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.

He led the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record during the 2016-17 AHL campaign.