If you’re a Penguins fan and you’ve been stressing out about Pittsburgh’s so-so start to the season, your version of early Christmas could be coming on Wednesday as two significant players could be back in the lineup. Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette springs the details on us about the imminent returns of Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek,
Center Jordan Staal, who hasn’t played this season because of a foot infection, and defenseman Zbynek Michalek, out since Oct. 11 with what is believed to be a shoulder injury, have targeted the Penguins’ game at Dallas Wednesday for their returns.
“I feel really good,” Staal said after a rigorous on-ice workout Saturday at the RBC Center. “Obviously, that’s my first opportunity to play. We’ll see, come game-day, if I feel up for it.”
Getting both Staal and Michalek back would be a huge boost to the Pens on both sides of the puck. Staal was slated to be the team’s second line center this season with Evgeni Malkin playing on his wing, whereas Michalek was working as a top pair defenseman with fellow injured blue liner Brooks Orpik. The Penguins have been playing better of late and most of the talk there has centered in around the goalie battle between Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson where Johnson is riding the hot hand. With the Pens getting Staal back on the ice with Michalek, perhaps they’ll make the goalie talk irrelevant by taking over games regardless of who’s between the pipes.
John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.
Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).
Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.
A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.
Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.
Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.
Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”
McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.
It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.
Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.
Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.
The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.
Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.
Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.
London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.
“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.
“He does everything for us.”
Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.
Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.
Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.
Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.
“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.
“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”