ESPN Magazine tabs Evander Kane in its ‘NEXT’ feature

There’s a lot to like about Evander Kane.

Of course, it starts with his name. His last name is nice and easy, without all those extraneous syllables to get in the way. Most important is his first name, which was naturally inspired by Mike Tyson’s nemesis Evander Holyfield.

It wouldn’t be enough if it was Kane’s name alone. Instead, the young forward brings some punch with his scoring touch. In 37 games played, he already matched his 12 assists from has season and is only two goals behind the 14 he scored in his rookie year in 2009-10.

Yet it’s his combination of scoring ability, grit and versatility – not to mention his ethnic makeup – that inspired ESPN the Magazine’s EJ Hradek to name Evander Kane in its “NEXT” feature. Here is what Hradek wrote about Kane.

Crosby-like finesse and Cooke-like antagonism often overshadow Kane-like grit, but hockey purists have long embraced the likes of Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Peter Forsberg — skill guys who scrap. And while no one is ready to anoint Kane the Next Mr. Hockey, he is NEXT for a number of reasons, not least because anything can happen when he’s on the ice. “Evander is one of those unique guys who can play in any situation,” says NHL Network analyst Craig Button, the former Flames GM. “Whether you need a goal or a hit or a defensive play, it’s in his repertoire.” Adds Islanders director of scouting Ken Morrow: “In my reports, I don’t often write ‘total package.’ I’d write it about Kane.”

Kane’s powerful shot and soft touch have him on pace for 26 goals and 50 points this season, and his improved play, along with the success of the guys around him, has Thrashers fans hoping for their team’s first playoff appearance since 2006-07. But Kane’s potential extends beyond the rink. Although he is one of only 18 black players in the NHL, blacks comprise about 61 percent of Atlanta’s population, which means Kane is positioned to reach new fans in a way that hasn’t been possible for a guy like Flames veteran wing Jarome Iginla (as blacks make up only 2 percent of Calgary’s population). The fact that Kane has three black teammates — Dustin Byfuglien, who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago last season, Anthony Stewart and Johnny Oduya — gives the Thrashers a distinctive look.

“I’ve thought about having the ability to help bring the game to people who’ve never seen it before,” says Kane, the highest-drafted black player in NHL history. “I want to be a part of that.” He’s already noticing a little hockey fever among Atlantans. “I see more people in our jerseys at the mall and stuff. It’s a start.”

Kane is one of the many reasons why people can’t wait to see what’s ‘next’ for the Atlanta Thrashers.

PHT’s second-round playoff predictions, featuring the red-hot Random Thing Picker

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It was a tough first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for many of the so-called experts of the world.

Upsets included the Predators over the Blackhawks and the Blues over the Wild. The Rangers over the Canadiens was a quasi-upset, too.

Here at PHT, it was a mixed bag. Mike Halford and Cam Tucker each went an impressive 6-2. And so too did the Random Thing Picker, which as its name suggests, picks random things. (And picks them rather well, apparently.)

Of note, the Random Thing Picker and James O’Brien were the only ones to pick the Preds over the ‘Hawks. So congratulations to both robotic lifeforms on that bit of soothsaying.

Rounding out the rest of the first-round results, Adam Gretz and Joey Alfieri went 4-4, while at 3-5, O’Brien and yours truly couldn’t even crack .500. (Stupid Jake Allen.)

On to the second round!

Washington versus Pittsburgh (Stream Capitals-Penguins)

Brough: Capitals in 7
Halford: Penguins in 6
O’Brien: Capitals in 7
Gretz: Capitals in 7
Tucker: Capitals in 6
Alfieri: Capitals in 7
Random Thing Picker: Capitals

New York versus Ottawa (Stream Rangers-Senators)

Brough: Senators in 6
Halford: Senators in 7
O’Brien: Rangers in 7
Gretz: Rangers in 6
Tucker: Rangers in 6
Alfieri: Senators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Senators

St. Louis versus Nashville (Stream Blues-Predators)

Brough: Predators in 6
Halford: Blues in 7
O’Brien: Predators in 6
Gretz: Predators in 6
Tucker: Predators in 7
Alfieri: Predators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Blues

Anaheim versus Edmonton (Stream Ducks-Oilers)

Brough: Ducks in 7
Halford: Ducks in 6
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Gretz: Oilers in 7
Tucker: Oilers in 6
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Random Thing Picker: Ducks

Feel free to add your picks below…

Auston Matthews to skip Worlds

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Auston Matthews is going to take some time off.

As such, the 19-year-old star forward won’t be heading overseas to represent the United States in the upcoming World Championship.

You can hardly blame him. Matthews just finished his rookie season in the NHL, playing all 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, plus six more in the playoffs.

Oh, and he also played in the World Cup for Team North America.

Matthews did participate in last year’s Worlds. He had six goals and three assists in 10 games on the way to a fourth-place finish.

Related: Gaudreau, Eichel commit to USA Worlds roster

Blackhawks fire their AHL head coach

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Yesterday, the Chicago Blackhawks fired longtime assistant coach Mike Kitchen.

Today, it was longtime AHL coach Ted Dent who got the ax.

Dent has been the head coach of the Rockford IceHogs the past six seasons, and he was an assistant coach for Chicago’s AHL affiliate the previous five seasons.

“The Chicago Blackhawks thank Ted for all of his contributions throughout his tenure with the organization,” GM Stan Bowman said. “He played a major role in helping a number of players reach the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, many of whom became Stanley Cup champions. We wish Ted and his family the best.”

The IceHogs missed the playoffs this season, finishing last in the AHL’s Central Division with a record of 25-39-12.

Related: A furious Bowman addressed the Blackhawks’ postseason failure

Report: Canucks close to naming Travis Green head coach

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The Vancouver Canucks are reportedly set to announce Travis Green as their next head coach.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the announcement will be made in the next couple of days.

Green, who played over 1,000 games in the NHL including the playoffs, has been the head coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica the past four seasons. Under his watch, the Comets have played mostly winning hockey in spite of some rather depleted lineups.

Ever since Willie Desjardins was fired at the end of the season, Green has been the leading candidate to take over in Vancouver. The only question, really, was whether he’d be a candidate for another NHL head-coaching vacancy, perhaps with the Florida Panthers.

Assuming no last-minute hiccups, Green will take over a transitioning Canucks team that has finished 28th and 29th overall in its last two seasons, respectively.

“We’re going to be young,” president of hockey ops Trevor Linden said. “Young players make mistakes. There’s going to be some growing pains. We need a coach that understands exactly where we are.”

Related: In farewell to Vancouver, Desjardins defends his approach to young players