Around the rink – Monday, January 3rd

With just five games going on tonight, the NHL schedule is a bit light. That’s OK because it’ll let us peek in a bit more occasionally on Team USA vs. Team Canada in the World Junior Championships semifinals at 7:30. If you’re more into the NHL though, there’s a couple games that pop off the list tonight that are worth keeping an eye on. All times are Eastern.

7:00 p.m.

Boston @ Toronto

These two teams do still hate each other and the Bruins are still loving the fact that the Leafs are near the bottom of the NHL as they’ll get Toronto’s top pick in the 2011 draft thanks to the Phil Kessel deal. All is not all rosy in Boston though as the Bruins erratic play has some fans calling for coach Claude Julien to be removed. Toronto, meanwhile, is still living high off the beating they handed out to Ottawa on Saturday night. If Toronto can get one over on Boston in this one it could help make the calls for Julien’s removal to be a bit louder.

Florida @ Carolina

The Hurricanes look to make it four in a row as they face the Panthers. Florida is flying high after Tomas Vokoun’s shutout win over the Rangers yesterday. They’ll need to keep that momentum going as they’ll have to deal with Cam Ward tonight. That’s not an easy task, especially this season as Ward has been All-Star-like in his play. Considering the team’s inconsistency, it’s pretty remarkable.

7:30 p.m.

Team Canada @ Team USA

It’s the semifinals of the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY. It’s a rematch of last year’s gold medal game and the one and only time these two get to face each other. The winner of this game moves on to the gold medal game to face either Sweden or Russia. The difference between this year and last year is that the United States go into this game as the favorites. Regardless of those standings, these two teams are #1A and #1B in the world at hockey at this level. Expect this to be a heated game with Canada having the advantage of the crowd as Canadians eat this tournament up like candy.

9:00 p.m.

NY Islanders @ Calgary

Can the Islanders keep it going in Calgary? The Isles have been downright great of late but now they’ll need to do it with Rick DiPietro getting the majority of starts. DiPietro isn’t a bad goalie, you’re just worrying about when his next injury is coming. John Tavares’ great play of late has also carried the team. Calgary, meanwhile has a four game win streak of their own they’re looking to continue, one where goaltending is carrying them. Over those four games they’ve given up just seven goals. Could this game actually turn out to be fun?

Chicago @ Los Angeles

A big game with an early start in L.A. for the Kings and they’ll have their hands full with a Chicago lineup that gets to welcome Jonathan Toews back to action after missing a couple games with a shoulder injury. Both teams roll into this game with three game losing streaks with some ugly losses mixed in for both of them. With Toews back, that could mean problems for the Kings.

10:30 p.m.

Vancouver @ San Jose

This too should make for a fun game and with the Canucks and their fans going ga-ga over having the top record in the NHL, this game screams out for a humbling defeat for Vancouver. I don’t say that out of spite, I say that after looking through the Canucks franchise history of fortune. Seriously though, the Canucks are playing some all-round solid hockey. Getting inspired performance out of Jeff Tambellini and with Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler playing better, smarter hockey the Canucks look to be a nightmare to deal with. For the inconsistent Sharks, that doesn’t bode very well, even at home.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.

Looking to make the leap: Pierre-Luc Dubois

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Columbus surprised people when they took Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Now Dubois is tasked with showing that they made the right call.

While Puljujarvi did get his first taste of the NHL last season with Edmonton, Dubois spent the full campaign in the QMJHL. However, Dubois is entering training camp with a real shot of landing a job with Columbus.

His versatility should work in his favor throughout his battle for a roster spot. Dubois is capable of serving as a winger or center and while he’s offensively gifted, he’s also a physical force.

It doesn’t hurt that he took his additional season at the junior level as a learning experience. He was able to play a full campaign at center and work on his positioning. He was also dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the season, which gave him the benefit of experiencing a different system.

“It was a little more of a defensive (style),” Dubois said of Blainville-Boisbriand’s system, per NHL.com. “That’s how we won our games, by scores of 2-1. It was a more pro-style game. I learned a lot from that.”

All that being said, he still has an uphill battle ahead of him. There’s a potential opening for him, but it’s not a given that he’ll secure that job and even if he does get a chance with Columbus, he’ll have to work hard to make his stint with them be more than just a nine-game trial.

The 19-year-old can’t play in the AHL yet either, so if he doesn’t find a role with the Blue Jackets then he’ll have to play in the QMJHL again. By contrast, Puljujarvi was able to be sent to the AHL last season and if he doesn’t play for Edmonton in 207-18 then he’ll at least be able to get ice time against men in the minors.

When PHT asked the question last year if the Blue Jackets were right in selecting Dubois over Puljujarvi roughly two-thirds of voters said no. Perhaps Dubois will be able to change some minds this season.

Related: Getting sent to junior made Blue Jackets prospect Dubois a ‘more mature’ player

Callahan (hip) will be fine for start of training camp

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Ryan Callahan could only play in 18 games last season and underwent two hip surgeries, but perhaps 2017-18 will be different. The news is certainly good so far.

“I’m full go, right from Day One,” Callahan told the NHL.com. “It’s going to be nice to be able to do a hard training camp this year.”

His statement was reinforced by the fact that he participated in the first day of voluntary workouts on Monday.

Tampa Bay signed him to a six-year, $34.8 million contract in the summer of 2014 and while he was great for the first year of the deal, he declined in 2015-16 and then of course barely played last season. That’s led to concerns that the 32-year-old’s contract might prove to be disastrous in its back half.

“I know there’s chatter and people doubt me — if I can come back and what I’ll be like when I come back,” Callahan said. “I’ve always tried to use it as motivation. That’s how they propelled me to the place I am right now in my career. I’m looking at this the same way. I’m excited to get going this year. I think it’s going to be one of the best years I’ve ever had.”

Tampa Bay could certainly use the help. The Lightning fell short of the playoffs last season, but also missed Steven Stamkos for much of the campaign as well as Callahan. If those two stay healthy and if Callahan bounces back then Tampa Bay could be one of the major contenders in 2017-18.

Report: Flames might have interest in Jagr

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We’re mere weeks away from the start of training camp, but Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned. Even at the age of 45 he can still contribute as he did last season with Florida, but is there a team out there that ultimately will pay the future Hall of Famer to extend his NHL career?

That remains to be seen, but it sounds like there is some interest out there for his services.

“I know some teams that have kind of talked and taken a look at it,” said Elliotte Friedman on the NHL Network (H/T to FanRag Sports). “I think Calgary has been one that has kind of looked at it. One of his former coaches, Glen Gulutzan, is coaching up there.”

Friedman also heard teams suggesting that Anaheim might be interested in Jagr, but based on his own investigation that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ultimately Jagr might end up starting the season in the Czech Republic and would have the option of playing in the Olympics if that happens, but even if he does begin the year in Europe, he could still re-sign with an NHL squad later on in the 2017-18 campaign.

Jagr is the second all-time player in terms of total points and third in goals behind Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. If he did play another season, the main statistical achievement that he could chase would be fourth place on the assists list as he’s 20 behind Ray Bourque.

He finished the 2016-17 campaign with 16 goals and 46 points in 82 contests.

Related: The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr