When discussing the NHL’s most injury prone players, names that immediately come to mind include Rick DiPietro and Marian Gaborik. Don’t forget about hard-shooting Finnish defenseman Sami Salo, though.
The Vancouver Canucks blueliner made perplexing headlines over the summer by rupturing his Achillies tendon under curious circumstances and now it sounds like he’s wondering if he’ll ever get back to NHL speed.
Ian MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun reports that although Salo seems like he’s progressing relatively well, the useful but fragile defenseman is pondering a possible retirement. People have been generating rumors regarding how the team will clear space to make room for his $3.5 million salary cap hit, yet it sounds like there’s a chance the pending free agent might not cause such a problem.
Yes, things are proceeding well. Yes, he was back on the ice sooner than expected. Barring setbacks, Salo probably will play again, maybe in a month. But there is a big difference between just skating well and skating well enough to play at the top of the National Hockey League.
The Finn said he would retire before risking permanent damage by playing without complete health and — equally importantly — the belief that he can play against the best forwards in the world.
“I’ve had so much more on my mind that worrying about the roster,” Salo said before travelling to San Jose from Denver, where the Canucks beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Sunday. “The worry I’ve had — and it’s still there — is: Can I still play? Am I going to be able to play at the top level? That question still isn’t gone completely, so I have a lot of other things on my mind than worrying about [the roster].”
Salo said he and the Canucks — their coaching and medical staffs — agree he won’t play unless there is absolute certainty that he is fit and capable.
Yes, something tells me that the Canucks aren’t going to try to rush him back into the lineup.
With the start of the regular season just around the corner, it looks like Robby Fabbri will not only make his NHL debut on Thursday, but also get meaningful minutes.
During Sunday’s practice the 19-year-old forward played alongside Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. Nothing is set in stone, but that combination did gel.
“I think we want to look at what the combinations look like now rather than do it at the start of the season,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re looking at a hard match line and we’re also looking at taking advantage of speed and skill off the rush.
“I really liked what I saw today. I really liked Lehtera’s line, they looked very dynamic off the rush.”
The top line of Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and Vladimir Tarasenko seems like a good bet to play together for the time being. Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz will stick together on the second line while Dmitrij Jaskin and David Backes can expect to be regular partners on the third unit. The X-factors will be Fabbri and Troy Brouwer as Hitchcock has left the door open to alternating between the two of them on the second and third line depending on the opponent.
Fabbri was taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is looking to make the leap after a brief stint in the AHL last season. At the OHL level, he’s been a dominate force with the Guelph Storm, scoring 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games in 2014-15.
Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.
Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.
“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.
The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.
Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.