Taylor Hall’s natural hat trick leads Oilers over struggling Thrashers

There are days to debate and then there are days to just sit back and pay respect. This afternoon, Taylor Hall scored three straight in the 3rd to erase a 3-1 deficit and helped lead Edmonton to their third straight win at Rexall Place while sending the Thrashers deeper into the abyss. The talk going into the game was if Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart could help right the ship. But by the time the final horn sounded on a 5-3 Oilers’ victory at Rexall Place, the only talk was about Taylor Hall and his goal scoring explosion.

Saturday afternoon’s contest hardly looked like the kind of game that would have us singing Hall’s praises. Come to think of it, for the first 40 minutes of action, it wasn’t the kind of game that would have us praising anyone in an Edmonton jersey. The Thrashers had the lead and the look of a team that was getting a fresh start with fresh faces in the lineup. If only the game lasted two periods. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the 3rd period and Taylor Hall’s scoring spree will make just about everyone forget about what could have been.

It was only 8 months ago when the biggest debate in the hockey world was Taylor vs. Tyler. There were those who thought Taylor Hall had been born and bred to be the next great star in the NHL, and there were fans and scouts who thought Tyler Seguin was so similar to a young Steve Yzerman that it would be crazy to pass him up. It’s far too early to make a definitive statement on the careers of a pair of teenagers, but on days like this all you can do is sit back and enjoy the show. This just in: Taylor Hall isn’t going to be good one day. He’s good right now.

The three 3rd period goals give him 20 goals on the season—making him the 4th rookie to reach the 20-goal plateau this season. Mix in his 18 assists and he’s currently 2nd in the league in rookie scoring (only behind Jeff Skinner). It’s games like Saturday’s that have the “wow” factor, though. He had 3 goals, 9 shots on goal, a failed break away, and created at least two scoring chances when his teammates should have buried their opportunities. He showed flashes of being one of the strongest players on the ice when he charged to the front of the net. He showed flashes of being the fastest player on the ice when he constantly got behind the Atlanta defense on odd-man rushes. And with the three goals, he showed that his shot made him unquestionably the most dangerous player on the ice.

There’s a certain quality that superstars have that most NHLers will never experience—some people call it the “it” factor. Hall controlled the game. It wasn’t the shots, it wasn’t the odd-man rushes, and it was just the way the game flowed. When he was out there, the Oilers were a dangerous team—when he wasn’t, they weren’t. He was the player you looked for during the entire game and when he jumped over the boards, you held your breath because you had no idea what he’d do next. It was that “edge-of-your-seat” factor that only a handful of guys are capable of producing—and he did it 19-years-old.

Isn’t this what we expect from a #1 overall pick?

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

Paajarvi out, Barbashev in as Blues look for ‘physical element’

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After losing Game 1 — and with it, home ice advantage — of their series against Nashville, the Blues are making a lineup change for Friday’s Game 2.

Ivan Barbashev, who’s been a healthy scratch the last three games, will draw in, replacing Magnus Paajarvi. Paajarvi sits despite being a fairly productive player recently, notching a goal and three points in his last five games.

This, of course, includes the game-winning, series-clinching OT goal against Minnesota on Saturday:

“We like to give players a chance to respond and a chance to get back in there when they’re coming out of the lineup,” Blues head coach Mike Yeo said, per NHL.com. “We saw what that did for (Jori Lehtera). It’s in no way anything against Magnus. We’re very grateful and appreciative of what he’s done and what he can do for us, but ‘Barby’ has been a good player for us for a long time, too.

“Having him in the lineup, he’ll be energized and bring a physical element… When he gets the puck of the offensive zone, he has a chance to create something. We’ll see how he does tonight.”

The hope is that Barbashev can rediscover some of the form shown during the regular season. The Russian rookie made an impact, scoring five goals and 12 points in 30 games.

Sabres granted permission to speak with Futa

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Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Kings promoted Mike Futa to assistant general manager.

But Futa received that promotion before the Sabres cleaned house last week, and that timing is important to note.

Because it’s now being reported, via a Kings spokesman, that the Sabres have been granted permission to speak with Futa about their GM vacancy.

It’s no surprise that Buffalo has asked to interview Futa. He was a candidate for the Sabres’ GM job in 2013 — a job that eventually went to Tim Murray.

Futa was once thought to be heir apparent to Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. But when Lombardi was fired, the Kings went with Rob Blake instead.

Some background on Futa, courtesy the Kings:

Futa most recently served as Kings Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel. This upcoming season will be Futa’s 11th season with the Kings.

Futa recently concluded his 10th full season with the Kings, and third in his most recent position. He was named VP of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel in May of 2014 after serving as Director of Amateur Scouting, a position he assumed on June 5, 2007, when he originally joined the Kings.

Futa came to the Kings when he was appointed Co-Director of Amateur Scouting along with Mark Yannetti. Together, Futa and Yannetti rebuilt and retooled the entire Kings Amateur Scouting staff.

Related: Darryl Sutter wants to keep coaching

Habs sign Quebec League sniper Waked

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On Friday, Montreal agreed to a three-year, entry-level deal with QMHJL Rouyn-Noranda forward Antoine Waked.

Waked, 20, is coming off a strong season in which he racked up 80 points in 67 games. He finished tied for ninth in the league in goals, with 39, in what was something of a surprise. Previously, the Quebec native had never scored more than 15 goals in a campaign, suggesting Waked could be the prototypical late bloomer.

An undrafted free agent, Waked had been tied to the Habs earlier this season, with reports he’d receive an ELC at the end of his junior campaign.