Southeast Division Watch (February 21)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Southeast Division outlook (February 21 -27)

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (34-18-7 for 75 pts; 59 Games Played)

Current streak: Three straight losses.

Week ahead: Home vs. Phoenix (Wednesday), home vs. New Jersey (Friday) and @ NY Rangers (Sunday.)

Thoughts: After a bad week, the Lightning are now only 5-3-2 in the first 10 games of their mammoth 12-game homestand. That being said, two wins would mean that they earned 16 out of a possible 24 points. They need to stock them up, because the Capitals are starting look like their old, dangerous selves again.

2. Washington Capitals (31-19-10 for 72 pts; 60 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: @ Pittsburgh (Mon), home vs. Rangers (Fri), @ NY Islanders (Sat).

Thoughts: Tonight’s game against the Penguins will determine how this road trip (currently 2-2-0) went, but Tampa Bay’s stumbles dictates that it wasn’t a disaster. The Lightning still have the advantage, though.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (28-24-8 for 64 pts; 60 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Rangers (Tues), home vs. Pittsburgh (Fri) and @ Montreal (Sat).

Thoughts: The Canes still have plenty of space in front of the surging Devils, but they didn’t make a compelling statement about their superiority by losing to them twice last week. They need to eke out points against three teams currently above them in the Eastern Conference standings this week or they might find themselves looking up at Buffalo or Atlanta.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (25-25-10 for 60 pts; 60 GP)

Current streak: Three losses.

Week ahead: @ Buffalo (Wed), home vs. Florida (Fri) and home vs. Toronto (Sun).

Thoughts: It hasn’t been a very happy 2011 for the Thrashers, unless you’re Dustin Byfuglien’s accountant. They only have five wins in 19 games since the new year began.

5. Florida Panthers (25-27-7 for 57 pts; 59 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Ottawa (Wed), @ Atlanta (Fri) and home vs. New Jersey (Sat).

Thoughts: The Panthers aren’t totally out of the playoff run right now, but they shouldn’t be buyers during the trade deadline either. In fact, it would probably be wise if they tried to get something for Tomas Vokoun, unless they decide that he’s still their goalie of the (immediate) future.

Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski

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Last summer, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter stressed that some of the club’s young prospects needed to make an impact at the NHL level.

And now it’s happening.

Following the recalls and NHL debuts of Adrian Kempe and Paul LaDue, the Kings have brought up Jonny Brodzinski from AHL Ontario, the club announced on Thursday.

Brodzinski, 23, made the AHL All-Star team this year and leads the Reign in goals, with 25 through 56 games. The former St. Could State sniper left school early two years ago to join the Kings organization, after L.A. took him in the fifth round of the ’13 draft.

As mentioned above, this recall is in lockstep with what’s developed throughout the year. Kempe, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (29th overall) in ’14 and has fared well since joining the big club, with six points in 16 games.

LaDue, 24, was a sixth-round pick in ’12 that — like Kempe and Brodzinski — fared well in the American League before getting recalled in February. LaDue has appeared in 15 games for the Kings, scoring five points while averaging 16:25 TOI per night.

Los Angeles is still technically in the playoff race, but sits eight points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with just 10 games to play. As such, the focus might now shift to giving some youngsters NHL experience.

Brodzinski will have to wait for his, however. Per LA Kings Insider, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight, when the Kings host the Jets at Staples.



Polak gets two games for boarding Bjorkstrand


Roman Polak‘s hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand has drawn more than the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Today, the NHL announced that Polak, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been suspended two games for boarding Bjorkstrand Wednesday in Columbus.

In making the ruling, the league’s Department of Player Safety determined that Polak sent Bjorkstrand “violently” into the boards from behind, causing an injury. The DoPS also noted that the hit was avoidable, with the onus on Polak to “ensure that he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact.”

You can watch the full ruling below:

Wild prospect Kunin leaves Wisconsin, turns pro

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Minnesota is getting one of its prized youngsters in the mix.

Luke Kunin, the club’s first-round pick (15th overall) at last year’s draft, is leaving the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign, per the Star-Tribune. Kunin will reportedly join Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa on an amateur tryout.

Kunin, 19, is coming off a pretty successful campaign. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, scoring four points in seven games.

Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Kunin will play out this year in the minors, and his entry-level deal will kick in next season. That means he won’t be with the Wild at all this year — regular season or playoffs.

As mentioned, Kunin is just one of the many talented prospects Minnesota has in the fold. Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, all showed extremely well at the worlds.

Hurricanes sign Finnish prospect Kuokkanen

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The Carolina Hurricanes have another talented, young Finn under contract.

The ‘Canes announced this morning that they’ve signed forward Janne Kuokkanen to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Kuokkanen was drafted in the second round, 43rd overall, in 2016. The 18-year-old is currently with the OHL’s London Knights. He finished the regular season with 26 goals and 36 assists in 60 games.

“Janne was outstanding in our rookie tournament in Traverse City in September, and stayed in North America to continue his development in the Ontario Hockey League,” said ‘Canes GM Ron Francis in a release. “He’s a smart, skilled forward and we look forward to the start of his professional career.”

The ‘Canes already have two Finnish forwards in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.

Aho and Kuokkanen were teammates in the Karpat (Liiga) development system in Finland.