The race for number one… In the 2011 NHL draft

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While attention to the playoff position jockeying is rightfully gathering a lot of attention through most cities in the NHL, there’s a special race of its own developing for the also-rans.

Fans in Ottawa, Denver, Edmonton, and Long Island haven’t had too much to get excited about this year but perhaps the prospect of being able to draft one of the NHL Central Scouting bureau’s top prospects is a reason to have hope for the future. Sure there’s no one guy like John Tavares or Steve Stamkos that stands out above all nor a Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin kind of debate shaping up for 2011, but there’s a host of potential stars that these playoff non-hopefuls can look forward to.

Among the names worth remembering right now there’s top ranked skater from the OHL Gabriel Landeskog, Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, QMJHL forward Sean Couturier, WHL forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and QMJHL forward Jonathan Huberdeau. When it comes time to draft in St. Paul this summer, those names could be arranged in any order at the top of the draft and with the race for the top pick being as curious to see as the race for the playoffs is the speculation is rampant as to who people believe is the best.

As it stands as of this writing, the race for the best odds in the NHL draft lottery looks this way:

  1. Ottawa – 53 points
  2. Edmonton – 54 points
  3. Colorado – 60 points
  4. NY Islanders – 60 points
  5. Florida – 60 points

With things being as tight there, there’s a new storyline developing in the race for the top pick and it surrounds the Senators and Avalanche. As you recall, the two teams swung a deal at the deadline trading for each other’s starting goalie. Brian Elliott headed to Colorado and continued to be his mediocre self from this season whereas Craig Anderson has been lights out and fantastic in Ottawa. Depending on how you view things as a Senators fan, it’s either great to see the team rally like this or terrible because now they’re not tanking for the top pick.

The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater ruminates about things today and says that the work Anderson is doing in Ottawa helping them win more games might actually help his old team land the top pick in the draft.

Anyway, one of the reasons for paying attention to the rest of the season, for Avs fans, is where they’ll finish in the overall standings. Right now, they have more points than only three teams – Islanders, Oilers and Senators. All three teams are actually playing some of their best hockey of the season right now, and the gap between the Avs and the lowest-place team (Ottawa) was only seven points.

While it’s still likely the Avs will finish ahead of both Edmonton and Ottawa, the Oilers do play the Avs twice more this season, so that six-point gap could be more easily narrowed. That leaves Ottawa maybe only standing in the way of that No. 1 pick, and Anderson’s red-hot goaltending since the trade (though he lost his last start) could make the difference in dropping Colorado to No. 30.

Obviously Anderson isn’t a secret agent working against the Senators and for the Avalanche (or Oilers) to help them get closer to the top pick. If there was a definitive talent at the top of the draft in 2011 perhaps the tinfoil hat brigade could have a leg to stand on, but as it is who would be taken by which teams is anyone’s guess.

If you’d like a really premature scouting report on the 2011 draft, you’d have to think that Edmonton with their wealth of young forward talent in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Linus Omark they’d be looking at defense meaning Sweden’s Adam Larsson would ideally be at the top of their shopping list.

Ottawa has a dearth of young  forward talent in their farm system and haven’t had a great forward drafted since Jason Spezza. Any one of Couturier, Landeskog, and Nugent-Hopkins are possibilities for them.

For Colorado though, they’re a wild card. They could stand to have a little more forward talent but you’d have to bet they’d love to get their hands on Larsson and have him grow up with Erik Johnson along their blue line for the foreseeable future. Consider the Islanders also as a team that would love to get a hold of Larsson. The Panthers would like to get anyone talented at all, period.

The Buzzer: Mac attack, Barrie impressive

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Players of the Night:

  • Click here for details regarding a clutch night from Jakub Voracek, who played a huge role with two goals (including the OT game-winner) and an assist for the Flyers in beating the Habs.
  • Frederik Andersen was stellar for the Maple Leafs, pitching a 40-save shutout against the Florida Panthers. Toronto only won 1-0, so they needed every save from their franchise goalie. Andersen tends to face a lot of shots on goal, and he’s put out some stellar performances in the process:

  • Two Avalanche players take the cake for players of the night, overall.

Nathan MacKinnon didn’t return to action, technically, on Tuesday. This was actually his second game back.

That said, it felt like Mac was truly back here, scoring the overtime game-winner and collecting three assists to help Colorado scrap its way to an OT win against the Canucks. With this output, MacKinnon has set a new career-high for points, and he has plenty of time to add to his already impressive point total of 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists).

Tyson Barrie was outstanding in his own right, arguably more impressive than MacKinnon. Quite ridiculously, the Avalanche scored all five of its goals on the power play, and Barrie collected a point in all five. He scored a goal and generated four assists, with three of those helpers being primary assists.

Injuries make Barrie’s fantastic work in 2017-18 slip under the radar a bit. With these five points in mind, Barrie now has 36 points in just 45 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to almost 66 points.

Highlight of the Night: Another fantastic Nikita Kucherov goal.

Kucherov already has 32 goals and 78 points this season. He edges Taylor Hall, whose fantastic coast-to-coast goal was good enough for a post, but couldn’t quite get it done for the Devils, who fell to Columbus in regulation.

Factoids

You have to love the neat-and-tidiness of Anze Kopitar scoring his 800th point in his 900th regular-season game:

Where do you think Alex Ovechkin will end up once he hangs up his skates, hopefully a long time from now?

So far, pretty good for Dion Phaneuf in Los Angeles:

Scores

Maple Leafs 1, Panthers 0
Blue Jackets 2, Devils 1
Flyers 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Predators 3, Red Wings 2
Sharks 3, Blues 2
Kings 4, Jets 3
Bruins 3, Oilers 2
Avalanche 5, Canucks 4 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S. men’s Olympic medal dreams die in shootout

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The U.S. men’s Olympic team will look back at missed opportunities as they recall going without a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

They rode nice play from some NCAA talent and KHL goalie Ryan Zapolski on their way to the quarterfinals, but that’s where the ride will end, as the Czech Republic prevailed 3-2 via a shootout. Petr Koukal was the only player from either team to score during that shootout, even with Troy Terry generating enough T.J. Oshie comparisons to get some encouragement from Oshie himself:

The shootout wasn’t the only area where the U.S. might experience some regrets. Both teams weren’t exactly potent on the power play, with the United States going 0-for-5 while the Czech Republic went 0-for-4. Still, the U.S. enjoyed a man advantage that spilled over from the end of regulation and into overtime, yet they barely created any chances.

From the coaching staff to players, there might be some lost sleep regarding that special teams work.

With this loss, the chase for a medal is over for the United States. Tuesday’s missed opportunities will sting, but many take some good things out of this team’s scrappy run to the quarterfinal round. There are rumors that the likes of Brian Gionta might see some NHL interest after the tournament, too.

The Czech Republic advances to face the winner between the OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia) and Norway.

It’s not all lost for USA Hockey, by the way. The women’s team advanced to the gold-medal round after beating Finland 5-0.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers keep finding ways to win

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A wave of injuries may eventually capsize the Philadelphia Flyers, but not yet.

With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined – not to mention bad news for power forward Wayne Simmonds – the Flyers are likely to be tested down the stretch. It’s key, then, to grind out wins while they can, and they managed a tough one tonight.

In this specific case, it came down to getting goals from a sniper who’s become far more of a playmaker this season. Jakub Voracek sent the game into overtime and then scored the game-winner in a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Those two tallies pushed him to 13 on the season, a rare bit of puck luck this season for a player who brought a 6.4 shooting percentage into tonight’s action.

Voracek also grabbed an assist, beefing up his league-leading total to 55. The Czech winger’s dynamic performance helped the Flyers win their third game in a row, extending a point streak that covers most of their February games (7-0-2 in their last nine contests).

Taylor Hall‘s fantastic goal was all the Devils could muster in their game tonight, falling in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With those decisions in mind, Philly is firmly planted at third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 standings points. They’re even in the running for a round of home-ice advantage, if they can catch the just-as-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Heck, they even gained on the Metro’s top team, as the Capitals fell to the Lightning 4-2 tonight:

1. Capitals: 75 points in 60 games played (31 ROW)
2. Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
3. Flyers: 72 points in 60 GP (30 ROW)
4. Devils: 70 points in 60 GP (27 ROW)
5. Blue Jackets: 65 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
6. Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
7. Islanders: 64 points in 61 GP (26 ROW)
8. Rangers: 59 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)

If nothing else, the Flyers are separating from the wild-card pack, as they have a nice edge over the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Islanders.

Such strong play could empower GM Ron Hextall to add some firepower. Such moves could help ease the loss of Simmonds, and ideally give Philly solid depth when everyone is closer to full strength.

They’ve already taken that step by adding goalie insurance in Petr Mrazek, who should be as hungry as the team he’s joined. It’s truly remarkable how far this team has come since a 10-game losing streak that ended on Dec. 2. No doubt about it, players like Voracek have played a big role in this strong work:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Taylor Hall’s splendid coast-to-coast goal

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You’re not supposed to be able to do this. Not against NHL defensemen, and certainly not against a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey Devils star Taylor Hall continues to impose his will with dynamic play, beefing up his Hart Trophy resume as he keeps adding games to his point streak. On Tuesday, he extended it to a whopping 19 games.

Hall did it in style, grabbing the puck near his own red line, then traveling the length of the ice before beating “Bob” on his short side:

That’s the 25th goal of 2017-18 for Hall, who now has 63 points (possibly and counting) in 55 regular-season games.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.