Around the Rink – Tuesday, March 15th

The GM meetings might have a longer lasting impact on the way the game is played for the next season or so, but tonight’s games are a pretty big deal in the immediate sense. With 10 games on the docket, there’s no time for meandering. All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Atlanta @ New Jersey

It’s hard to believe the Thrashers are two points ahead of the Devils right now, as it seems like New Jersey can do nothing but win while Atlanta flounders badly. Edit: it looks like Dustin Byfuglien will play after all.

Washington @ Montreal

I doubt that Bruce Boudreau’s comments directed at a small segment of the Canadiens fan base really counts as “bulletin board material,” but it’s not as if these two teams need extra motivation. The Capitals need to protect their division lead while the Canadiens hope to gain ground on the Northeast-leading Bruins. This should be a good one, especially since Washington must cope with another troublesome injury.

Boston @ Columbus

If the Bruins want to win their division, they need to win games like these. The Blue Jackets are fighting for their playoff lives, but they aren’t exactly landing many hay-makers this season.

NY Islanders @ NY Rangers

There’s actually a pretty decent race for “most unnecessary and possibly self-destructive hot streak” in the NHL, but the Islanders’ pace is one of the most perplexing. Yet you cannot blame them for relishing the chance to spoil their cross-state rival’s playoff run tonight.

7:30 pm

Carolina @ Buffalo

No doubt about it, this is a huge game for both teams. The Hurricanes are fading out of the race with four straight losses, but a regulation win would reduce the gap between themselves and the Sabres by two points. Of course, a Buffalo win would give them a substantial six-point cushion, so both teams have plenty to play for.

Philadelphia @ Florida

The Flyers to place the final straw on the Panthers’ backs, but it’s tough to blame them if they approach this contest with a yawn or two.

Pittsburgh @ Ottawa

Alex Kovalev won’t exactly return to the Senators as a conquering hero, but that might be the best storyline in a game between the wounded Penguins and the broken Sens. Pittsburgh can improve its playoff status while keeping Ottawa in second-to-last in the NHL, which would ultimately be a favor to both squads. By NHL logic, that naturally means it won’t happen. Maybe.

8:00 pm

Los Angeles @ Nashville

As I discussed in the Central Division Watch today, the Predators hold a ton of home games so they can make a big move in their division. The problem is that they face a lot of tough teams, including the rising Kings.

8:30 pm

San Jose @ Dallas

If the Stars beat the sputtering Sharks in regulation – and theoretically, they should, because they are at home and are better rested – then they would only trail San Jose by two points with a game in hand. That makes this game a pretty big one in the Pacific Division race, even if more twists and turns almost seem inevitable.

9:30 pm

Phoenix @ Calgary

Can the Flames fight off yet another injury to scratch and claw their way to the postseason? They won’t get any help from the Coyotes, who have their own playoff worries to consider.

NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

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Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy