Three players from 2011 Draft to watch next season

We’ve heard plenty about all of the top picks by now. But a question that plenty of people are asking is: who will we see in the NHL next season? Which prospects will be able to step into an NHL locker room and compete with the best players in the world as an 18-year-old? It sounds like a daunting task when we put it that way—but we’ve identified three players who we think will make it with the big boys next season: Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils, and Mika Zibanejad of the Ottawa Senators.

To be clear, this is not a list of the only players who will make it over their career—nor is this specifically a list of who will have the best NHL career. In fact, there’s a very good chance that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau will be the best of the 2011 class when all is said and done. But for now, both players could use another year in the minors to increase both size and strength. It’s not a knock on them and in the long-run, it’s usually best for players to full develop in the minors (or juniors in this case) before they try to make the jump against fully-grown professionals. This is a list of the three prospects best equipped to immediately make the jump this October.

It’s a decidedly Swedish list.

Gabriel Landeskog: The big Swedish left-winger was widely regarded as the most NHL-ready prospect in the 2011 draft. Much has been made of his off-the-charts leadership abilities that made him the youngest captain for the Kitchener Rangers in the last 30 years. He was also the first European captain ever for the storied OHL franchise. The skilled forward already proved that he could play with grown men at the age of 16 in the Swedish Elite League. He plays a physical brand of hockey that should make his transition the most seamless of the draft class.

Adam Larsson: The size and speed may be a slight step up for the blue-chip blueliner, but the age of his opponents won’t change when he steps onto NHL ice. At 18-years-old, he’s already played two full seasons in the widely respected Swedish Elite League. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, the talented Swede already has the size to hold his own against NHLers. The key for rookies—and particularly rookie defenseman—is to be able to keep up with the pace of the game. That plays right into Larsson’s strengths as his single greatest attribute is his poise with the puck.

Mika Zibanejad: The Senators’ first round pick might be a dark horse to make the NHL in 2011, but we think he has all the tools to make the jump sooner rather than later. Like Larsson, he also played against men last season in the Swedish Elite League. He finished his 26 game stint with 5 goals and 4 assists with Djurgardens in Stockholm; by the end of the season it was hard to believe that he had started the season with Djurgardens’ junior team. He showed great improvement with his 2-way responsibilities to go with his expected offensive game. Already at 6’2,” Zibanejad will undoubtedly grow into a power forward in the NHL. With his willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice, his high skill level, and the Senators need for NHL forwards, Zibanejad should get a real shot to make the team and contribute in training camp.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

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.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson