Bruins Oilers Hockey

Ales Hemsky tests his surgically repaired shoulders, hopes for healthy 2011-12 season

The Edmonton Oilers aren’t the only team that has been mired at the bottom of the league’s ranks for long enough to stock up on high-end draft picks for a few years. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks can thank some pitiful stretches of hockey for the fresh faces of their drastically improved franchises.

That being said, the Penguins, Capitals and Blackhawks took some big steps in the right direction once they landed some top prospects. It seemed to happen once they added at least two stars-to-be. The Penguins took off only after Evgeni Malkin joined Sidney Crosby & Co. a year after Crosby entered the league. The Capitals started to take off once they hired Bruce Boudreau, but it didn’t hurt that Nicklas Backstrom came along to ride shotgun with Alex Ovechkin. Jonathan Toews was drafted in 2006 but the Blackhawks waited until they nabbed Patrick Kane at No. 1 in ’07 before unleashing their two new game-changers onto the hockey world.

While Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might not have the same ceilings as those six other star players, they’re both the top overall picks of their respective NHL drafts. Oilers fans have been reasonably patient watching their prospect pool grow, but sooner or later, there’s going to be a “something’s got to give” point.

A healthy Hemsky could help the Oilers turn the corner

If that point happens to be the 2011-12 season, the Oilers are going to need results from more than just their big name youngsters. One of their few legitimate prime players is playmaker Ales Hemsky, a fantastic passing winger who cannot seem to stay on the ice often enough for the hockey world to truly gauge his talents.

In a way, Hemsky’s next season is his “something’s got to give” moment. He hasn’t even played in half of the Oilers games during the last two seasons (he played in 47 games in 10-11 and just 22 in 09-10) as injury after injury made him Edmonton’s answer to Marian Gaborik. Hemsky is a scoring threat in the rare moments he suits up, though, scoring almost a point per game (42 in 47 games in 10-11; 22 in 22 in 09-10) since he broke through with a 77-point campaign in 2005-06.

This is a pivotal campaign for two reasons: 1) he underwent surgery on both of his shoulders and 2) his $4.1 million cap hit will expire after the 2011-12 season. A team – perhaps even the Oilers – might be more willing to roll the dice with Hemsky’s checkered injury-related past if he can play close to 80 games and approach 80 points in the process.

Hemsky tested those surgically repaired shoulders today during the team’s development camp.

To the folks around the league who think Hemsky is injury-prone, all he can do is shrug those refurbished shoulders. He’s played only 69 of 164 games the last two seasons but doesn’t feel like his body is breaking down.

“I’m not worrying about it. It’s only the last two seasons, but before that I don’t think I’ve had many injuries,” said Hemsky, who expects to be ready for the Oilers training camp in mid-September.

Hemsky was back in the Czech Republic in June but will stay here for July to see the medical people and work on his rehabilitation, then head home to skate with the club team in Pardubice for awhile.

“I know to have surgery seems bad, but when you fix the shoulders, they should be OK, now. You get hit, you get a small tear in the shoulder and it’s tearing and tearing and finally it’s torn all the way. For two months you don’t feel it, then you get to where you can’t even sleep. Only thing you can do is go for surgery. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the motion I had before. They’ve tied it up pretty tightly for a hockey player, but it’s good enough for sports. I can play tennis, golf.”

If the Oilers brass (and Hemsky’s agent) get their way, Hemsky won’t have many opportunities to play golf next April.

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.

Leafs and Coyotes headline Craig Button’s list of top NHL-affiliated prospects

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2:  William Nylander #21 of Team Sweden is stopped by Ville Husso #30 of Team Finland during a quarter-final game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 2, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Maple Leafs and Coyotes featured prominently on Craig Button’s list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

Button, the former Calgary GM whose current title is TSN’s Director of Scouting, has two Leafs forwards — William Nylander (1st) and Mitch Marner (6th) — and two Coyotes forwards — Dylan Strome (2nd) and Christian Dvorak (3rd) — in his top six.

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov is fourth, with Jets forward Kyle Connor fifth.

Click here to read the other 44 youngsters that made the cut.

One of them is Jimmy Vesey (8th), the Harvard scoring sensation the Predators need to sign by August, otherwise he can become a free agent.

Goalie nods: Ducks give red-hot Andersen second straight start

Corey Perry, Frederik Andersen
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Bruce Boudreau has one of those “problems you like to have” in Anaheim.

Much of his club’s recent surge is due to excellent play from both netminders — John Gibson and Frederik Andersen — but after alternating starts for the last five games, Boudreau will give Andersen his second straight nod when the Ducks take on the Jackets in Columbus.

The Danish netminder is full value for consecutive starts. Andersen made 28 saves and allowed just one goal in a win over Philadelphia last time out and has been on fire over his last six games, going a perfect 6-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .941 save percentage.

“We just wanted to change the rotation a little bit,” Boudreau said of tonight’s starting goalie choice, per the O.C. Register. “Gibby’s done really good against Chicago and Vancouver and Freddie’s done really good against Edmonton, Calgary. He played an outstanding game last game and I thought he deserved this game tonight.”

Anaheim is in the midst of a lengthy seven-game road swing. After tonight’s game, the Ducks take on the ‘Hawks, Oilers and Flames before wrapping the trip in Vancouver on Feb. 18.

For Columbus, Joonas Korpisalo starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Looks as though Jhonas Enroth gets the nod in Brooklyn with Jonathan Quick banged up. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who has emerged as one of the NHL’s top backup netminders this year.

Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres in Philly tonight. Steve Mason will make his sixth straight start, and Michal Neuvirth will resume backup duties after being activated from IR.

Semyon Varlamov‘s expected to be in goal for the Avs tonight when they take on the Sens. Ottawa will go with Andrew Hammond after Craig Anderson started against Detroit last night.

— Minnesota is going back to Devan Dubnyk, tonight, who has lost nine in a row (0-8-1) with a 3.32 GAA and .881 save percentage over that time. Washington will start Braden Holtby.

Tuukka Rask versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Bruins take on the Jets.

— Dallas looks like it’ll go back to Kari Lehtonen after his strong effort in Tuesday’s win over the Wild. Chicago, unsurprisingly, is sticking with its workhorse No. 1, Corey Crawford.

— Toronto’s switching things up and going with Jonathan Bernier as its road swing continues in Edmonton. The Oilers are going with Cam Talbot, one day after sending Anders Nilsson to the minors.

Karri Ramo versus Alex Stalock tonight in San Jose.