Chris Conner

Thursday’s small-time deals: Wings add former Penguin Chris Conner and more

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Free agent signings aren’t always going to grab you by the face and make you pay attention to them. Sometimes we have to grab you by the face and make you take notice too. Hey, not everyone is going to be an NHL superstar signing and after the list we showed you this morning about who is left, the pickings are already slim.

That said, here are a few signings that came down this morning that might affect these teams later down the road or, at the very least, in the AHL.

Red Wings signs former Penguins forward Chris Conner

Chris Conner was the Penguins’ good luck charm last season. No, really as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Seth Rorabaugh pointed out via Twitter, the Penguins went 39-14-7 when Conner was with the team and 10-11-1 when they were without him. With Pittsburgh, Conner scored seven goals and added nine assists. It’s also a bit of a homecoming for him as he hails from Westland, Michigan and played college hockey at Michigan Tech. The Wings are just hoping his good luck charm can change cities.

Vancouver signs defenseman Alexander Sulzer and goalie Matt Climie

Alexander Sulzer was once a promising defenseman in the Nashville system but he was sent packing to Florida last season for a conditional seventh round pick. So much for all that promise. In Florida he didn’t do all that much there either and now he heads to Vancouver to provide them depth. Matt Climie signing a deal in goal doesn’t mean that Cory Schneider’s got anything to worry about. Instead, Climie will head to AHL Chicago and work with prospect Eddie Lack in goal.

Buffalo signs goalie Drew McIntyre and forward Colin Stuart

Drew McIntyre escapes the Atlanta system and heads to Buffalo where he’ll likely get to play a ton in AHL Rochester. Colin Stuart is a depth forward who has seen a handful of games played in the NHL over the last three years with Atlanta and Buffalo. Stuart spent most of last season in AHL Portland as part of the Sabres system.

Montreal signs Brian Willsie, swings minor league deal with Columbus

Brian Willsie has been making his bones in the AHL for the better part of his career that’s seen him go from Los Angeles to Colorado and then to Washington. Back in 2005-2006 he scored 19 goals for the Capitals but since then it’s been life in the minors. He signs on with Montreal to try and crack their lineup but will most likely spend his days in Hamilton in the AHL. There he’ll get to meet up with newly acquired forward Mike Blunden who the Habs acquired in a deal with Columbus in exchange for forward Ryan Russell.

Oddly enough for Russell he’ll join his twin brother, defenseman Kris Russell, at training camp. If Ryan can make the Jackets roster out of camp we’ll have two sets of twin brothers running amok in the NHL. Good luck broadcasters.

Winnipeg signs forward Jason Gregoire

Jason Gregoire made a name for himself at the University of North Dakota as the team captain and source of inspiration for the Fighting Sioux and now he gets to go back home again. Gregoire, a Winnipeg native, signed a deal with the Jets to join their organization and maybe someday join them in the big leagues. Gregoire was a solid scorer in college and now the Jets will hope he can translate that play to the pros. Having a goal of playing in front of the hometown fans should motivate him plenty. Gregoire did belong to the Islanders but thanks to CBA loopholes, he became a free agent this summer. Fortunately for him his hometown just got an NHL team back.

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Video: Kuznetsov sets table for Vrana’s first NHL goal

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27:  Jakub Vrana of the Washington Capitals poses for a portrait during the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).

Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.

See it for yourself:

Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.

He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.

Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.

Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: