How useful will Vinny Prospal be in Columbus?

On Saturday, the Columbus Blue Jackets and GM Scott Howson announced that they had signed free agent forward Vinny Prospal to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. The team has already acquired an assortment of offensive firepower; but then again, they were a team that needed a great deal of offensive talent to compete. He’ll most likely slide into a top-line role while injured winger Kristian Huselius recovers from a torn pectoral muscle that is expected to keep him out for four months. His role is clear, yet his ability to fill said role isn’t as easy to figure out. Will he be able to produce at a high level and help Jeff Carter and Rick Nash become one of the most feared duos in the league?

That’s the million dollar question. For what it’s worth, Howson seems to think that he has found the answer for the first half of the season:

“Vinny Prospal is a proven top six forward in the National Hockey League and we look forward to him playing that role for our hockey club. We are very pleased to be able to add a player of his caliber to our team at this late date in the free agency process.”

Translation: When Huselius injured himself this offseason, we needed to find someone as soon as possible and this is what we could find. Howson further explained the move to Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch:

“He’s produced almost everywhere he’s gone. As we went through this process of finding somebody who could help us get through the first part of the season without Kristian, we kept coming back to him. He was at the top of our list in terms of players who were available.”

Even though some people in Columbus fear that Prospal’s reputation is a function of playing in New York, Prospal is the right player for the Blue Jackets at the right time. They aren’t depending on Prospal to carry the team on the first line—they’re just asking him to be able to keep up with Rich Nash and Jeff Carter until Kristian Huselius returns to the line-up. In short bursts, Prospal has proven that he can put points on the board. Just look at last season—even though he only played in 29 games last year, he was second on the team with .79 points per game.

Obviously it would be asking a lot for a 36-year-old playing on his seventh team to score 25 goals and 65 points next season. If teams expected that kind of output, it wouldn’t have taken him three weeks to find a job and he would have signed for more than $1.75 million next season. Most likely, he’ll be a little better than he was a season ago defensively and not quite as productive offensively. Columbus signed him for what he is: a potentially very good stop-gap measure. Once Huselius returns to the line-up, Prospal will provide decent scoring depth and help on the power play for a team that desperately needed help scoring goals last year. Andy Newman at Jackets Cannon understands the best case scenario:

“I’m most excited for what the lineup looks like when Huselius returns, even if that happens to be late January. This adds tremendous depth and will fill out the lineup just in time for the playoffs. With Prospal playing left wing, I imagine Nash will get moved back to the right side, where he has spent plenty of time the past two seasons.”

The most important factor to keep in mind with the Prospal acquisition in Columbus is expectations. For fans who expect him to come in and score at a point-per-game average, they will most likely be disappointed by the end of the season. But for those who understand that he is a streaky player who has the talent to play with the two elite offensive players who are responsible for carrying the Blue Jackets this season, they should be happy with the Prospal signing. He’s a temporary solution for a team that desperately needed someone who could fill a huge void for a few months. Anything beyond that should be icing on the cake. Considering he didn’t cost much and looks to be highly motivated, it should be a situation of the perfect player, fitting into the perfect role at the perfect time.

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

 

 

Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

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Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

 

 

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%