No pressure, kid: 15-year-old Nathan MacKinnon called ‘second coming’ of Sidney Crosby

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When people discuss prospects, there’s often a spot for an NHL comparison. A lot of times such comparisons draw guffaws from readers when a prospect is compared to, say, Joe Sakic. (Then again, the saddest times might be when a more lucid parallel is drawn to a decidedly marginal NHLer.)

It must be stomach-churning to be considered “The Next [Blank]” … even when an athlete embraces it. Kobe Bryant made an obvious nod to Michael Jordan when he changed his jersey number from 8 to 24, but it’s not like he could escape the comparisons anyway.

Sometimes the similarities run deeply enough that making comparisons only seems natural, even if it is still a bit unfair. That might be the case with 15-year-old prospect Nathan MacKinnon, whose name is often connected to Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby.

ESPN the Magazine’s Gare Joyce was one of the first – or at least most prominent – writers to spotlight the similarities between the two when MacKinnon was just 14 (subscription required).

Nathan MacKinnon is a little less like a lot of hockey-playing, 14-year-old Canadian kids, in that his life has eerily tracked Sidney Crosby’s. He was raised minutes away from the home where Crosby grew up, in the Halifax suburb of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Eight years apart, they played at the same rinks, competed in the same tournaments, played ball hockey on the same sleet-pelted tennis courts, and skated on the same frozen ponds. And much as Crosby used to fire pucks into his basement dryer, Nathan shot at a beat-up net with plastic milk jugs hanging off the crossbar for top-shelf targets.

Nathan MacKinnon is not at all like other hockey-playing, 14-year-old Canadian kids, in that he just might be the second coming of Sidney Crosby. In fact, MacKinnon is pretty much a clone of the most famous hockey player in the world: so skilled, so dominant, that many insiders already call him the next Sid the Kid. A center — like Crosby — MacKinnon scored goals by the hundreds in the top local leagues that Crosby once ruled. Like Crosby, MacKinnon played with and against players two and three years older, some more than a foot taller. And like Crosby, Nathan had to leave home young to find challenges. Needless to say, both landed at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the hockey powerhouse in Faribault, Minn.

The latest person to point out the parallels between the two is Alex J. Walling of TSN, who also profiled Crosby when he was 14 years old. If MacKinnon’s success so far in his young hockey career (not to mention his regional background) weren’t enough to invite the comparisons, Walling points out that they will probably have the same representation.

The comparisons continue with Crosby having Pat Brisson as his agent.  I’m not sure if midget kids can have agents, so MacKinnon has an “advisor,” the same Pat Brisson.

Obviously, it’s wrong to assume that everything will work out for MacKinnon. A lot can change between now and when he’s draft-eligible, not to mention how far he’d have to go to justify those expectations if he makes it to the NHL.

Still, the startling thing about some of the can’t-miss hockey prospects is that many are identified from a similarly young age. Crosby was obviously one of them while the likes of Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and so on dominated at a young age. We’ll have to wait and see if MacKinnon ends up in that group, but he has a long way to go.

Olympic hockey medal-round shootouts aren’t going anywhere

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — As Tony Granato watched the clock wind down in overtime, he found it hard to believe that an elimination game at the Olympics had to go to a shootout.

The Czech Republic knocked Granato’s United States team out in the quarterfinals in the same skills competition used in the NHL for regular-season but never playoff games. It took a shootout for the U.S. women’s team to beat archrival Canada for the gold medal, and although Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s goal and Maddie Rooney’s saves provided theater, such a classic game going to a shootout felt wrong.

”It’s hard when it’s all said and done to say that it gets decided by a bunch of breakaways, but that’s the rules,” Granato said.

And it’s likely to stay the rule even after two important medal-round games at the Pyeongchang Olympics ended in shootouts instead of teams continuing to play until someone scores like in the Stanley Cup playoffs. International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said continuous sudden-death overtime is not possible in a tournament.

”You cannot let the team play the whole night,” Fasel said Saturday at a news conference in Pyeongchang. ”Yes, it’s a skills test, but it’s a game. … I will never convince North Americans to accept that but it is like it is.”

Fasel added, ”Maybe the Canadians can practice a little more the shootout,” and Granato was the first to admit that winning in a shootout doesn’t tarnish anything. U.S. women’s hockey coach Robb Stauber knows it can go both ways.

”Yesterday the men’s team lost in a shootout, and two of our coaches said, ‘God that’s a terrible way to lose,”’ Stauber said. ”And my first response was, ‘Unless you’re on the other end.”’

Being on the other end is no fun. Ask Eric Lindros or any of Canada’s players from 1994, or Canada’s women’s team that lost the Olympic final for the first time since 1998 after going back and forth for 80 minutes with the Americans.

”It sucks,” Canada goaltender Shannon Szabados said. ”It becomes more individual and less of a team thing, so a little harder to swallow but (it’s) the way it goes.”

IIHF overtime rules call for 10 minutes of 4-on-4 in the qualification, quarterfinal and semifinal rounds and 20 minutes of 4-on-4 in the final before a five-round shootout. The NHL implemented a three-round shootout in 2005-06 but never for the playoffs.

Shootouts have provided some of the most entertaining drama in sports, whether it was Peter Forsberg’s move to win gold for Sweden in 1994 that’s commemorated on a postage stamp, Dominik Hasek stopping all five of Canada’s shooters on the way to the Czech Republic getting gold in Nagano in 1998 or Brandi Chastain and the U.S. women’s soccer team beating China to win the World Cup in 1999.

That’s Fasel’s point: If it’s good enough for soccer, it’s good enough for hockey.

”We are growing up with football and we are used to it,” Fasel said. ”Football is the biggest sport in the world. It is. And they finish the final of the World Cup with a shootout, et voila. So I will never convince North Americans to accept that, but it is like it is. I cannot change it. I’m really sorry about that.”

AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golden in Gangneung, South Korea, and James Ellingworth in Pyeongchang, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno at https://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

Trade: Islanders get Brandon Davidson from Oilers

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Maybe the third time will be the charm for Peter Chiarelli.

The first two times he has made a trade with New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow he has, well, let us just say he has not done well.

There was the trade that sent two draft picks to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart. Those two draft picks turned into Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. Reinhart is no longer in the Oilers organization and only played 29 games for the team.

Then this past summer he traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome. So far this season Eberle has 21 goals and 44 total points  for the Islanders while Strome, who has topped 40 points in a season just once in his career, has just nine goals and 15 assists for the Oilers.

There is no way this trade can turn out to be that bad. Right? Right?!

Let us take a look at it.

The trade: The Edmonton Oilers traded defenseman Brandon Davidson to the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick.

Why the Islanders are making this trade: Have you seen their defense? Have you seen the way they play defensively? They are DESPERATE. They have an offense that can score with the best teams in the NHL. They are getting amazing years out of John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle. They are fourth in the NHL in goals for. They are 31st in goals against. There are only 31 teams in the league. They need to find somebody — anybody! — that can help them prevent goals. Is Davidson a game-changer? Not at all. He is probably at best a bottom-pairing defenseman. But he is something.

The Islanders enter play on Saturday one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Why the Oilers are making this trade: They are going nowhere and looking to unload anyone they can. Davidson is in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent this season and would probably get a bit of a raise over his $1.4 million salary cap hit this season. That is something the Oilers simply can not afford given their salary cap situation. A third-round draft pick in 2019 isn’t a huge score, but it is something.

Davidson was originally drafted by the Oilers in 2010 and remained with the organization until he was traded to Montreal in February of 2017 for David Desharnais.

He played with the Canadiens until a few weeks ago when he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Oilers.

Who won the trade? The Islanders are, again, desperate for defense and picked up a warm body for very little price. The Oilers got a draft pick for somebody that was not even on their roster a few weeks ago and did not cost anything for them to originally acquire.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Trade deadline status update: Plekanec, Oduya scratched; Karlsson plays

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

With the NHL trade deadline now just days away teams are starting to make lineup decisions that will keep potential targets off the ice to protect them from injury.

Let’s just take a minute to take a quick trip through the NHL and check in on some of the more prominent names.

Oduya held out for Senators, but Erik Karlsson plays

The Ottawa Senators are in complete fire sale mode after sending Dion Phaneuf to the Los Angeles Kings a couple of weeks ago and Derick Brassard to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, and there remains a very good possibility that the rest of the team could be playing somewhere else by Monday.

[Related: Penguins land Derick Brassard in three-team deal]

The Senators play the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon and will be without veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya.

Oduya, a free agent after the season, figures to be on the move before Monday and the fact he is being held out of the lineup on Saturday afternoon is a pretty good sign that something is brewing. Coach Guy Boucher said before the game that it is not an injury related scratch, and when pressed for why Oduya was not playing he simply said “I have to keep him out.”

That usually means a trade is imminent.

The other defenseman in Ottawa that everyone is talking about — actually, the only defenseman in Ottawa that anyone is talking about — is Erik Karlsson. With each passing hour it seems more and more likely that his time with the Senators could be coming to an end.

He is, however, in the lineup for Saturday afternoon’s game.

Right now the front-runners to land him seem to be the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it was reported earlier this week by Pierre LeBrun at The Athletic that Nashville Predators general manager David Poile checked in on him.

You know which team would be a fun possibility for Karlsson? The Vegas Golden Knights.

[Related: Senators seem to be in no-win situation with Erik Karlsson]

Tomas Plekanec sits for Montreal

When the Montreal Canadiens take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night they will be without Tomas Plekanec who is being held out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. Like with Oduya, this is almost certainly a sign that the Canadiens are prepared to move the veteran center, and could perhaps be closing in on a deal.

Plekanec has spent his entire career with the Canadiens and been an extremely productive two-way player. But at age 35 his production has clearly dropped the past couple of years. In 60 games this season he has six goals to go with 18 assists.

He has a pretty big cap hit so unless the Canadiens are willing to retain some salary they probably should not expect a huge return. If Michael Grabner, a speedy 25-goal winger brings a second-round pick  and a prospect then Plekanec will almost certainly go for less.

He could be a fallback option for a team that did not land Brassard. The Winnipeg Jets, looking to upgrade their center depth, were reportedly in on Brassard and should still be in the market for another center. Plekanec could be an option there.

Joel Ward on the trade block 

Here is a new name to add to the trading block.

San Jose is one of the teams on the playoff bubble in the Western Conference, sitting in second-place in the Pacific Division with a three-point cushion over the teams on the outside, but they could be looking to move the 37-year-old Ward.

He is having a tough season offensively with only five goals and six assists in 46 games, but he is one of those veterans that general managers love at this time of year. He has a great track record for play in the postseason and has a history of scoring big goals, so perhaps somebody can think he can step in and help fill out the bottom of their lineup.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

U.S. veterans can enjoy hockey gold before deciding futures

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Americans Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, twin sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan, Gigi Marvin and Kacey Bellamy have a luxury their predecessors lacked after finally capturing the nation’s first Olympic gold in women’s hockey in two decades.

Time to enjoy and celebrate the accomplishment. And no pressure for the three-time Olympians to decide quickly whether to try to play in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

At least not because of money. Women at the highest level of hockey in the United States no longer feel forced to choose between playing the game or paying the bills.

”It’s a decision based on whether I have the passion and the desire and skillset to continue to play, and I think that’s what we all strive for when that all came about,” Lamoureux-Davidson said Friday. ”So to have that, I think it means the world to us that we can make that decision based on our love for the game, and we don’t have to make a decision now based on financial means.”

Winning the first shootout in an Olympic women’s final 3-2 Thursday to snap Canada’s golden run is only the latest accomplishment in an amazing year for the team.

Less than a year ago, they banded together and threatened to boycott the 2017 world championships in March, demanding more pay and treatment similar to what the men’s team receives. USA Hockey even reached out to other players, trying to cobble together a replacement team before both sides reached an agreement after pressure from 20 U.S. senators .

That deal netted the U.S. team $20,000 apiece for the gold medal captain Meghan Duggan said she slept with Thursday night, even if she only got a couple hours amid all the celebrating. The players also got a bump in pay up to $4,000 a month in the four-year deal with the ability to make around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

So rather than the need to go find a job to pay rent and buy food, the U.S. women can enjoy this golden victory with their families and friends here and once they return home. They’re reveling in this victory, so much that Duggan said they’ll decide whether to go to the White House if invited when that time comes.

The team is also celebrating how far U.S. women’s hockey has come since 1998, when the Americans won the inaugural Olympic gold at Nagano with stars like Cammi Granato, who was among those who lost a fight for better pay two years later. Julie Chu, a four-time Olympian who carried the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies in 2014 at Sochi, also missed this chance.

Duggan said she and Brianna Decker spent about 45 minutes on the phone Friday with Chu.

”She was just incredible to talk to,” Duggan said. ”She was crying on the phone. We were crying on the phone, and just what a moment. To share that with her it was fantastic.”

A.J. Mleczko won gold in 1998 and silver in 2002 for the U.S., and she told The Associated Press the money wasn’t on the minds of the players trying to erase the taste of silver after the painful loss in 2014 at Sochi. She said it’s amazing women can make a living doing what they love, just like the men.

”Now I look at what they can do from not just the money they’re getting just straight up from their contracts but now the endorsements,” Mleczko said. ”They’re such a great group of ambassadors and I am so excited for the little girls out there and the little boys that can look up to them and say, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ and that is phenomenal.”

The U.S. appears to be in good shape with 20-year-old goalie Maddie Rooney coming through with spectacular saves for gold in her first Olympics. The U.S. under-18 team won the world championship in January against Sweden after knocking off Canada in the semifinals.

Lamoureux-Morando, who scored the tying goal to force overtime against Canada, said some players want to start families and will take a year to re-evaluate what comes next. Like her sister, she is married.

”If you still have a love and passion for the game, which I think we still will, we’ll continue to try and play and be on the team,” Lamoureux-Morando said. ”But I think right now we’re just going to enjoy this win with our teammates. It’s a moment that it’s once in a lifetime. I think we’re going to cherish these next couple weeks, then kind of reevaluate down the road.”

Korea, which debuted at the Olympics with a historic combined team including 12 North Koreans, moved up from No. 22 to 17 in the new world rankings released after the U.S. victory. The IIHF announced Monday that the women’s Olympic tournament will be expanded to 10 times for 2022.

Knight said even with the recent growth, more resources are needed for other countries to get younger girls interested in hockey, even if that means offering support to bring girls over to the United States.

”I think that growth will be contagious around the world, and hopefully we can have more countries competing at the Olympics,” Knight said.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker