First rounder round-up: Landeskog, Siemens, and Miller sign entry-level deals

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Both the Colorado Avalanche and the New York Rangers did a little planning for the future today as they signed their 2011 first round draft picks to entry-level deals. Colorado signed 2nd overall pick Gabriel Landeskog and 11th overall pick Duncan Siemens to three-year entry-level deals worth $832,500 per season and $277,500 signing bonus per RDS reporter Renaud P Lavoie. Likewise, the Rangers were able to reach an agreement with their first round selection, 15th overall JT Miller. Terms of Miller’s deal have not been released, but like Landeskog and Siemens, it’s a three-year entry-level deal.

Signing an entry-level deal is only the first step for three players who are traveling very different paths. Both Landeskog and Siemens will head to Colorado’s training camp in September, but the organization and fans have different expectations for the two prospects.

Duncan Siemens will get the opportunity to go through his first NHL training camp, but it would be shocking if he stayed with the big club this season. More than likely, the defenseman will head back to the Saskatoon Blades to continue his development at the junior level. Last season, Siemens had 5 goals, 38 assists, and 121 PIMs with an extremely talented Blades team. Stay-at-home defenders usually take a little longer to fully develop their game and Siemens is no different. If he can continue to add muscle and round out his offensive game over the next few years, he’ll be a nice addition to the Avalanche blueline.

On the other hand, Landeskog will have every chance to make the NHL out of training camp. Entering the draft, the Swedish left-winger was widely regarded as the “most NHL ready” player in the entire draft. His leadership and high-end skill should help him make the transition sooner rather than later. But there’s another factor that will help push Landeskog into the NHL next season: his cap hit. No, not because he has a rookie salary that is relatively cheap; because his approximate $3.75 million cap hit will help the Avs hit the cap floor. Adrian Dater has the specifics of the two Colorado contracts:

“Both players’ base salaries — if they make the Avs’ roster this coming season — will be $925,000. But their salary cap number would be considerably higher. In Landeskog’s case, he’ll have a $3.575 million cap hit if he makes the team — with his base salary, an $850,000 signing bonus and $1.8 million in other potential bonuses built into the contract. Siemens has a similar deal, but exact figures beyond the base salary were not available.”

For the Rangers, their first round prospect JT Miller has still a different path than Siemens and Landeskog. The 18-year-old spent last season with the U.S. Under-18 team before signing his entry-level deal today. Originally slated for the University of North Dakota, Miller de-committed in favor of the Plymouth Whalers in the Ontario Hockey League. The gritty forward that loves to throw the body will continue to improve his overall game in the OHL over the next few years. If he can improve his skating, he could end up as a valuable player creating energy and chipping in some points for the Rangers.

Signing entry-level deals is only the first step for all of these prospects who have plenty of pro potential. If they play this season in juniors, the three-year contracts will be delayed and the clock will not start ticking on their deals. The next step is for each player to continue developing and fulfilling all of the promise that will have both the Rangers and Avalanche organizations excited for years to come.

Okposo to fans: ‘Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye’

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In a lengthy and heartfelt letter, Kyle Okposo thanked the hockey community – especially but not only Buffalo Sabres fans and teammates – for their support after his hospitalization.

Okposo also shared some personal details about how a seemingly innocent hit affected his sleep and caused alarming weight loss, dropping him below 200 lbs. for the first time since he was 17. He said he checked into a hospital expecting to get help sleeping, only to go to ICU after a negative reaction to medication.

As scary as that experience was, it helped him put his career and life in perspective. Okposo also realized just how much fans, teammates, and people associated with the sport can help each other in times of need.

It’s a really great letter and worth reading in full (especially considering his praise for new Sabres management), but here’s one of the more inspiring excerpts:

When I turned my phone on, I had 500 messages waiting for me. Current players, former players, former coaches – everyone reached out. Even now, fans see me in Minnesota or Buffalo and say, ‘I’m just really glad you’re doing OK.’ It’s overwhelming, and it makes me proud to be a part of the hockey community. We’re a tight-knit group and we stick together. Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye.

The messages from my Sabres teammates meant a lot in particular. I’ve only played with those guys for one year, with Matt Moulson being the exception, and we didn’t have the type of season that we wanted. The fact that all of them were so supportive through this shows that the bond between teammates really does transcend what happens on the ice.

Okposo noted that he appreciated playing in “Da Beauty League” last week, even though his team got “whacked.”

Read more about him being involved in that here, and how happy Zach Parise and others were to see him play in this article. Okposo also reaffirms the belief that he’ll be ready to go for Sabres training camp in that letter.

No surgery for Dumoulin, who broke hand during Penguins’ Cup run

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If you’re feeling jealous of Brian Dumoulin for signing a robust (if fair) contract extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, take heart: at least he earned it. He even checked the “Hockey players are insanely tough” box during the Penguins’ latest Stanley Cup run.

MORE: Dumoulin signs for six years, with a $4.1 million cap hit.

The 25-year-old revealed that a David Savard slapper broke (or “damaged?) his right hand in Game 5 of that first-round matchup. After that, his hand would heal up, only “I’d do a cross-check then it would break again,” as he told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dumoulin seemed to deal with that as the postseason went along, but the good news – at least as he claims – is that it’s all healed and he won’t require surgery.

“It was tough to play with it, but obviously everybody had injuries,” Dumoulin said, via Mackey. “It’s all healed up now. They were deciding on surgery or not at the end of the season, but doctors saw a little bit of healing. We gave it about three weeks, and I kind of have been testing it out the last week. I’ve skated, and there have been no problems. I’m happy about it.”

With any “no surgery needed” story, there are us hand-wringers who wonder if that will merely increase the odds of future re-breaks.

That, not to mention years of taxing schooling, is why doctors are doctors, though, so this seems like a mostly positive bit of information regarding another Penguins player who fought through injuries during the playoffs.

Considering how many Penguins players were sidelined, especially on defense, it makes Dumoulin’s toughness that much easier to appreciate. For all we know, losing him might have been the last straw for that thinned out group.

Instead, the Penguins are repeat champions, and Dumoulin enjoys long-term security.

If his play on the ice didn’t already convince you that he earned that extension, perhaps this detail did.

Islanders’ D getting crowded with four-year deal for Adam Pelech

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If nothing else, quantity probably won’t be much of an issue for the New York Islanders’ defense in 2017-18.

GM Garth Snow locked down another blueliner on Monday, as he signed Adam Pelech to a four-year contract. The deal is worth $1.6 million per season ($6.4M overall), according to Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

Pelech, 22, played 44 games at the NHL level in 2016-17, collecting 10 points and struggling from an analytics standpoint. He also appeared in nine games with the Islanders in 2015-16.

Staple notes that this could make for a logjam – or, to put a positive spin on it, make for a lot of competition – particularly if the Isles can strike a deal with Calvin de Haan soon. If that pans out, they’d have eight defensemen who would need to go through waivers.

On the bright side, the Islanders’ defense looks respectable on paper, and that’s assuming that Pelech doesn’t take a step forward. If he does, this could be another respectable, under-the-radar move by Snow.

At the moment, it mainly seems like adding depth and flexibility, which isn’t the worst thing, either.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice