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.

Schultz and Hornqvist will be game-time decisions; Sheary may play

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Justin Schultz and Patric Hornqvist will be game-time decisions for the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at PPG Paints Arena.

That was the word this morning from head coach Mike Sullivan, who said yesterday that it would be “reasonable” to expect the two players to return for Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators.

But the signs from this morning’s optional skate were not particularly promising for either player.

Schultz did not opt to skate, which does not necessarily rule him out for tonight. That said, players returning from injury often choose to test things out the morning of the game, just to be sure they’re ready to go.

Hornqvist did skate; however, he stayed on the ice rather late, likewise putting his status for tonight into doubt.

In other news, Conor Sheary may return to the lineup. Sheary skated this morning and left the ice with the players who are playing, while Josh Archibald skated and stayed on later. That suggests Sheary, a scratch in Games 5 and 6, could replace Archibald.

Oilers reportedly lose Lander to Russia

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After eight years and over 200 games, Edmonton and Anton Lander are parting ways.

Per Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko, Lander has reportedly agreed to join KHL club Ak Bars Kazan. The deal comes after Lander’s two-year, $1.975M pact with the Oilers expired, and he became a restricted free agent.

The 40th overall pick in ’09, Lander had some decent spells in Edmonton. In ’14-15, he racked up 20 points in 38 games — which led to the aforementioned two-year extension — but could never find his niche as a full-time NHLer.

As a result, Lander ended up as one of those guys that racked up points in the AHL, but struggled to replicate similar success in the bigs. Last year, with Bakersfield, he had 25 goals and 55 points in just 42 games.

At 26, he was probably ready to part ways with the only NHL organization he’s ever known. Earlier reports suggested Lander was also mulling a return to his native Sweden.

Report: Rangers goalie Hellberg to sign with Chinese KHL team

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Magnus Hellberg, the once-touted netminder that came to New York from Nashville two years ago, has reportedly left North America to join the KHL’s Chinese club, Red Star Kunlun.

The deal, per Russian news outlet R-Sport, is of the one-year variety and it comes after Hellberg appeared in a pair of games for the Rangers last season, spending most of his time in AHL Hartford.

Hellberg did fare well in his limited action with the Blueshirts, posting a .929 save percentage and 1.53 GAA.

As mentioned above, Hellberg came into the NHL with some fanfare. Selected in the second round (38th overall) by Nashville at the 2011 draft, Hellberg was first goalie off the board, taken one spot ahead of Anaheim’s John Gibson. There was some thought he would be Pekka Rinne‘s eventual successor in goal, but never panned out and was later surpassed by Juuse Saros as the team’s goalie of the future.

In New York, Hellberg was stuck at No. 3 on the depth chart behind Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta.

Pekka Rinne’s been the Predators’ backbone during run to final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne‘s face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

“As a player, I feel like I’ve had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity,” Rinne said. “So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have.”

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he’s probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne’s 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

“What he does every night, you can’t put into words,” Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said.

The 19-year-old franchise has reached its first Stanley Cup Final behind Rinne’s standout performances.

After Nashville ousted Anaheim in six games Monday night , Rinne now is even stingier on home ice with a 7-1 record, 1.54 GAA and .947 save percentage. He made 38 saves on a night where Nashville took only 18 shots.

“Anytime you need to close a series out, you know that as a goalie you got to be good and as a team you got to be good,” Rinne said.

The native of Kampele, Finland, has been better than good. He also has the skill to skate out to play the puck. With coach Peter Laviolette’s team clogging the neutral zone to slow opponents, Rinne is an extra (tall) layer of frustration waiting at the end of the ice for opponents who dump the puck in – even those high on the glass.

Anaheim defenseman Kevin Bieksa said Rinne will throw his body against the glass to knock the puck down so he can pass it out to a teammate essentially turning the goalie into another defender.

“You don’t see many goalies that aggressive,” Bieksa said. “And he’s gone out, he’s played a lot of pucks. And he’s good at it. One of their strengths, for sure.”

Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle noted Rinne had eight plays on the puck alone in the first period of Game 5, a 3-1 Nashville win that put the Predators up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

“You can’t give him that type of opportunity,” Carlyle said.

Laviolette calls goaltender the most important position on the ice and he said Rinne’s confidence is a huge benefit for the team.

“And it gives you opportunities,” he said.

Rinne now has 34 playoff victories and is no longer at the top of a list no goalie likes. Washington’s Braden Holtby (29) is now the active goalie with the most postseason wins who hasn’t reached the final.

The only surprise was that it took Rinne this long. He’s a three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, finishing second in 2011 and 2015. He led the league with 43 wins in 2011-12 and was MVP of the 2014 world championships.

Rinne bounced back from a hip injury that required arthroscopic surgery and later an E. coli infection that limited him to 24 games in the 2013-14 season. With him out of the lineup, Nashville just missed the postseason, leading general manager David Poile to replace coach Barry Trotz with Laviolette.

“I think David and the owners have done a really good job providing Peter more tools and maybe higher quality players and more talent,” Rinne said.

Defenseman Mattias Ekholm says Rinne’s competitive streak comes out on the ice.

“He will put his foot down, and say, `Hey, this is my crease. This is where I am,”‘ Ekholm said. “So I wouldn’t say he’s as polite on the ice vs. our opponents. He’s always a competitor, and he always wants to win.”

The next chance for a win comes Monday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.