Edmonton Oilers v Colorado Avalanche

Colorado’s fortunes rest on Erik Johnson backing up his confident words

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While the 2003 NHL Entry Draft is roundly considered the best draft in years – if not decades – the 2006 one is fascinating as well. Just take a look at the varied paths taken by the top five picks.

1. Erik Johnson (St. Louis)
2. Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh)
3. Jonathan Toews (Chicago)
4. Nicklas Backstrom (Washington)
5. Phil Kessel (Boston)

Even looking at the top five alone – and thus ignoring certain small droppers like Claude Giroux (22nd) and bigger ones like Milan Lucic (50th) – it’s reasonable to think that people would reassemble that top five quite differently today. Most would put Toews at No. 1, although perhaps stat-happy folks might lean toward Nicklas Backstrom and his exact point per game average. One could imagine some heated debates about the merit of defense-minded center Staal vs. flawed but explosive winger Kessel.

Yet while those four players have raised two Stanley Cups, battled through some epic playoff series and won an individual award or two, Johnson has been left in the dust. (Or some cruel jokers would say, he was left in a sand trap from a golf cart mishap.)

source: Getty ImagesLittle reason for confidence in Colorado

“Left in the dust” might be how people describe the Colorado Avalanche lately. The team just fell apart during the 2010-11 season, with blatantly obvious on-ice issues and mysterious locker room funkiness prompting drastic changes. The team jettisoned starting goalie Craig Anderson and budding power forward Chris Stewart in separate trades, the latter bringing in Johnson, the No. 1 pick who couldn’t live up to that billing with the Blues.

The real stunner of a trade came this off-season, though, when the Capitals seemingly bamboozled the Avs, nabbing Colorado’s 2012 first round pick and a conditional second rounder for the negotiating rights to another 2006 first rounder: Semyon Varlamov. Many smart hockey people expect that first round pick to be an excellent one, making this deal smell a lot like the Phil Kessel trade (yup, another 2006 draftee) that helped the Boston Bruins acquire Tyler Seguin.

By reasonable wisdom, draft pick disappointments might be the story of Colorado’s continued woes. Of course, there’s at least one person who confidently shot down such talk: Erik Johnson, the so-far-disappointing top pick of 2006. Here’s what he told Adrian Dater about Colorado’s upcoming season.

“It’s not going to be a (high) pick. It’s going to end up being a great trade for us. People are saying we got the short end of the trade and they’re happy because they think we’re going to finish at the bottom of the league — and we’re not going to do that this year,” Johnson said.

The article portrays Johnson as extremely motivated, with a new workout regime and the kind of take-charge attitude that might help him become one of the leaders on a team that went rudderless during an ugly 2010-11 season. There’s even some talk that he might have “captain” potential …

Johnson was one of five Avs players who took advantage of open ice time Monday at Family Sports Center. Together they did drills, with Johnson appearing to take on the role of ringleader. It just so happens the Avs have a vacancy at captain, and despite having been with the team only since late last season, it’s not inconceivable the 23-year-old could get the honor. The Avs have been up front with their hopes that Johnson will be the cornerstone to a big, strong and skilled defense for years to come.

Giving him the “C” might be a nice public show of faith in the native of Bloomington, Minn.

Johnson boasts all of the physical tools you hope to see in a top defenseman (and high draft pick), but he hasn’t put that together yet. It’s easy to forget that he’s young (23) and that defenseman often take a longer time to develop at the NHL level. It doesn’t help that he was part of a losing team in St. Louis, although one could lay some of that blame at his feet for falling short of expectations.

If the Avalanche have a chance to avoid being a laughingstock like many expect next season, it could come down to Johnson having the confidence to take over on the defensive end.

“I want to be a guy the coaching staff can use in all situations,” he said. “When I came here, Joe (Sacco) just told me to go out and play, have fun and don’t think too much out there. I started to feel like the player that I had been in the past. I felt like I started to get my confidence back, and when I’m playing with confidence, (I) almost feel unstoppable.”

Sabres’ McCabe suffers shoulder injury, will not return versus Red Wings

New York Islanders v Buffalo Sabres
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The Buffalo Sabres will be down a defenseman for the remainder of Friday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Jake McCabe has left the game due to a shoulder injury suffered during the first period and will not return, the club stated during the second period.

Signed to a three-year, $4.8 million contract extension last summer, the 23-year-old McCabe has one goal and 10 points in 44 games this season for Buffalo

More recently, McCabe drew the immediate ire of the Winnipeg Jets after he delivered an open-ice hit on rookie Patrik Laine, who suffered a concussion on the play.

Red Wings get ‘ultra-fast, ultra-competitive’ Helm back in lineup versus Sabres

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Darren Helm #43 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Darren Helm is back in the Detroit Red Wings lineup Friday, after missing the last two months with a shoulder injury.

Helm last played on Nov. 15, and was initially expected to miss at least six weeks with a dislocated shoulder. According to reports, he’ll make his return to game action against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Red Wings are searching for a fourth consecutive win, as they look to gain ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

“He’s ultra-fast, he’s ultra-competitive,” said coach Jeff Blashill, per MLive.com. “I thought he had an excellent start to the year. It was obviously unfortunate he got hurt, but we all deal with it. The good thing with him is he’s such a skater and such a competitor that when he gets back into the lineup after a long layoff I expect him to be pretty good.”

In 17 games this season before his injury, Helm had four goals and seven points.

Jets rookie scorer Patrik Laine making progress in concussion recovery

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 17:  Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets waits for a faceoff against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 17, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There was a positive development for the Winnipeg Jets and their rookie scorer Patrik Laine on Friday.

Per reports, Laine was back skating with his teammates during Friday’s practice, albeit while wearing a yellow non-contact jersey, marking another step in his return from a concussion suffered on an open-ice hit from Jake McCabe on Jan. 7.

“It doesn’t matter how long you’re out of the games. I’m still young, and I have a lot of games ahead of me. I don’t have to rush anything,” said Laine, per NHL.com. “It’s easier to work out now, and be able to go out on the ice with the team. Hopefully I can get back soon.”

Laine has missed the last six games, and the Jets have lost four times in his absence. There have been rumblings about the future of head coach Paul Maurice in Winnipeg due to his team’s struggles.

Selected second overall last June, Laine has been as advertised in his freshman campaign: A scoring forward with a terrific and accurate shot. He leads Winnipeg in goals with 21. Certainly, the Jets have missed his ability to finish over this recent stretch. But at age 18 and given the nature of his injury, it’s imperative he not be rushed back.

“He comes back in (Saturday) and if he’s right where he left off and felt good, we would start to push the heart rate a little bit and gradually work up from there,” said Maurice, per the Winnipeg Sun. “If he feels good (Saturday), he’ll get some light bumps in.

“He’s absolutely not getting back into a game until he’s at 100 percent and clear. And then I’m more interested in getting him in the next game.”

The Jets play the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, the Anaheim Ducks on Monday and the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Injured Silfverberg skips trip with Ducks

Jakob Silfverberg
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Forward Jakob Silfverberg will not travel on the Anaheim Ducks’ upcoming two-game road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg while recovering from an upper-body injury.

The Ducks are leaving for Minnesota on Friday without Silfverberg, who was injured late in their 2-1 victory over Colorado on Thursday.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Silfverberg left Thursday’s game in the third period, shortly after a hit from Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov, and is considered day-to-day. Silfverberg’s head is believed to have hit the ice but it is not known if he suffered a head injury.

Anaheim recalled right wing Corey Tropp and defenseman Shea Theodore from its AHL affiliate in San Diego.

Silfverberg has 13 goals and 16 assists in a strong season with the Pacific Division-leading Ducks. The Swede is on pace to surpass his career highs in goals and assists.

Silfverberg has teamed up with All-Star center Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano on the Ducks’ most effective line this season.