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Chris Pronger is ‘progressing nicely’ but could miss beginning of Flyers training camp

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If you ask me, the Philadelphia Flyers’ off-season was often misguided. They’re paying Ilya Bryzgalov too much for too long and they gave up players who helped them build their most obvious strength last season: an overwhelming group of offensive forwards.

That being said, those changes don’t guarantee that the Flyers will be “bad” next season. They still have a lot of talent at the forward position (though they will miss Mike Richards’ two-way aptitude and Jeff Carter’s volume of goals) and Bryzgalov is an above average goalie. Really, what it might all come down to is an obvious question with an unclear answer: will Chris Pronger be healthy?

The last time we checked, Pronger’s rehab process from off-season back surgery wasn’t looking particularly promising. Chuck Gormley provided an update on Pronger today: Pronger is “progressing nicely” from the surgery but Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said that he might miss the beginning of training camp. Holmgren said that Pronger was allowed to “step up” his rehab last week after a hand and back specialist took a look at him.

“He’s pushed things up another level in terms of his rehab and his workouts, so he’s on the right track,” Holmgren said.

“He’s doing more than he was a week ago. We’ll have a better idea when he comes back. If he’s not ready to take part in the early part of camp I don’t think that’s a big deal. Obviously, the most important thing is the regular season. We’ll deal with it on a daily basis.”

I agree with Holmgren that missing some (maybe even all) of training camp isn’t a big deal for a long-time veteran like Pronger. Although there would be some benefits from Philly’s behemoth defenseman getting acquainted with their franchise goalie, Pronger doesn’t need much time to provide a massive benefit to the goalie he guards.

Well, a healthy Pronger provides a massive benefit, at least. That caveat is one of the scariest shadows that hangs over the long-term competitiveness of this Flyers team. Pronger’s $4.9 million annual cap hit will be a reality (barring a lucky trade) for the Flyers for the next six years whether he plays or not, so seeing him struggle with injuries in the 2010-11 – the first year of his 35+ contract – was worrisome.

Pronger’s health is one of the big questions in a litany of interesting storylines for this very different Flyers team. He makes a huge difference when he’s on the ice, but we’ll see how often that happens during the next six years.

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Video: Kuznetsov sets table for Vrana’s first NHL goal

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27:  Jakub Vrana of the Washington Capitals poses for a portrait during the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).

Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.

See it for yourself:

Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.

He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.

Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.

Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: