Florida Panthers v Montreal Canadiens

Blue chip prospect Jacob Markstrom looks sharp for Panthers

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Ever since Jacob Markstrom set the Swedish Elite League on fire after his 2008 draft year, scouts and pundits have eagerly awaited his arrival in the NHL. The 6’3” netminder was the first pick in the second round in 2008. In retrospect, there are plenty of teams who wish they could take a mulligan and pick the Swedish goaltender before letting him slip to the second round. He has all the makings of a guy who will be able to play in the NHL—and play very well.

In his first full seasons with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League, he put up an impressive 2.38 goals against and .917 save percentage—all while sharing time with a goaltender NHL fans may have heard of: Andres Lindback. The next season he exceeded all expectations by putting up even better numbers with Brynas. When a goaltender puts up a 2.01 goals against and a .927 save percentage, he’s dominating no matter what league he’s playing in.

But something happened on his way towards his coronation in the NHL. The talented Markstrom started the season with Florida’s AHL affiliate in Rochester and showed that his game still had a little maturing to do. He played 37 games with the Amerks before a knee injury knocked him out for the remainder of the season. For anyone who was worried about how a 21-year-old would recover from a serious knee injury, fret not. Panthers’ goaltender coach Robb Tallas was more than impressed with the Swede’s progress:

“I think you can see a huge difference in him from last year. You can see the confidence. And this from a guy who hasn’t played a full game since [February]. I’m real happy with how he played. He tracked the puck well, the goals that beat him were good shots.”

Even better news from the Panthers point of view is that they won’t be forced to rush him to the NHL. By signing Jose Theodore to split time with Scott Clemmensen, the Panthers bought another year of development for their prized prospect. Of course he’ll be available in the event of an injury, but otherwise he’ll be able to work on his game and improve on his pedestrian numbers from a season ago. If all things go well, he’ll be ready to challenge for the starters job in 2012-13.

Keep in mind, despite all of the moves the new-look Panthers made this offseason, there are those who think that Florida will still struggle to string enough wins together for a playoff spot. If they’re out of the race by March, Markstrom could get an extended look at the end of the season to prove to the organization that he’s ready for the full-time job.

One thing is for sure—the Panthers do not want to rush Markstrom. Most people agree that goaltenders take longer than skaters to fully develop their game to an NHL level. They’ve shown great patience thus far, as they let him play a couple of seasons in Sweden before adjusting to the North American game. If they can resist the temptation to throw him into wolves this season, they could have a goaltender for the next decade.

As the long season rolls along, we’ll see how much patience they can demonstrate.

Jacob Trouba requests trade from Jets

CALGARY, AB - MARCH 16: Jacob Trouba #8 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 16, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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While every hockey fan in Canada was focussed on their national team’s World Cup semifinal game against Russia, there was some pretty significant NHL news coming out of Winnipeg.

It was at that point that the agent for Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba announced that his client has requested a trade from the team.

Trouba, the Jets’ first round pick in 2012 (No. 9 overall), is currently unsigned as a restricted free agent.

With NHL training camps starting to get underway, Trouba has informed the Jets he will not attend camp and would like a trade so he can have “the opportunity to reach his potential as a right shot NHL defensemen.”

The statement also mentions that the trade request is not about money.

Here is the complete statement from Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, via Sportsnet.

“Our client, Jacob Trouba, will not be attending the Winnipeg Jets NHL training camp. Since May, we have been working with the Jets management in an effort to facilitate a trade of Jacob’s rights. Both parties continue to work on this matter.

There has been no negotiation regarding the terms of a contract between our client and the Jets over the course of the last several months. The situation is not about money; it is solely about our client having the opportunity to realize his potential as a right shot NHL defenseman.

To the Jets credit, the club has two outstanding right shot veteran defensemen and our client simply wants the opportunity to have a greater role. As a consequence of the Jets depth on the right side, we believe it is in both parties’ best interest to facilitate a mutually advantageous trade.

Our client has nothing but respect for the people and City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Jets, its fans, management and ownership – our desire to get him moved has everything to do with opportunity. We will continue to work with the Jets in good faith to achieve this end.”

This certainly creates an interesting preseason storyline in the NHL.

Even though a trade request would seem to hurt the Jets’ hand when it comes to negotiating a deal with another team, right shot defensemen are an extremely valuable commodity in the NHL, and it’s not often that a good one that is still only 22 years old becomes available. There should be no shortage of teams lining up looking to acquire his rights. The New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche immediately come to mind as three teams that could definitely use a player like him.

In 211 career games Trouba has scored 23 goals and added 49 assists. He appeared in 81 games for the Jets this past season and logged more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game.

Pavel Datsyuk will not play for Russia vs. Canada

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 22:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of Russia skates against USA at Ice Palace on May 22, 2016 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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Pavel Datsyuk will not play for Russia on Saturday night against Canada in their  World Cup semifinal game.

Datsyuk has been bothered by a lower body injury that also kept him out of their first round game against Finland. He had been a game-time decision leading up to the game, but did not take the ice for pre-game warmups.

It’s a big loss for Russia because Datsyuk is still their top-line center and had been skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Vladimir Tarasenko before the injury. He recorded two assists in his two games for Russia.

Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov will center that line instead.

If Russia does not beat Canada on Saturday we could have very likely seen the last of Datsyuk on a North American hockey rink. Datsyuk decided to leave the NHL to return to Russia after spending 14 years with the Detroit Red Wings during a career that saw him win two Stanley Cups and score 314 goals. He was one of the best two-way players in the NHL during his career and one of the best ever

The winner of Saturday’s game will play the winner of Sunday’s Sweden-Team Europe semifinal in a best of three championship series.

Ekblad back on the ice for Panthers after World Cup injury

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers had a bit of a scare during the 2016 World Cup when defenseman Aaron Ekblad, while playing for Team North America, was injured in a first-round game against Finland that kept him out for the remainder of the tournament.

On Saturday, Ekblad was back on the ice for the Panthers doing some individual workouts following the injury.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said, via Alain Poupart of NHL.com.  “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

It was initially reported that Ekblad had a concussion, but it was later reported to be a neck injury.

The Panthers haven’t been overly concerned with the injury over the past week.

Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, has quickly become one of the franchise building blocks for a Panthers team that is on the rise in the Eastern Conference.

Still only 20 years old, he is already a top-pairing defenseman in the league and has scored 27 goals in his career, a number that is pretty much unheard of for a defenseman that young.

According to the hockey-reference database, the only defenseman that has scored more goals at that age through their first two seasons is Phil Housley.

After winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16 and having a busy offseason that saw them add Keith Yandle and Jason Demers to their defense, the Panthers look like they could be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season and Ekblad is going to be a major part of that.

Ilya Bryzgalov’s Canada – Russia take is the best take

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 24:  Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of Russia comes into the game against Canada during the ice hockey men's quarter final game between Russia and Canada on day 13 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 24, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Admit it: you miss Ilya Bryzgalov.

Saturday presented the latest reminder that hockey’s just a little less fun thanks to the absence of Mr. Universe, as Bryzgalov regaled ESPN’s Craig Custance with his impeccable analysis of the drubbing Russia received from Canada during the 2010 Olympics.

You see, Breezy initially described Canada’s start “like gorillas out of a cage,” but upon further reflection …

… Well:

“Not gorillas,” Bryzgalov said. “More like Orcs from ‘The Hobbit.’ You watch that movie, right? Big. Mean. Scary.”

Fantastic.

Now, it’s possible that Bryzgalov meant “Lord of the Rings” rather than “The Hobbit,” but both series featured “Big. Mean. Scary” orcs, so who knows:

Really though, it paints quite the picture. Imagine, for a moment, Shea Weber or Brent Burns decked out like that one especially big, mean and scary orc. One can only imagine the Photoshop masterpieces that may sprout up thanks to the vivid story Bryzgalov told.

***

Now, there are some great bits leading up to Saturday’s Canada – Russia semifinal. PHT should have more to come tonight.

Sportsnet looked back at a moment in which a seemingly sure-thing Canadian team hit a brick wall in a Russian opponent. NHL.com provided a fascinating look at Mike Babcock and his quest for control. TSN captures a moment of sorts for Steven Stamkos.

There’s a lot of great stuff out there, but Bryzgalov’s takes are truly one of a kind, and they’ve been truly missed.