Sean Couturier

Can both Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier crack the Flyers lineup?

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When the Flyers sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles and Jeff Carter to Columbus in separate trades this summer, it shook the Flyers and their fans to the core. After all, both Carter and Richards were drafted in the first round in the same year back in 2003 and grew up together on the Flyers poised to be the center duo that would lead them to the Stanley Cup. While those two were able to take them to the finals in 2010, they couldn’t bring the big prize home. Seeing them both sent packing to new teams was a shock.

In their place came Brayden Schenn, acquired in the Mike Richards trade, and 2011 first round pick Sean Couturier, taken with the pick the Blue Jackets gave up to get Carter. Schenn was viewed as being one of the top prospects in all of hockey and Couturier was viewed before the draft as being one of the top five prospects in the 2011 draft.

The Flyers have both of their potential future stars on display during their rookies game in Philadelphia between the Flyers and Washington Capitals today at Wells Fargo Center. Could it be a preview of what’s to come as soon as this year? Some think it could be.

Brayden Schenn got a taste of NHL life last year with the Kings playing in eight games and getting to stick around with the team for a while as a healthy scratch. This time around, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has very high hopes for Schenn. Sam Carchidi of Philly.com gives his take.

Based on general manager Paul Holmgren’s comments earlier this summer, the hardworking Schenn is the leading candidate to start the season as the team’s third-line center. Scouts say Schenn, who turned 20 last month, is a budding star.

As for Couturier, being an 18 year-old going into his first professional camp is a daunting task. After being one of the top rated prospects in the 2011 draft, the thought was already around heading into draft weekend that he could be one of the few that makes it to the NHL right away. Joining Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily mean that though as the Flyers do have enough talent up the middle to make it work.

For Couturier, that might only serve to motivate him to force the issue in training camp and make a spot available for him on the Flyers roster right away. Sarah Baicker of CSNPhilly.com looks at Couturier’s chances of cracking the Flyers roster as an 18 year-old.

Couturier, one of the participants in rookie camp, which kicked off Monday, is sure to get a lot of good looks from Flyers coaches and management over the coming days. And they will extend well into next week; the team’s full training camp begins Saturday. Couturier has already earned an invite.

“My main goal is to make the team, but I’m taking it one day at a time, working hard every day,” Couturier said. “Just trying to get better every day. It’s going to be up to the staff to decide whether they keep me or not.”

“I’m just hoping to make a good first impression,” he added.

If he can make that impression today against the Capitals and throughout training camp, there’s a chance he can make the Flyers and not get a ticket back to junior hockey. At 6’3″ 200 pounds, he’s got NHL size but whether his skills can keep up at an NHL level is another question.

One thing is for sure, coach Peter Laviolette will have a lot to look out for in training camp as both Schenn and Couturier are part of the Flyers future and will be good players. If they can both bring it to the NHL now, however, the Flyers’ deals this summer will start to look like genius moves from Paul Holmgren. If they can’t cut it though… Look out.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.