Kid Kadri looks to crack the Leafs lineup this season

Up until this point, the most memorable part of Nazem Kadri’s career is when Leafs GM Brian Burke asked Senators GM Bryan Murray who he was going to take in the 2009 Entry Draft—only to shoot him down on national television. He hopes to change all that this season as he aims to put his best foot forward during Toronto’s training camp this month. There aren’t many spots up for grabs this season after the Leafs acquired the likes of Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly this offseason. Kadri knows that he’ll need to step up his game if he wants to impress management and earn a permanent spot on the NHL roster this year.

The 20-year-old forward appeared in 29 total games for the Leafs last season. He played in 17 games in November/December before he was sent down to the Toronto Marlies to refine his game—due in large part because he only collected two assists in the final month before demoted. The former seventh overall pick played better when management brought him up for another look in mid-March. He collected three goals and three assists in 12 games to finish the 2010-11 campaign. The cup of coffee with the big club gave him all the motivation he needed for the offseason:

“I’m coming in expecting there to be zero jobs left and for me to steal one,” Kadri said. “Obviously (to get demoted) would be extremely disappointing. I want to be a regular 82-plus-playoff games player in the NHL. That’s why I worked so hard this summer — to prove a point.

“Now I what to show everybody that I’m here to stay.”

It’s good that Kadri is coming into camp with a certain sense of desperation because management isn’t messing around this week. The team is bringing in about 70 players—but most of them better not get too comfortable. Ron Wilson told QMI that the cuts are going to come fast and furious for the first week as the trim the roster to a manageable number:

“What I’ve stressed with management, when Wednesday rolls around, we’re going to be down to 40 guys,” Wilson said Friday at the MasterCard Centre where the team reported for physical testing. “By next weekend, we’ll be down to 26 or 27 players.

“I’m cutting right through all the B.S., and getting right down to the NHL players. I’m not worried about where we are going to be in two or three years. My primary responsibility is this year and getting off to a quick start.”

No pressure there. Have a bad day and you could be gone. Then again, for anyone who’s going to play a full season in Toronto, they should get used to that kind of daily scrutiny. Rumor has it the Toronto media judges swiftly and harshly.

As far as Kadri goes, a spot on the Leafs should be his to lose. The left wing spot on the 3rd line is waiting to be claimed and Kadri’s speed would be a welcomed asset in any capacity. But just as important as his skill set is the way he is viewed by management. There’s no question they want the high draft pick to make the team and succeed. The Leafs prospect pool has been improving over the last couple of season and Kadri is the best of the lot.

If he can prove that he belongs on the team, it will look good for the rest of their mini-redevelopment project.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.