Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele looks to make NHL this year in Phoenix

Turn back the calendar to twelve months ago. At this time last year, Miami University senior Andy Miele was preparing for his final season with the Redhawks in hopes of capturing a capturing an national title. But unlike most respected players in the junior or collegiate ranks, he wasn’t sure that he’d have a home when his final season was complete. You see—this is the life for an undrafted collegiate athlete.

Little did Miele know last summer that he was about to embark on one of the more dominant CCHA seasons in recent memory. All it took was 24 goals and 71 points in 39 games to get the attention of NHL scouts and general managers. The Hobey Baker Award didn’t hurt either.  In the previous year, he was a point-per-game player—but no one was prepared for the breakout season Miele was about to drop on the hockey world. By the time he was done, he had the teams from all over the league bidding for his services. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t surprising when he chose to take his services to… Phoenix?

In hindsight, Miele’s choice to play in Phoenix shouldn’t be so surprising. For undrafted free agents, one of the most important aspects when choosing a destination is available opportunity. Is there an chance to make the big club at a particular position? In Phoenix’s case, there was a bit of a void at the center position. But it’s been more than just opening for Miele. It’s been the right fit as well.

“I love the staff here in Phoenix,” Miele explained. “It’s been great—it’s a great group of guys. But the opportunity seems to be what caught my eye the most. That’s what you need to look for: the best opportunity to play. I felt like that would be in Phoenix.”

Even though Miele tore though the CCHA all the way to the Frozen Four last season, there was a fairly large reason why he wasn’t originally drafted when he was eligible to be claimed at the Entry Draft. More specifically, there was a “small” problem. The Michigan native is listed at 5’8” and 175 lbs, but the 5’8 listing is unquestionably on the generous side.

If a player with his skill and heart was put in a body that was 6’2,” 210 lbs, he would have been a first round draft pick. Like most vertically challenged players, overcoming questions about his size isn’t anything new.

“It’s been pretty much the same throughout my whole life,” the Hobey Baker winner shared. “People just saying I can’t do it just because of my size. People always think that’s going to hold me back, but that’s just motivate for me to prove people wrong. I do it for myself and I do it to prove people wrong. I’ve had to do it my whole life—it’s nothing different, so it’s not like I’m jumping into something that’s unexpected.

“I’ve always played gritty my whole life. I love to mix it up with guys and get in the corner and play a little bit of a physical game. I feel like that can separate me from other little guys. The determination out there is huge for me.”

source: Getty ImagesObviously for a player to prove scouts wrong that only see his size, he has to make up for it in other areas. Like Miele said, he doesn’t shy away from the tough areas of the ice and doesn’t hesitate to battle to when the game calls for it. The quick comparison for most when they hear about a talented (yet small) offensive dynamo is to go to the Martin St. Louis card. Yet in Miele’s case, there are better comparisons out there.

Phoenix assistant GM Brad Treliving sees a different NHL center with the most similarities: “He reminds me little bit of Derek Roy in Buffalo. He sees people around him. He has the ability to make people around him better. I’m really intrigued to see him with the NHL players [in preseason games]. Some people are going into holes, he can create space. When people talk about [smaller players like] Gerbe or St. Louis, the one thing I say is that those guys have dynamic speed. [Miele’s] quick, but I wouldn’t call him a dynamic skater. But he has the vision.”

There’s no question that Derek Roy is some pretty good company for a guy who is still battling for a spot on an NHL roster. But we’re also talking about a player with world-class skills who has already represented the United States at the IIHF World Championships. For his money, Miele has a different player comparison in mind—one that will hit much closer to home for Coyotes fans.

“I’ve been watching Ray Whitney a lot and I love the way he plays,” Miele said. “I feel like we play a lot of the same style with being a playmaker and really being very strong on the puck. I feel like I want to model my game after him.”

Not surprisingly, he also said he’d like to have the same kind of longevity as Whitney. But before he can jump into a skates of a 39-year-old veteran, Miele understands that the pro game is a completely different animal—both on and off the ice.

“The whole game is different—especially from college,” Miele admitted. “You have to think faster, you have to move faster. Everything you have to do is faster. The work ethic is unbelievable. My first practice, Shane Doan was out there, when everyone was off, working on his stride. The guy’s been in the NHL for how many years? You can never think that you’re at the top of your game and you can’t get better. There’s always something you can improve on. You can always get stronger or fix something in your game. That’s something you always have to do.”

If he’s looking for a mentor to show him what it takes to succeed in the NHL, his captain in Phoenix is one of the best examples in the league. And just like his captain, Miele knows that he’s going to have to have a well-rounded game if he wants to make the NHL roster and stick around for a while. That may mean initially taking on a role that he’s not as familiar with. With Daymond Langkow, Marty Hanzal, and Boyd Gordon taking up three center spots on the roster, Miele may be asked to start his career in a bottom-six role to start his career. Traditionally, those roles are reserved for energy players—not prolific scorers.

“In college, I believe my sophomore year; I think I was a 3rd liner,” the eager Miele confirmed. “But in college it’s a little different—you can roll three ‘skill’ lines. But I have no problem getting the puck in and working the corners, and throwing my little weight around. I’ll do whatever I have to do to be up with the Coyotes. If they want me as a third liner, I’ll do that. I don’t care.”

He sounds like just about any other potential rookie hoping to break into the NHL. The difference is that Miele’s skill, ice-awareness, and vision make him a potential YouTube star on any given night. Teammate Brett Hextall summed up his ability when he simply said, “his skills are pretty outrageous.” The next step is to show the Coyotes management that he can display the dynamic offense on a nightly basis while doing all of the little things that are expected of an NHL center. If the rookie camp and early preseason game are any indicator, he’s going to make it tough on Don Maloney and Co. to send him down to Portland.

The Buzzer: Hall leads Devils; Jets’ Connor plays OT hero again

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Players of the Night

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Yeah, they lost, but it would have been a much worse outcome for the Anaheim Ducks if not for their goaltender. During a 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Gibson was outstanding in stopping 39 shots while his teammates threw only 18 Connor Hellebuyck‘s way.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: The Devils earned a very important two points during a wild 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. After blowing a 3-1 second period lead, it was Hall (three points) who helped New Jersey claim the extra point with the winning goal 27 seconds into the extra period. He now has a career high 81 points.

Antti Niemi, Montreal Canadiens: Niemi earned his first shutout of the season with 35-save effort as the Habs blanked the Buffalo Sabres 3-0. Artturi Lehkonen opened the scoring and Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher added very late insurance markers as Montreal snapped a four-game losing streak.

Highlight of the Night

Devils forward Blake Coleman gave us this one-handed beauty against the Penguins:


Patrik Berglund scored twice as the St. Louis Blues stayed in the playoff hunt with a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues have won six of seven and four in a row to put themselves a point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the West’s second wild card. In his return to the lineup, Vladimir Tarasenko gave Anders Nilsson the old change-up for this goal:

• The Jets gave us a pair of pretty goals Friday night during their 3-2 win over the Ducks. First, check out Blake Wheeler’s hands as he set up Mark Scheifele’s 22nd of the season:

Wheeler was also part of this pretty passing play that ended with a Nikolaj Ehlers goal:

In the end, it was Kyle Connor notching the overtime winner for the second straight game:

David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins dealt the Dallas Stars a big blow to their playoff hopes with a 3-2 win. “Pasta” scored the go-ahead goal with 11.1 seconds left in the third period, erasing a 2-0 lead the Stars had entering the final 20 minutes. The Stars are four points out of a wild card spot with seven games left in the regular season.

• No word if she was successful.

Factoid of the Night

Devils 4, Penguins 3 (OT)
Canadiens 3, Sabres 0
Blues 4, Canucks 1
Jets 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
Bruins 3, Stars 2


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

‘Monster year’ could land John Carlson a monster contract

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John Carlson can’t forget that he is fighting for the NHL lead for points among defensemen because his Washington Capitals teammates keep razzing him about it.

”The guys do a good job of pumping that up in the locker room,” Carlson said.

Carlson’s 61 points have him tied with the Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg, and he is a dark horse candidate for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

”John’s having just a whale of a year,” teammate Matt Niskanen said. ”Monster year – production, been carrying the load all year. He’s been a stalwart back there for us.”

This breakout season with a career-high 15 goals and 46 assists is coming at a perfect time for Carlson, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer but has been flying under the radar compared to New York Islanders captain John Tavares. Carlson command upward of $7 million per season on a deal that’s almost certain to be eight years if Washington re-signs him or seven if he hits the market July 1.

The 28-year-old has outperformed the six-year contract he signed in 2012 that pays him just under $4 million a year. He has shown the ability to be a dominant No. 1 defenseman by averaging 25 minutes a game, running the point on the top power-play unit, killing penalties and drawing the toughest matchups.

A 2008 first-round pick of the Capitals, Carlson likes Washington and would like to stay if the fit is there. General manager Brian MacLellan has said he believes each side wants to get a deal done but will wait until after the season to try to make it happen.

The big question is whether the Capitals can make it work under the salary cap, which might require trades even though the ceiling is expected to go up to between $78 million and $82 million from $75 million.

Carlson might not reach the $7.875 million annual salary of Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, who along with Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings is a Norris front-runner, but he might not be far off. Carlson has more of an offensive punch than San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, whose new deal pays him $7 million a year, and he has almost double the points of the next-highest potential free agent defenseman, former Capitals teammate Mike Green, who’s 32.

”He’s always been steady,” Washington goaltender Braden Holtby said of Carlson. ”His role’s expanded, obviously, which shows: time on ice and points and such. He’s got all the tools of a great defenseman. ”

Carlson isn’t the only player excelling in a contract year. Here are some others:

James van Riemsdyk

Thirty-goal scorers get paid handsomely in free agency because they are so rarely available. Van Riemsdyk’s 33 goals are 11th-most in the NHL, and the 6-foot-3, 217-pound left-winger has gotten better around the net. Van Riemsdyk, the second overall pick in 2007, has another one of the league’s best bargain contracts at $4.25 million a year, which Toronto inherited from Philadelphia. The Maple Leafs have expressed interest in keeping the 28-year-old.


Undoubtedly the best pending free agent, Tavares still not having a new contract with the New York Islanders is generating buzz and whispers like Steven Stamkos two years ago. Stamkos re-upped with Tampa Bay on the eve of free agency, which Tavares could do. The Islanders will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season and sixth time in Tavares’ nine years in the league. The point-a-game player with 32 goals and 43 assists could fetch $10 million a year or more if he isn’t back with New York.

David Perron

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights struck gold with Perron, whose 66 points are a career high and a big reason they are leading the Pacific Division. The soon-to-be 30-year-old winger got his game back after bouncing around to four different teams the past five seasons and could easily re-sign with Vegas like teammate Jonathan Marchessault did.

Joe Thornton

Knee surgery knocked Thornton out of the San Jose Sharks’ lineup in January, cutting short a season in which he had 36 points in 43 games at age 38. If Thornton shows he can still play at the top of his game when he returns, he will be in demand for another one-year contract.

Rick Nash

Going from the New York Rangers to Boston appears to have reinvigorated Nash’s game after just 28 points in 60 games before the trade. The 33-year-old power winger’s contract year won’t truly be judged until the playoffs, where he gets another chance to exorcise some past demons.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Starting goaltenders battling fatigue as playoffs loom

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Behind the mask is a mind filled with a web of a thousand thoughts, worries and a singular focus of what it takes to win a game.

Then the next game, then the one after that.

”There is no shut-off for a goaltender,” retired goalie Brian Boucher said. ”The mind doesn’t shut off.”

A starting NHL goaltender bears a burden unlike any position in hockey and few others in sports, and the resulting pressure builds up over the course of a season. By this time of year, with the playoffs on the horizon, No. 1 goalies have grinded through almost six months of work and are battling fatigue that threatens to derail their team’s hopes.

Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay is going through it for the first time while Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals is used to it by now. Goalies of all ages have no choice but to manage the physical and mental hurdles.

”It’s one of those things that you’ve got find ways to make sure you’re prepared and ready to play every game,” Holtby said. ”As a goaltender, there’s not much room to take nights off.”

It’s worse for the goalies whose teams can’t afford to start a backup. Boucher started the final 13 games for Philadelphia in 2010 to help them make the playoffs, Jonathan Quick started 20 of the final 21 games for the Los Angeles Kings when they tried to make a furious push to make it in 2015 and Kari Lehtonen could be counted on to play the final nine games of the Dallas Stars’ season now as they claw for a spot.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

”You’ll go through the whole night thinking about tomorrow, show up to the rink in the morning thinking about tonight and then you show up to the game thinking about the game,” said Boucher, now an analyst for NBC Sports. ”Not until that horn goes off at the very end can you finally go, ‘Whew,’ and take a deep breath and hopefully it’s in a celebration with your teammates. …. You have a shower, you feel good about things, you go home, you kind of decompress and then the next day it starts again: the butterflies, the nerves, the thinking about your opponent. And that’s the mental fatigue that comes into it.”

That’s what Vasilevskiy is dealing with at age 23, 58 starts into his first season as the full-time starter and the league leader in victories.

”Tiredness is something that I probably never faced before,” he told The Tampa Bay Times.

The same goes for Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who is between the pipes for meaningful games and on the cusp of his first playoff appearance. Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty talks to Hellebuyck almost daily about what he needs to be successful, and the staff pays careful attention to making sure the 24-year-old is good to go.

Coach Paul Maurice said the Jets are aware of the balance between rhythm and rest but aren’t holding Hellebuyck back.

”There’s a fatigue component that a No. 1 goaltender also has to embrace,” Maurice said. ”He has to learn how to play when he doesn’t feel 100 percent right because that’s basically going to be his life.”

Winnipeg has been able to give Hellebuyck blocks of two or three days completely off, a rarity for top goalies this time of year. The Nashville Predators have a big enough lead atop the Central Division that they can afford to lighten Pekka Rinne‘s workload down the stretch, which could be a huge benefit.

”I like thinking outside the box,” former goalie Martin Biron said. ”You may have a Friday-Saturday game, have a Tuesday game, have a Thursday game. You can play your starter on Friday-Saturday and not play him on Tuesday so he gets Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (off) and then he gets ready for the weekend again for the Thursday. There’s a lot more days to be able to decompress and really think about how to reset and re-prepare.”

Holtby got a 10-day reset from a month-plus of struggles as Philipp Grubauer started four games in a row. Having a reliable backup is a luxury Washington has – and Holtby doesn’t like taking days off, either. Toronto starter Frederik Andersen recently joked that he’s more tired of being asked if he’s tired than he is from facing the most shots in the league.

Practice shots, warmups, travel and mental and physical preparation are also part of the wear and tear. Analyst Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild said those can be spaced out over weeks and months.

”Anything you can do to get a little bit of extra sleep over the course of the season is absolutely monumental when it comes time for the playoff push,” Goldman said.

Biron, who started 59 games for Philadelphia in 2007-08 and backed up Henrik Lundqvist when the New York Rangers realized the ”King” needed more time off, figures 60 is the perfect number for a starter. For someone like Vasilevskiy who can’t afford to learn and wait for next year, Boucher said he hopes a more relaxed market like Tampa Bay helps now and the rush of the playoffs gets him through the grind in a few weeks.

”I think Vasilevskiy’s going to be fine just because you watch his physical attributes, they’re through the roof,” Boucher said. ”So the physical side doesn’t look like it’s an issue. Now it’s his time to shine.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Vladimir Tarasenko returns to Blues at pivotal time

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The St. Louis Blues are getting Vladimir Tarasenko back at a crucial time.

Tarasenko missed the past two games with an upper-body injury — a suspected but never confirmed concussion — and returns with the Blues sitting three points back of the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The Blues host the Vancouver Canucks on Friday and hold a game in hand over the Anaheim Ducks

Tarasenko sits second on the team in scoring with 27 goals and 58 points in 71 games.

The Blues don’t have much wiggle room in terms of losses in their last nine games. Anaheim is going for their fifth straight win and the Colorado Avalanche have been on fire ever since the return of Nathan MacKinnon.

But the Blues have won three in a row themselves to put themselves back in contention.

The return of a talent as good as Tarasenko can only help their efforts.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck