Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist’s excitement for new season bubbling over

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Henrik Lundqvist is the man who holds it together in Manhattan for the New York Rangers. He’s their top goalie and he’s one of the best in the NHL. While the Rangers have had their struggles in recent years in making it to the playoffs or just missing out, they’d be going nowhere without Lundqvist holding things down.

Lundqvist got his new season off to an early beginning getting to play the first 30+ minutes of the Rangers’ preseason opening 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils. Lundqvist stopped 17 of 18 shots during the first half of the game and for him, it was the exact kind of welcome back to real game action he was looking for.

“I think it’s good I get out there right away and start working on my game and timing and focus. It’s one thing to practice on your skill and technique but to play the game it’s a lot of mental approach and how you focus for the game. It’s good to get out there right away and start working and it’s fun,” Lundqvist said. “I missed the game.”

Wait, even a preseason game is exciting? Is it more fun than the stressful regular season?

“No… It’s more fun in the regular season. The excitement, the feel, the pressure… You’re nervous and anxious. You see how fun the game is. I love the game. It feels great to be back… But when it really starts is when the real fun begins.”

The Rangers kick off their season in Europe for the NHL Premiere series in Prague, Czech Republic and Gothenberg, Sweden and for Lundqvist, it’s a trip he’s eager to make with the team.

“I’m really excited about that trip. Starting off in Prague and then to Gothenberg to play my old team and get to play against my twin brother. I’m excited to bring this team there and show them Sweden a little bit. I’m real excited about that.”

With the Rangers heading into what could be a very big season for them, Lundqvist is excited by everything that lies ahead for the team. From the additions of guys like Brad Richards and Mike Rupp as well as seeing a lot of the same guys come back from last season, he’s encouraged by where the Rangers are headed.

The work Rangers GM Glen Sather  did in the offseason was to not radically change things up. Retaining restricted free agents Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Michael Sauer helped keep a strong group of guys in tact. In past seasons, the Rangers would drastically change the landscape of the team by signing many big names while foregoing how they develop players.

By retaining their youthful group of players and continuing to develop more of them, the Rangers are building from within rather than taking chances with high-priced stars. That’s an effort Lundqvist seems to be in full support of.

“You know, I looked around a couple weeks ago and it was fun to recognize so many guys. I think the management did a great job to re-sign a lot of the guys. We have a good corps, a good group here,” Lundqvist said. “We’ve got an interesting group and I think everyone is excited to start playing and see what we can do as a group.”

With the Rangers’ kids growing up and experienced vets like Rupp and Richards helping fill out ranks, all Lundqvist might have to be is his usual brilliant self to help get the Rangers deeper into the playoffs. After all, Lundqvist seems more than eager to bring on the pressure and fun that is the playoffs.

‘I’ve got to be more aware’ on the ice, says Ekblad after recent injury

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Aaron Ekblad #5  of the Florida Panthers leaves the ice following warmups prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As per multiple reports, Aaron Ekblad practiced with his Florida Panthers teammates Thursday.

Good news. That marks another step in the progress he’s made from a neck injury — initially reported to be a concussion — suffered on a hit from Leo Komarov that ultimately ended the defenseman’s experience for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey.

On Thursday, Ekblad told reporters the injury was actually whiplash.

The 20-year-old Ekblad has had a history of concussions, including one from a Hockey Canada camp in August, 2014 — almost two full months after the Panthers selected him first overall.

He was injured again in January of last season when Matt Hendricks caught him with a dangerous hit against the end boards, resulting in a suspension for Hendricks.

Despite supplemental discipline from the league on that specific incident involving Hendricks, Ekblad, a valuable part of a young Panthers team that has increased expectations surrounding it, put the onus on himself to be more aware on the ice.

“When I think about it in the Edmonton game last year, there were a couple of big hits on their guys. I should have expected to someone was going to come after me,” Ekblad told NHL.com.

“Obviously you don’t think that. You think there’s a little bit more respect among players out there. I turned, I saw him. I didn’t think he was going to drive my head into the glass. The Komarov hit there, he got me on the shoulder, not much on the head or anything like that. It was more of the whiplash effect. Again, I’ve got to be more aware. You train your body, you train your brain to do that kind of thing. I do a lot of eye exercises and stuff like that. We’re working on that right now and just trying to be a better hockey player that way.”

The Panthers have a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. Ekblad is not in the lineup.

Stars sign WHL d-man Vala to entry-level deal

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The Dallas Stars have added another defenseman to their group of prospects.

On Thursday, the club signed 18-year-old Czech blue liner Ondrej Vala to a three-year entry-level contract. Vala is currently playing for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. He had four goals and 21 points in 72 games last season — his first with the Blazers.

Having represented the Czech Republic at U-17 and U-18 international events and played for the Stars prospects team at the Traverse City Tournament, Vala is also listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 209 pounds.

He certainly brings size on the blue line, which is a quality the Stars appear to value in him.

“Ondrej has shown a combination of size and physicality along with the ability to play a defensively responsible game at the junior hockey level,” said Stars GM Jim Nill in a statement.

Related:

Another — yes, another — blow for Dallas as Janmark spotted on crutches

Capitals send first-round pick Johansen back to junior

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Lucas Johansen poses for a portrait after being selected 28th overall by the Washington Capitals in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have sent prospect defenseman Lucas Johansen, selected 28th overall in this year’s NHL Draft, back to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

From the Kelowna Capital News:

The Kelowna Rockets have yet to play a regular season game with a full lineup.

That will change this weekend in Prince George when defenceman Lucas Johansen and forward Calvin Thurkauf rejoin their WHL club for a two-game set against the Cougars.

Johansen, a first-round NHL draft pick this summer, is back from the camp of the Washington Capitals, while Thurkauf returns from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Capitals confirmed the news via Twitter.

Johansen, the younger brother of NHL center Ryan Johansen, appeared in Monday’s exhibition game for the Capitals, apparently leaving a positive impression on the coaching staff.

Still, Johansen doesn’t turn 19 years old until the middle of November. He also has some growing left to do at six-foot-one-inch tall and just 174 pounds, so sending him back to junior is the logical step.

“For a first game, to have that kind of poise playing defense, you don’t see it very often,” Capitals’ associate coach Todd Reirden told the Washington Post.

“So, it’s fun to watch, how he goes about the game. Certainly, I think it’s helped growing up in the family that he has and being around some of the players he’s practiced with. I think he has some special tools, in terms of his ability to slow down the play and see some things that other players don’t. He’s looking like an outstanding draft pick for us and a real great prospect moving forward.”

Shaw suspended three preseason games for boarding Connor Hobbs

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 02:  Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks during Media Day for the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 2, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League has suspended Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw for three preseason games for boarding defenseman Connor Hobbs of the Washington Capitals in an exhibition game Tuesday.

The Habs have five more exhibition games remaining before the regular season begins Oct. 13.

Shaw was given a major penalty and a game misconduct on the play, as he slammed Hobbs “through the numbers, with speed” from behind into the end glass, as per Thursday’s video from the NHL outlining the suspension.

From the video: “It is important to note that Hobbs is never eligible to be checked by Shaw on this play. From the moment Shaw arrives at the faceoff dot, he sees nothing but Hobbs’ numbers. Hobbs makes no sudden movement just prior to contact that turns this hit from a legal hit into an illegal one.

“The onus is on Shaw to ensure that he can deliver this hit in a legal fashion, minimize the force, or avoid this hit completely. Instead, he hits forcefully through Hobbs from behind, driving him dangerously into the glass.”

In a bid to land a gritty forward to their lineup, the Habs acquired Shaw from the Blackhawks, who had been dealing with a cap crunch, during the NHL Draft. He later signed a six-year contract extension with Montreal.