Edmonton Oilers v Phoenix Coyotes

Jovanovski takes leadership role in Florida

At this point, most people know about the Florida Panthers offseason and their wild spending spree to fill their roster. Twenty-something-year-old forwards like Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, and Scottie Upshall were all brought in to infuse life into the organization. But just as important to the long-term success as the young forwards as they brought into the fold is the veteran defender they brought back: Ed Jovanovski.

It’s been twelve years since the blueliner has pulled on a Panthers jersey. Since then he’s applied his trade as one of the cornerstone defensemen on some good Canucks teams and has spent the last five seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes. Obviously, the player who is returning to South Beach may have the same face and name—but the game is brings has certainly evolved since he packed his bags.

Back then, he was the hulking defenseman who was trying to grow into his expected role as “elite NHL defenseman.” He may never have fully grown into the role, but he’s now the guy who young players can look up to in the locker room. At least that’s GM Dale Tallon’s plan. You see, in addition to all of the young forwards the Panthers brought in, the Panthers management is relying on their young, homegrown defenseman to take the next step. Brian Campbell will obviously eat minutes on a nightly basis and help with the power play, but behind him are a handful of first round picks who will need to fill NHL roles this season.

Keaton Ellerby, Dmitri Kulikov, and Erik Gudbranson are all expected to make the team out of training camp to play in top-six roles this season. All are former first round picks—all are still trying to prove they are long-term solutions on the blueline. Aside from his play on the ice, one of Jovanovski’s central responsibilities will be to help mentor the young defensemen fill their potential. He’ll have four-years to figure it out after signing his monster $16.5 million contract this offseason.

First and foremost, it’ll be important that he helps Gudbranson make the transition from the OHL to the NHL. The third overall pick in the 2010 Draft spent an extra year in juniors last season, but after signing an entry-level deal in the summer, the time is now for the stay-at-home defenseman to make the jump. Jovanovski likes what he sees so far:

“The kid’s right on the cusp of playing here this year. If I can help him out any, which I can, that’s what I hope to do.”

Relating to a high draft pick with enormous expectations shouldn’t be all that difficult for JovoCop. After all, this is the same guy who was the #1 overall pick for the Panthers way back in 1994. Still, it’s not the first time he’s been around young defenseman who are looking to make a name for themselves in the league. He watched as Zbynek Michalek, Keith Yandle, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson tried to break into the league and solidify themselves as strong NHL defenseman. Once again, he’ll fill the same role in Florida.

He may not be the same player that he was the first time around in Florida and he may be overpaid for what he brings to the ice nowadays, but the Panthers aren’t expecting the 25-year-old version of Jovanovski this time around. They’re expected a veteran presence that can help the young prospects grow into dependable defenseman while holding his own on a nightly basis.

In a year that could be another rebuilding season in Florida, the maturation of the young defenseman will be almost as important as the points in the standings.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.