Discussing bigger leadership roles for Steven Stamkos, Erik Johnson

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While the New York Islanders bucked the trend a bit by handing the “C” to veteran defenseman Mark Streit, young players are receiving more and more leadership roles around the NHL. From Alex Ovechkin’s captaincy with the Washington Capitals to Sidney Crosby leading the Pittsburgh Penguins and on, graybeard captains are rapidly giving way to guys who might not even be able to grow a beard.

It almost seems like a No. 1 overall pick should receive at least an alternate captain’s “A” when they sign an entry-level contract. Here’s a look at two top picks who could see an increase in responsibilities in the near future.

Should Erik Johnson be Colorado’s next captain?

The Colorado Avalanche are at tough team to gauge. After a Cinderella run to the playoffs in 2009-10, the mostly young squad absolutely fell apart last season. Young players such as budding power forward Chris Stewart and offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk were traded (as was goalie Craig Anderson) during that campaign, while scoring blueliner John-Michael Liles parted ways with the team during the off-season.

With all that change in mind, the team’s 2011-12 fortunes could rest on the shoulders of players they traded for: goalie Semyon Varlamov and defenseman Erik Johnson. Johnson was the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, in front of players such as Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Jordan Staal and Claude Giroux. While Johnson has shown flashes of the brilliance the St. Louis Blues were hoping for, he fizzled out badly in 10-11 before being traded to Colorado for Stewart and Shattenkirk.

No doubt about it, the Avs hope that Johnson not only bounces back from last season, but that he’ll put together the best season of his young career. Denver Post writer Mark Kiszla goes one step further, though: he thinks Colorado should make him their new captain after Adam Foote retired from the job.

Matt Duchene​ brings the dash and flash that sells tickets. Milan Hejduk​ has more gray in his beard, Paul Stastny​ flinches less than a rock.

But are any of these fine men really the answer at captain?

Johnson is the right choice. He represents where the Avs want to go. This is a team obviously trying to tell the league it’s tired of being a pushover. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, you don’t want to mess with Johnson at the blue line.

Personally, I’d go with Stastny, but Johnson would be a great representation of which forces will be most pivotal for Colorado next season.

Should Steven Stamkos wear the “A” in Tampa Bay?

Lightning head coach Guy Boucher made Stamkos an alternate captain during a preseason game, but it remains to be seen if the letter will stick. Then again, it might be right to think that it’s just a matter of time for the star sniper. Of course, it could be a while before he becomes more of a leader than current captain Vincent Lecavalier and invaluable winger Martin St. Louis, but he’s obviously a crucial cog in what should be a consistent contender.

“We know how he can play, and it’s not necessarily bringing a certain amount of points,” Lecavalier said. “It’s what he brings to the table. We know he’s going to bring more leadership this year. He deserves it.”

More than that, Boucher said, “He earned it.”

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Stamkos seems like an easy choice for an alternate role, but what about Johnson’s possible quick turnaround as the Avalanche captain? Should it instead go to a veteran as a stopgap (Milan Hedjuk) or a player entering his prime like Stastny or Matt Duchene? Let us know in the comments.

The Buzzer: Celebrating genius of McDavid, Bergeron, Karlsson

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Player of the Night: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Nico Hischier collected two goals and an assist in a blistering effort as the Devils beat the Senators in overtime. Erik Karlsson almost ruined things for New Jersey with three assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched an impressive 43-save shutout as the Lightning edged the Blue Jackets. Ben Bishop narrowly kept Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan from even bigger nights, yet each player scored two goals and one assist apiece in a slim Stars win vs. the Coyotes.

Even Bergeron’s teammates made some waves.

There were great choices for player of the night, but ultimately, Bergeron’s return to the Bruins lineup stands tallest. He scored a goal and three assists, soothing injury-bummed Bruins fans as part of Boston’s victory against Vancouver.

Bergeron didn’t ease right in. He won half of his draws, fired six shots on goal, and almost logged 21 minutes of ice time. Maybe he can hold things together for Boston?

Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s ridiculous assist

This post goes into greater detail on that and Edmonton’s win, so we’ll just stick this GIF in here because you need to see it either way:

OK, but to avoid an overly redundant buzzer, check Hischier here, David Pastrnak‘s great goal, and Mikhail Sergachev‘s big night. And, as a bonus, Will Butcher must have nodded to Karlsson after sending this ridiculous outlet pass:

Outstanding.

You know what? Enjoy Bishop robbing Derek Stepan as a bonus bonus.

Misc.

Click here for Erik Gudbranson‘s hit and fight. Zack Kassian‘s hit on Ryan Hartman is mentioned there, but just in case you missed it, here it is one more time:

Factoids of the night

Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators continued their hot streak by blanking the Flyers. Rinne enjoys a milestone moment:

Two impressive bits regarding how dominant McDavid and Karlsson have been:

Scores and more

Bruins 6, Canucks 3 (more)

Devils 5, Senators 4 [OT] (more)

Islanders 4, Rangers 3 [SO]

Predators 1, Flyers 0

Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 0 (more)

Oilers 2, Blackhawks 1 [OT] (more)

Blues 4, Avalanche 3

Hurricanes 2, Flames 1

Stars 5, Coyotes 4

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Should Erik Gudbranson get suspended for boarding Frank Vatrano?

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The Boston Bruins power play made Erik Gudbranson and the Vancouver Canucks pay with three goals during the major for his hit on Frank Vatrano, but the NHL might decide to go further.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety confirmed that Gudbranson, 25, will receive a Friday hearing for the boarding check. The league tends to be vague about this, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that it’s expected to being an interview over the phone, rather than the in-person variety that can bring about harsher punishments.

Vatrano returned to the Bruins’ eventual 6-3 win against the Canucks, yet there’s a chance that he might have a setback. (Knowing Boston’s recent luck, don’t count on good news until you see it.)

Watch the video and Gudbranson’s fight with Tim Schaller in the video above, via Hockey Fights.

Fans responded to that announcement by pointing out one of Thursday’s other questionable hits: Zack Kassian on Ryan Hartman, which only drew a minor penalty:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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McDavid dazzles again, Oilers break slump with OT win vs. Blackhawks

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Update: The Edmonton Oilers ended up needing every bit of Connor McDavid‘s brilliance, as goals weren’t coming easily against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

(Even though, as you can see with that highlight-reel assist, McDavid often makes it look easy.)

McDavid also managed a secondary assist on Mark Letestu‘s overtime-winner, ending the Edmonton Oilers’ losing streak at four games. The Blackhawks continue to be resourceful in getting standings points, in this case falling 2-1 in OT.

Anton Forsberg made 40 of 42 saves, but it wasn’t enough against a driven group led by number 97.

Here’s the OT goal.

If you haven’t seen the more amazing of McDavid’s two helpers, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it.

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Connor McDavid’s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bergeron bombastic in return, but Bruins lose Krejci to injury

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The roller coaster isn’t slowing down for the Boston Bruins.

With Tuukka Rask‘s concussion looming over the proceedings, the Bruins gave fans some reason to celebrate; Patrice Bergeron scored a goal and three assists in an impressive 6-3 output by the B’s top guns against the overmatched Vancouver Canucks.

Even Anders Bjork enjoyed some measure of redemption after bowling over Rask in practice, as the young player scored two goals and an assist despite being limited to 12:29 TOI.

Other big guns like Brad Marchand did their increasingly reliable damage, with David Pastrnak probably providing the most exhilarating goal of the contest:

Yeah, that might get some attention from Canucks coach Travis Green in film sessions, assuming he doesn’t just burn the tape.

Bergeron broke down his night to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy after the game:

The Bruins really made Erik Gudbranson and the Canucks pay for boarding Frank Vatrano, as they scored three power-play goals on the major penalty. Vatrano’s another health situation to watch, although it’s heartening that he returned during the game.

MORE: Gudbranson faces hearing for hit

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So … solid stuff overall, as the Bruins provided ample evidence that they might have the weapons to scrap through all this bad luck.

Then again, if opponents can slow the top-end guys, you wonder what kind of supporting cast the Bruins will have left through this run of attrition. David Krejci is the latest name to land on Boston’s troubling list of walking wounded.

Here’s hoping that it isn’t a big issue for a veteran center who’s dealt with nagging injuries in recent years.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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