When the New Jersey Devils lucked out in the NHL draft lottery and got to move from eighth to fourth thanks to winning the lottery, they were set to get a great player no matter what. When their turn came up, Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson was there for the taking and talk began immediately about how Larsson could start right away for the Devils.
Fast forward to today, Devils coach Peter DeBoer is talking big things about Larsson saying that the 18 year-old has all but won a spot on the team for opening night. With the Devils being a slight bit thin on defense and in need of a guy that can move the puck and not make mistakes with it, Larsson has been all that and then some in training camp. An kid in his first year in the NHL with poise and showing like he belongs right away? We’ll just go ahead and start discussing him as a preseason favorite for the Calder Trophy.
Fire & Ice’s Tom Gulitti has the take right from DeBoer about what Larsson is showing him in camp and the big minutes he’s played in preseason games.
“It’s not optimal,” DeBoer said of those kind of minutes for an 18-year-old during the regular season. “But the kid has handled it so far no problem. We’ve been loading him up with the regular shift, penalty kill and power play to see where his strengths lie and where we think we’ll see him during the regular season. I’m not saying he’s no going to play 24 minutes a night. On some nights in the regular season, that’s a real possibility, but I don’t see that as an every-night thing. It’s been more a situation where we’re throwing everything at him and seeing what’s the best fit for him.”
DeBoer probably will limit Larsson’s time on the penalty kill during the regular season. Playing him on the power play seems like a certainty, though.
“He’s handled himself everywhere,” DeBoer said of the No. 4 overall pick from June’s NHL Entry Draft. “I think where we’re at, he’s done a real good job on the power play up there. I think the guys are comfortable with him. I think it’s just a matter of them getting a lot more reps together and some tough luck around the net for it to go, but I think probably to start if we have to limit some special team action it will be his penalty kill.”
Getting Larsson off the penalty kill and on the power play gives him all the chances in the world to shine offensively while limiting his ability to make mistakes. That can go a long way towards improving Larsson’s psyche and helping him fit in even easier in New Jersey.
Larsson is going to help Devils fans feel a bit better about how the team did last year when he evolves into their next generation version of Scott Niedermayer. It’s lofty advance praise and a lot of things can happen in the future, but he’s got the tools and the skills to become something very special.
Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.
After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.
Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:
Now, back to Rust.
With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.
Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?
What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.
Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.
After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.
Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.
As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.
Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.
Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.
That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.
Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.
It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.
To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.
Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.
In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.
And then Stamkos took the warmup.
As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.
“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”
No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.