Devils prospect Jon Merrill suspended 12 games from U of Michigan

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While the NHL season is set to get under way officially in a few days, the college hockey schedule is roaring to life this weekend. One guy who won’t be participating in that will be New Jersey Devils prospect and University of Michigan standout Jon Merrill.

Merrill has been suspended for 12 games by legendary coach Red Berenson for breaking unspecified team rules. While we see things like this happen in college football and basketball generally having to do with problems with boosters or grades, we don’t know what Merrill’s issues were.

With such a big punishment (college hockey season runs approximately 40 games total), the worry there for the Devils exists because he might be hurting his development. Devils coach Lou Lamoriello has no issues whatsoever with how Michigan is handling things as Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice finds out.

“I support what the coach did and (Merrill) understands and he’s committed to Michigan and we support that 100 percent,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said.

Lamoriello said he had been in contact with Berenson about the incident, but would not say if he spoke with Merrill.

“We have had communication with the coach and that’s good enough for me,” Lamoriello said.

There is one catch when a college prospect runs into issues in the NCAA as a hockey player: A player can always escape college by jumping to the Canadian Hockey League. In this case, Merrill’s CHL rights belong to the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers. If Merrill was frustrated by what happened in Michigan and didn’t want to sit out the 12 games, he could tell Michigan to forget it and go play a pro-like schedule with Plymouth. The catch there is that if he jumps to the OHL, he cannot go back to Michigan.

One thing’s for sure, eyes in Michigan will be focused on Merrill to see if he stays in school as the Wolverines have lost their fair share of prospects over the years to the CHL including Stars first round pick in 2010, goalie Jack Campbell. The noble thing for Merrill to do would be to accept the responsibility for whatever it was he did, deal with the suspension, and finish out the year at UM. Nobility, however, sometimes has nothing to do with what’s right for what a player feels for their career and their future.

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.