Jon Merrill

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.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”

Report: Coyotes shut down Vitale (concussion) for the season

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Joe Vitale will not play again this season.

The Arizona Coyotes have shut Vitale down for the remainder of the 2015-16 campaign due to “concussion-related issues,” according to a report from Sarah McLellan of azcentral sports on Wednesday.

Vitale, a 30-year-old veteran center, appeared in only one game for the Coyotes this season. That was back on Oct. 17, when he suffered a concussion and broken orbital bone in a fight with Kevan Miller of the Boston Bruins.

Sens announce Frattin, acquired in Phaneuf deal, will stick with AHL Marlies

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Matt Frattin was traded by the Leafs to Ottawa yesterday as part of the Dion Phaneuf blockbuster.

But for now, he’s staying in Toronto.

On Wednesday, Sens GM Bryan Murray announced that Frattin will remain with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate — the Toronto Marlies — on loan, but will be available for selection should Ottawa require his services down the road.

Frattin, 28, has spent all of this season with the Marlies, scoring nine goals and 22 points in 47 games. His last NHL appearance came during the ’14-15 campaign, with the Leafs.

Prior to that, the former North Dakota standout had spent time in Los Angeles and Columbus.