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Flyers have high expectations in Czechs: Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek

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In a way, it’s hard not to wonder if the Philadelphia Flyers wish they could cross Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek into a single, super-Czech forward.

The general feeling is that Jagr (39) is too old to get it done at the NHL level, although it might all come down to your expectations. Meanwhile, on the other hand, some believe that Columbus Blue Jackets castoff Voracek (22) is still a few years from hitting his prime.

Peter Laviolette: “Jagr’s still got it”

If you’re a fan of the game as a whole – i.e. not a jilted Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals fan – then you’re probably rooting for Jagr to at least make things interesting. He’s been better than interesting in three preseason games, scoring four goals and creating plenty of other dangerous chances. It’s dangerous to weigh exhibition results too heavily, but Jagr still managed to impress teammates and coaches.

“I don’t think anyone expected him to come back and be as good as he has shown so far in camp,” said Danny Briere, who spent some preseason time on the power play with Jagr. “It’s very exciting for everyone. It’s exciting for me to have the chance to skate with him and to play with him.”

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“He’s clearly still got it,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.

Many will struggle to keep expectations in check with Jagr. After all, he was arguably the most unstoppable offensive force of his era – he won five Art Ross Trophies and ranks ninth all-time with 1,599 points. Expecting him to rekindle his 90-100 point form of yore isn’t fair, but 25 goals isn’t an outrageous request (if he stays healthy).

Could Voracek be the next Ville Leino in Philly?

Speaking of notching 25 goals, CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio reports that some within the Flyers organization believe that Voracek has that kind of potential. In a way, he strikes me as a likely candidate to be the “next” Ville Leino for the Flyers – a player who came into an organization with high expectations, only to realize them once he entered The City of Brotherly Love.

Voracek has been just OK in Columbus, scoring 46 points in 2010-11 and 50 in 09-10. Those aren’t horrendous numbers for a developing forward, but they probably disappointed the Blue Jackets’ brass who drafted him seventh overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

If there’s one reversible trend from his first three seasons in the league – beyond the possibility of playing with better linemates – it’s that Voracek needs to get more trigger-happy. Each season, his shot totals continue to rise (from 101 in 2008-09 to 154 in 09-10 and 183 in 10-11). Voracek’s increased shot volume didn’t really generate the goals he was hoping for last season, but the good news is that he’s firing away nonetheless – even if the results haven’t been there yet.

The good news: Voracek led the Flyers with 14 shots in preseason.

The bad news: He didn’t score a goal.

That said, Voracek had a half-dozen shots that kissed the post or crossbar. He even had a point-blank open net shot in New Jersey get deflected off a defenseman.

“I mean, I felt very good all preseason,” Voracek said. “I felt awesome every game. I think I could have one goal and a few more. It’s just preseason.”

Panaccio’s report indicates that the Flyers are trying to imprint a message upon Voracek: shoot and shoot some more. That’s the best way for any skilled winger to make a bigger impact on the game, and it’s reasonable to assume that his shooting percentage will climb higher that last year’s career-low 7.7 rate.

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The Flyers might hope that Jagr takes Voracek under his wing to whatever extent he can. Either way, Philly’s ceiling could change dramatically depending upon how well one aging Czech and one very young one play in 11-12.

Sidney Crosby named captain of Canada’s World Cup team

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2016, Sidney Crosby has been named the captain of team Canada for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Hockey Canada made the announcement on Thursday morning.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber, also long-time members of Team Canada in international competition, will serve as the assistant captains.

Crosby has won gold with team Canada at various tournaments, including the 2015 World Championship (where he also served as captain) and the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.

He is also a two-time Stanley Cup champion in the NHL with the Penguins, serving as captain on their 2009 and 2016 championship teams.

Crosby had a slow start to the 2015-16 season and through the first two months was posting some of the worst numbers of his career. But following the in-season coaching change and a new-look roster around him he quickly climbed the NHL’s scoring leaderboard and finished the season with 85 points in 80 games, good enough for third best in the league. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

In 31 games for Team Canada at the World Championships and Olympics, Crosby has scored 17 goals and recorded 17 assists.

The World Cup of Hockey takes place in Toronto between September 17 and October 1.

Looking to make the leap: Michael Matheson

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24:  Michael Matheson #56 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Islanders in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 24, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders won the game 2-1 in double overtime to win the series four games to two.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

The Florida Panthers have been building a pretty impressive roster in recent years, introducing a young core that includes Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad into the NHL. They are helping the Panthers not only be a competitive team right now, but also a team that has the potential to do something special in the not-too-distant future.

Looking to join that young core group of talent is 22-year-old defenseman Michael Matheson, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

Other than five games at the AHL level in 2014-15, the 2015-16 season was pretty much Matheson’s first full year of pro hockey after playing his college hockey at Boston College.

He spent most of the year playing for Portland in the AHL where he recorded 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 54 games, a performance that earned him an opportunity to play three regular season games at the NHL level and five of the Panthers’ six playoff games where he recorded an assist.

He made perhaps his strongest statement after the season ended when he represented Canada at the World Championships and was one of the most productive defensemen in the tournament with six points (two goals, four assists) in 10 games.

The Panthers have done a lot of work to their blue line over the summer, losing Brian Campbell to free agency while also adding veterans Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk. With Ekblad and Alex Petrovic also returning it is definitely going to be a little crowded on the blue line, but Matheson had a promising 2015-16 season and should have an opportunity to crack the lineup and compete for playing time.

Panthers trade Dave Bolland, Lawson Crouse to Coyotes

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 27:  Dave Bolland #63 of the Florida Panthers looks on during a game against the Colorado Avalanche at BB&T Center on October 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT so it’s only fitting that they would start the day by completing a trade, which they did on Thursday morning by sending veteran forward Dave Bolland and 2015 first-round draft pick Lawson Crouse to the Coyotes in exchange for two draft picks.

As part of the deal the Panthers will get a 2017 third-round pick and a conditional 2018 second-round pick. ESPN’s Craig Custance reports that 2018 second-round pick will become a third-round pick if Crouse does not play in Arizona this season.

“We are very pleased to acquire Lawson,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said in a team statement. “He’s a big, physical, power forward who is a strong skater with good hands. Players of his caliber and profile are extremely hard to find.”

The key to this deal for Florida is, obviously, dumping the remainder of Bolland’s contract and clearing a significant amount of cap space both this year and in the future. Bolland’s deal still has a salary cap hit of $5.5 million per season for another three years. Since signing the five-year, $27 million deal in free agency before the start of the 2014-15 season, Bolland has played in just 78 games for the Panthers and scored only seven goals.

At the time of the contract Bolland was just one year removed from scoring the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final for the Chicago Blackhawks, while his injury the following year was looked at as a costly blow to a Maple Leafs team that fell apart in the second half of the season. So even though his overall production throughout his career didn’t really match the hype or the interest, he was still able to get a huge deal in free agency.

It has been an extremely costly contract for the Panthers, and the price became even steeper on Monday when they had to give up a prospect that was the No. 11 pick (Crouse) in the draft just last year to get rid of it.

And that is what makes the deal worth it for Arizona.

The Coyotes are pretty much buying a top prospect, and adding to an already deep pool of young players, for the price of taking on another contract that has almost no value to anybody else in the league. They picked up a first-round pick from the Detroit Red Wings earlier this summer for taking the final year of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract after he left the NHL to play in Russia, and last year made a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers to take on the remainder of Chris Pronger‘s contract. Because the Coyotes are so far below the league’s salary cap they are able to take on these deals without much of an issue and use them to keep adding young talent to a fast improving team.

It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Nick Bjugstad #27 of the Florida Panthers reacts to the game winning goal by Alex Petrovic #6 against the Florida Panthers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Panthers defeated the Islanders 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers have a new look, a different general manager and heightened expectations following an ambitious offseason.

After claiming the Atlantic Division with 103 points, the Panthers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. But with a young, skilled nucleus of players mixed with productive veterans — including 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who had 66 points last season — the Panthers have served noticed to the Eastern Conference that they are an emerging force.

Their summer has consisted of re-shaping the front office by promoting Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to general manager. They also fired their director of player personnel Scott Luce, which was a controversial move for the team, as it shifts to a more analytics-based approach. They also completely revamped their scouting staff.

During the height of the playoffs, the Panthers and Vancouver Canucks made a trade, as Florida acquired 20-year-old center Jared McCann — a former first-round pick — and sent defenseman Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver.

The Panthers also freed up a substantial amount of cap space by trading Marc Savard‘s contract, and a draft pick, to New Jersey.

And that’s when things really started to pick up. The Panthers acquired the rights to puck-moving defenseman and pending UFA Keith Yandle — a “risk worth taking,” said Rowe at the time of the deal — and eventually signed him to a seven-year deal. The Panthers also traded defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, while Brian Campbell signed as a free agent in Chicago.

The signings continued from there:

— Stud defenseman Aaron Ekblad signed an eight-year contract extension.

Defenseman Jason Demers signed as a free agent.

— Forward Vincent Trocheck, 23, emerged last season with 25 goals and was rewarded with a six-year deal.

Reilly Smith got a five-year contract extension.

So, yeah, a busy offseason in Florida.

Now, can the Panthers live up to the heightened expectations?