Wojtek Wolski might be early winner of the Richards-Gaborik sweepstakes

New York Rangers forward Wojtek Wolski looks primed to face a fascinating fork in the road in the 2011-12 season. The inconsistent but skilled winger is no stranger to up and down moments, but we could find out a lot about him in the beginning of next season.

Although his golden opportunity might get derailed by a groin injury, NHL.com points to Wolski as the frontrunner for the Rangers’ top left wing spot. First-line minutes are never something to sneeze at, but this could be even more special because of his potential linemates: Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.

On the positive end, that’s an amazing chance to put up boffo numbers. That being said, if he can’t make it work with those two, it might be time to ship him to a lower-level league where he can float in relative anonymity.

Like many NHL head coaches, John Tortorella is known for going through lineup changes more often than Madonna changes her accent. Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brian Boyle could also earn time at the left wing spot. Still, for the sake of the team’s balance, things would work better with Wolski on line one.

While Dubinsky would be an amazing fit because he brings some grit (and a right-handed shot) to what would be a finesse-driven line, moving him away from Ryan Callahan would rob the Rangers of a difference-making complimentary duo. Fedotenko and Boyle are probably best suited for lower line duties, although Boyle’s big body could provide an interesting element to the line.

Overall, Wolski fits better by default, but he’ll need to seize the opportunity if he gets it. Wolski shared his thoughts on playing with such skilled forwards.

Tortorella expects Wolski to be ready for Wednesday’s practice at Ericsson Globe Arena. If he’s back doing line rushes with Richards and Gaborik, we’ll have our answer.

“To be able to play with those types of players gives you a better opportunity every night to win, to play well and to be consistent,” Wolski said. “As a forward, I’m supposed to put myself in position where I’m playing among the top-six guys. That’s usually what is counted of me. I have to be creative and I want as much ice time as possible.”

It’s hard to believe that Wolski sports ideal NHL size because of it frequently goes to waste because of his passive style. He would be wise to break those habits and bring that above-average frame to the net for a bounty of garbage goals. Richards’ sublime passes should open up frequent tap-in goal opportunities while Gaborik’s speed and fearsome skills should divert plenty of defensive attention.

If Wolski could ever choose a time to assert himself, this would be it.

NHL on NBCSN: Red Wings face Lightning in ’15 playoff rematch

Steven Stamkos, Henrik Zetterberg
AP Photo

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Detroit Red Wings host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can stream the game online here.

The Lightning made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, but their journey almost ended in the first round at the hands of the Red Wings. Detroit shutout Tampa Bay twice in that series and the two squads were locked in a scoreless tie until the third period of Game 7.

Despite the fact that the Red Wings were a mere hair away from advancing instead of Tampa Bay, the Lightning are often mentioned as serious Cup contenders while Detroit is typically regarded as a good, but not amazing team. However, that gap isn’t entirely unjustified.

After all, Tampa Bay has a very effective core of forwards that features Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. If the highly regarded Jonathan Drouin, 20, is able to build off of his strong start to the 2015-16 campaign then the Lightning’s offense could be even more dangerous this season.

Detroit certainly has some offensive star power too in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but the duo is 35 and 37 years old respectively. On top of that, injuries have been a recurring issue for Datsyuk, who isn’t expected to make his season debut until November after undergoing ankle surgery.

As good as those two forwards still are, the Red Wings have to hope that their younger players will be able to lead the charge sooner rather than later. The good news is that 19-year-old Dylan Larkin‘s campaign is off to a strong start with three points in two games while 23-year-old Teemu Pulkkinen scored twice on Saturday.

The Red Wings have opened the season with back-to-back wins against Toronto and Carolina, but tonight’s game represents their biggest test to date. Meanwhile, the Lightning are similarly undefeated after three games, but this contest will be particularly trying for them given that it’s their third game in four days.

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues McDavid’s already NHL’s most important player

Connor McDavid
AP Photo

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)

While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)

Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)

Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)

The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)