Staying or going: Which NHL rookies should stay in the NHL or go back to juniors?

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We’re approaching the nine-game mark for many NHL rookies with junior hockey eligibility and that means teams have potentially tough decisions to make soon. So who is staying in the NHL and who is going back to juniors or Europe? Here’s how we see it.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Edmonton Oilers:  STAYING

The Oilers are doing reasonably well and he’s had a lot to do with that. They let Taylor Hall stay under worse circumstances last season and while they tease that he might go back to juniors, he shouldn’t.

Gabriel Landeskog – Colorado Avalanche:  STAYING

Landeskog has looked very good for Colorado so far and he’s even gotten Matt Duchene to look bad by comparison. He skates hard, he drives the net, he scores goals… And he’ll keep doing that all season.

Adam Larsson – New Jersey Devils:  STAYING

Larsson is seeing the most minutes on the blue line and playing like a veteran in all facets of the game. He came into the season as the most NHL-ready guy and he’s showing it. If the Devils send him back to Sweden, we’ll drown our sorrows in Swedish Fish.

Mika Zibanejad – Ottawa Senators:  GOING

Zibanejad had a great training camp for Ottawa and looked like he’d be a potentially great fit immediately. While the Sens are pulling out wins, Zibanejad isn’t a part of it. He’s playing just over 12 minutes a game and has one assist and even Sens fans would rather see the team get it right than hurry him. Let him go back to Europe and get better.

source: Getty ImagesSean Couturier – Philadelphia Flyers:  STAYING

Couturier has been a defensive stud forward for Philly and he hasn’t looked out of place at all with the Flyers. The points will come, but for now he’s helping Scott Hartnell look expendable in Philly. Plus sources are already saying he’s staying so… Yeah, that’s that.

Ryan Johansen – Columbus Blue Jackets:  GOING

He’s averaging just over 10 minutes a game and while he got a healthy amount in Columbus’ game against Ottawa, he’s not learning or improving anything with the Jackets now. Send him back.

Erik Gudbranson – Florida Panthers: STAYING

Gudbranson has made his presence felt in Florida. He’s playing rough hockey, fighting guys that cross him, and his physicality is something the Panthers desperately need. He’s playing strong, let him stay.

source: Getty ImagesBrett Bulmer – Minnesota Wild:  STAYING

A cocky kid in Minnesota? There’s a team that needs a little attitude and Bulmer gives it. Hockey Wilderness raves about him and Bulmer has fit in seamlessly. He’s the perfect third/fourth line tough kid. No reason to send him back to Kelowna.

Brett Connolly – Tampa Bay Lightning: STAYING

Guy Boucher is giving Connolly every opportunity to make his mark with Tampa, and he’s doing well with that pressure. Boucher loves what he’s been able to do so far and there’s no reason to think they’ll send him back after all this glowing praise.

Devante Smith-Pelly – Anaheim Ducks: GOING

Smith-Pelly has done well as a 19 year-old kid in Anaheim on their third line, but the Ducks have J.F. Jacques back in the fold and Patrick Maroon floating around from Syracuse. His energy will be good in another year, but for now he should go back to Mississauga.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’