Matt Moulson is pretty high on Michael Grabner

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Tonight, New York Islanders RW Michael Grabner will return to Vancouver for the first time since being part of last June’s Keith Ballard deal.

(NB: With Grabner in New York and Steve Bernier and Victor Oreskovich in the AHL, only one player from that deal — Ballard — remains with his acquiring team, making it of one of the rare “nobody won” trades in NHL history.)

For the Canucks, Grabner is often viewed as the one that got away. Drafted 14th overall in 2006, the speedy Austrian showed flashes of talent in Vancouver but never the consistency to stick in the bigs. When he was shipped off to and then released by Florida, many figured that was the last they’d hear of Grabner — until he caught on with the Islanders and caught fire. He found his groove, got nominated for the Calder and has scored 34 goals in his last 71 games, prompting teammate Matt Moulson to talk him up to the Vancouver media.

I mean really talk him up. From the Vancouver Province:

“Everyone gives him knocks on his breakaways [Grabner missed two last game vs. Colorado] but I don’t think people understand how fast he’s going,” Moulson said. “That’s half the battle. He’s flying in there every time and in a flash he’s right on top of the goalie. I think that makes it really tough on him.

“But once he starts potting those, he could probably start getting 70 goal seasons.”

Uhhh…70 goals?

“He basically scored all his goals last year in three-quarters of the year. There’s a lot more goals in him,” Moulson said.

Grabner’s on pace for 32 this year (and a whopping six assists, making him a strong Cy Young candidate), so perhaps Moulson was just getting a little ahead of himself with that proclamation. But when given a chance to tone it down, Moulson cranked the hyperbole amp to 11:

“He’s not like other players, and I think you have to understand that if you’re managing him,” Moulson said. “He’s different. He has this rare explosive speed and he has these underrated playmaking skills.

“When I think of someone to compare him with, the only player I can think of is also a Vancouver guy – Pavel Bure.”

I’m not sure if Moulson is serious, or playing this up because of Grabner’s return to Vancouver. Grabner’s a good player and all, but the Russian Rocket comparisons are a tad premature (and I’m not sure they’ll ever mature).

Whatever the case, it’s pretty funny to hear Moulson discuss his teammate the way the Internet discusses Chuck Norris.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

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The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

“Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

“We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.

Mitchell signed PTO with Blue Jackets — shortly after getting cut by Blackhawks

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When the Chicago Blackhawks announced their roster moves yesterday, John Mitchell was among the cuts.

His professional tryout with the Blackhawks had come to an end, as it did for veterans Mark Stuart and Drew Miller.

It can be an uphill battle to make an NHL roster for veterans on professional tryouts. But for Mitchell, he quickly received another opportunity to attend a camp and try to land a spot, signing a PTO with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Mitchell, 32, has appeared in 548 NHL regular season games with 70 goals and 177 points.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are still without forward and restricted free agent Josh Anderson, as the two sides are stuck in a contract impasse right now. It was reported on Thursday that his representatives have been in contact with Hockey Canada about the 2018 Olympics.