“They have beautiful people in that organization”: Bryzgalov to face Coyotes Thursday

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Tomorrow night, the Flyers will host the Phoenix Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center in what promises to be an emotional affair for Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

It was in Phoenix where Bryz rose to prominence. He averaged 33 wins per season as the Coyotes’ starter and backstopped them to consecutive playoff appearances after a six-year absence. In 2009-10, he was the runner-up to Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller.

That rise to prominence saw him sign a nine-year, $51-million deal with the Flyers this summer, making him one of the highest-paid players in hockey.

Needless to say, Bryz looks back on his time in Phoenix with fondness.

“I really appreciate everything they did for me,” Bryzgalov told Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia. “I wish them the best. I’m really glad they are doing well without me because they deserve it. They work extremely hard.

“They have beautiful people in that organization. Management and coaches and a good group of guys. Maybe not like superstar players, but a group of guys like Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, a good defense and all the team works together in the offensive and defensive zone.”

Speaking of Yandle, he’s an interesting character in the Bryzgalov-Phoenix-Philly saga. This past summer, the ‘Yotes had two key free agents to deal with: Bryzgalov (UFA) and Yandle (RFA). Phoenix deemed Bryzgalov expendable but broke the bank for Yandle — five years, $26.25-million, making him the highest-paid player on the team.

If that wasn’t a clear indicator of who the Coyotes thought was more vital to their success, they then turned around and signed former Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith to a modest two-year, $4-million deal…and are chugging along just fine. Phoenix has a lower goals-against average this year (2.44) than last (2.68) and is just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”