Tonight, Carolina assistant John MacLean faces the Devils for the first time since being fired last year.
Remember that? GM Lou Lamoriello canned MacLean two days before Christmas, mostly because of his 9-22-2 record (though running afoul of Ilya Kovalchuk probably played a part). New Jersey then proceeded to go on a tear under new head coach Jacques Lemaire.
So yeah, tonight shouldn’t be awkward at all — though to his credit, MacLean is trying to downplay how strange it’ll feel.
“I’m sure it will be for about the first six seconds,” MacLean told the Star-Ledger. “And then it’s just another team. You have to get focused in on what you’re doing. You can’t get caught watching. You have to be prepared and help out any way we can on the bench.”
It’s not fair to say the Devils completely tuned out MacLean last year…but hindsight being 20/20, they weren’t exactly tuning him in. He was a rookie head coach in charge of a massively-paid star (Kovalchuk), strong veteran personalities (Martin Brodeur, Brian Rolston, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner) and a thinned-out blueline. As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski put it, “[it] was like asking a rookie transit cop to take down a Mexican drug cartel.”
That said, it’s not entirely surprising MacLean resurfaced as an assistant in Carolina. He’s good friends with head coach Kirk Muller and did have some success coaching Lowell of the AHL prior to his disastrous stint with Jersey.
“I’m not sure you ever get peace,” MacLean said of how things ended with the Devils. “It’s part of the game. It’s part of the learning experience. You learn from it and you move forward. Now I’m moving forward and I’m excited about it. I don’t look back. I look forward. This is a good opportunity for me and right now that’s what I’m focused on.
“For me to be involved with Kirk in this situation is exciting. I’m looking forward to it. This is a team that’s had some struggles, but it has great potential. I think we’re going in the right direction.”
With the start of the regular season just around the corner, it looks like Robby Fabbri will not only make his NHL debut on Thursday, but also get meaningful minutes.
During Sunday’s practice the 19-year-old forward played alongside Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. Nothing is set in stone, but that combination did gel.
“I think we want to look at what the combinations look like now rather than do it at the start of the season,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re looking at a hard match line and we’re also looking at taking advantage of speed and skill off the rush.
“I really liked what I saw today. I really liked Lehtera’s line, they looked very dynamic off the rush.”
The top line of Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and Vladimir Tarasenko seems like a good bet to play together for the time being. Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz will stick together on the second line while Dmitrij Jaskin and David Backes can expect to be regular partners on the third unit. The X-factors will be Fabbri and Troy Brouwer as Hitchcock has left the door open to alternating between the two of them on the second and third line depending on the opponent.
Fabbri was taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is looking to make the leap after a brief stint in the AHL last season. At the OHL level, he’s been a dominate force with the Guelph Storm, scoring 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games in 2014-15.
Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.
Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.
“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.
The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.
Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.