Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk are becoming stars for Blues

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Last season, the St. Louis Blues decided to trade Erik Johnson, a defenseman they drafted No. 1 overall in 2006 ahead of stars such as:

  • Jonathan Toews
  • Nicklas Backstrom
  • Phil Kessel
  • Jordan Staal
  • Claude Giroux (a fantastic steal at No. 22*)

The Blues received the 18th pick of that draft (Chris Stewart) as part of that trade, but they were able to justify sending away the should-be cornerstone of their defense because they received a 2007 first-rounder in Kevin Shattenkirk as part of the deal and because of the confidence they had in the fourth overall pick of the ’08 draft, Alex Pietrangelo.

Call it the Ken Hitchcock Effect or point to the natural progression of two talented athletes – or consider it some combination of those factors – but handing the torch to that dynamic young duo is looking awfully smart right now.

Pietrangelo within range of elite status

Pietrangelo has been particularly dazzling. As Lou Korac pointed out last night, the 22-year-old blueliner has generated 30 points in his last 30 contests. He’s been especially hot lately, with five assists in his last three games and seven in his last six, failing to produce a point in just a single outing.

Only David Backes and T.J. Oshie (47 points apiece) have generated more offense for the Blues than Pietrangelo in 2011-12.

source: APShattenkirk close to shattering personal best

Right underneath him is Shattenkirk, who has one less goal (10-9) and four fewer assists (31-27) for a still-impressive 36 points in 67 games. I’m a card-carrying member of the “rolls eyes at plus/minus” club, but for those who love the stat, Shattenkirk leads the plus-heavy team with a standout +26 mark.

Much like Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk is especially hot lately with a goal and four assists in three contests and nine points in his last six. Pietrangelo’s 41 points has him tied with Shea Weber, Dennis Wideman and Ryan Suter for fifth in scoring among defensemen while Shattenkirk’s 36 has him tied for 14th.

***

Interestingly enough, both Pietrangelo (two points) and Shattenkirk (four) are already on the verge of setting new career-high totals. Such success demands an enticing set of questions, then: what’s the ceiling for each blueliner? How far are they from becoming elite – or are they already there?

Either way, both guys certainly made it easier to say goodbye to Erik Johnson.

* – For all the bluster over what the Pittsburgh Penguins have done with their draft picks – and with all due respect to what Staal has achieved – it’s mind-blowing to think that Ray Shero could have added one of those four All-Star forwards instead.

2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

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The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

“The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindross, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.

Florida Panthers aren’t afraid to change, but will they actually improve?

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Change is often a necessary thing in sports, and the results can be swift and brutal. There’s a fine line between rolling with the punches and blindly swinging, however.

The Florida Panthers’ history as a franchise makes you wonder if they’ll ever find the right balance between stability and innovation. Amid all these years of flip-flopping and regime tweaks, there may only be one unsettling constant: the on-ice product being middling-to-terrible.

Just look at the way they burn through coaches.

Six of their 14 head coaches were behind the bench for fewer than 82 games, including Tom Rowe, who was seemingly thrown out with the analytical approach last season.

Their GMs haven’t fared much better. Dale Tallon’s probably received the longest leash of them all, and this past year or so made a mess of that situation. And it’s arguable that things have only degraded as Tallon aims to clean up supposed “messes.”

The Panthers didn’t just lose cheap 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas; they also shipped Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Smith was a golden boy of sorts to the more stats-leaning members of the franchise, and while he struggled last season, it sure seemed like the Panthers were eager to get rid of him.

The same could be said about Jason Demers.

MORE: Welcome Demers to the trade rumor mill

As abrupt as the Gerard Gallant firing felt, the Panthers didn’t necessarily give the analytical approach much time. At least from an “optics” standpoint.

Now, parting ways with Marchessault, Smith, and possibly Demers may end up being reasonable in hindsight. Still, there’s no denying that Tallon made some mistakes in his stead; the “computer boys” didn’t sign an atrocious Dave Bolland contract and didn’t pick Erik Gudbranson over superior talent.

The bottom line is that the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck led them to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. There’s legitimate concern that this franchise will keep making the same mistakes – and keep changing the cooks in the kitchen – while the results leave much to be desired.

Will Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau share the same frustrating path as Jay Bouwmeester and others before them?

This summer could serve as a serious fork in the road, as Tallon has some building blocks in place and an estimated $20 million in cap space. Even if the Panthers remain a budget team, they’re likely to have some room to work with.

Perhaps they’ll finally make the right changes?

Related

Panthers look to be aggressive in adding scoring

Devils will give top pick Hischier a chance to make team right away

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There’s at least some question regarding whether Nico Hischier is ready to jump straight from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft to becoming an immediate part of the New Jersey Devils’ roster.

If he went back to junior, it would break a lengthy trend of No. 1 choices going to the big time right away.

Devils GM Ray Shero seems pretty optimistic that he can handle that jump, though, as you can see from this presser via MSG:

MORE: Devils pick Hischier over Patrick

As one would expect, Shero said that the Devils won’t rush him if it’s “apparent” that the Swiss-born forward isn’t ready. Still, Shero seems convinced that Hischier has the size, skill, and smarts to earn a spot.

Much like Nolan Patrick with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hischier didn’t deny that he wants to make the big time right off the bat.

“Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s my goal, so it is important for sure,” Hischier said on draft night. “I really want to achieve my goal, but I still know I have to prove a lot of things to play there.”

Hey, maybe Taylor Hall could even ease his adjustment?

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.