Roberto Luongo isn’t paying attention to the trade rumors, but everyone else is. In this edition of PHT Extra, Jason Brough and Mike Halford take a look at the Canucks’ goaltending situation and the Capitals decision to bench Alex Ovechkin for the vast majority of the third period of Thursday’s 2-1 victory.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
The Blue Jackets aren’t easing Zach Werenski into his freshman campaign.
Werenski, the highly touted blueline prospect, has been tasked with running the Columbus power play during the exhibition campaign — often as the lone defenseman with four forwards — and it looks like a role he might reprise throughout the regular season.
Even though he’s yet to play an NHL game.
“I want to give him every opportunity to run the power play,” head coach John Tortorella said after an OT win over Nashville, per the Blue Jackets website. “He certainly did a good job of that tonight. We’ll keep on giving him opportunities and we’ll see where we go.”
The Werenski hype train has been full steam for just over a year now. The eighth overall pick in 2015, Werenski spent two highly decorated years at the University of Michigan before turning pro at the end of last season.
Dispatched to Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie, the 19-year-old had a fantastic professional debut. He was a major catalyst on the Monsters’ defense, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games en route to the Calder Cup championship.
“The skill set he has — his size, strength and poise with the puck, he’s a complete player,” said Monsters coach Jared Bednar (now the head coach in Colorado). “To be able to step into our lineup in intense games and get the job done, it’s impressive especially for his age and that’s why everyone’s so excited about him.”
All signs point to a very talented — and young — Columbus defense this year. It was already assumed 21-year-old Seth Jones and 23-year-old Ryan Murray were going to play major roles, and now it sounds like Werenski will be leaned on just as heavily.
Which means it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the vets.
Jack Johnson averaged over 24 minutes per game last year, a figure that will undoubtedly decrease. It’ll also be curious to see what happens to David Savard, who was playing more than 23 minutes a night — do remember that, at the start of last season, the Jackets gave Savard a hefty five-year, $21.25 million extension.
The NHL’s Western Conference should be wild all season, perhaps as much as ever as parity reigns and points are tough to come by on any given night.
A slew of teams have a shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.
The defending Conference champion San Jose Sharks, who had five players in the World Cup of Hockey finals , certainly appear to have a chance to be among the final two still skating in mid-June. That alone would be a feat because no team from the conference has pulled it off since the Detroit Red Wings, now an Eastern Conference team, won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and came within a win of repeating.
Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis will likely be among the contenders. Dallas, too.
The Blackhawks and Kings, who alternated as champions from 2012 to 2015 and won five Cups in a six-season span, failed to even make it out of the first round last in 2016.
Both teams certainly have a chance to bounce back this season.
“This is my sixth season in the Central Division and this looks like the most challenging year yet,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “The crunching between the top and bottom started last year, and it’s going to be closer this year.”
Hitchcock and Stars general manager Jim Nill both believe the teams that were at the bottom of the conference last season on moving up.
“The Winnipegs and the Colorados are going to be better teams,” Nill told the AP. “I think it’s going to be tighter than ever.”
“Everyone has a shot,” San Jose’s Logan Couture said.
The St. Louis Blues will have to start the season without one of their most dangerous forwards, Jaden Schwartz.
Schwartz “will miss at least four weeks after injuring his left elbow during a training camp practice on Sept. 29,” the club announced today.
It’s another frustration for the 25-year-old winger. Schwartz was limited to just 33 games last season, after fracturing his ankle in October.
As for this latest injury, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock originally predicted that Schwartz would only need a “couple of days off.”
St. Louis opens its regular season Oct. 12 in Chicago. If Schwartz is out until the end of October, he’ll miss nine games.
Related: Schwartz signs five-year extension
Earlier this week, we passed along word that Stars forward Mattias Janmark was spotted on crutches at the team’s practice facility.
Now we know why.
Janmark suffered a knee injury that requires surgery, GM Jim Nill said on Thursday. The procedure is expected to sideline the Swedish forward for 5-6 months, putting his return in the neighborhood of February-March of next year.
It’s a big blow for the Stars.
After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp last year — a “great story,” according to GM Jim Nill — Janmark, 23, went on to have a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.
He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.
Today’s news compounds what’s been a lousy September in Dallas. The club previously lost Tyler Seguin (heel), Cody Eakin (knee) and Ales Hemsky (groin) to injuries, and saw Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin sign in the KHL.
Looking at the schedule, Janmark projects to miss anywhere between 60-70 games this season, assuming the 5-6 month timeline is accurate. That’s a big chunk of man power to replace.