The NHL and union might come to an agreement that will lead to a Jan. 19 season opener, but Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar might not be ready for it.
Kopitar was playing for Mora of Sweden’s second division when he sustained a knee injury on Saturday, according to Pro Hockey Magazine’s Linus Hugosson.
“Got tangled up in the corner and it felt funny,” Kopitar told Hugosson. “Precautionary reasons to step off. Taking this seriously.”
The 25-year-old center estimated that he will need two-to-three weeks to recover. Given that the NHL campaign is likely to start in two weeks — if the season is saved at all — Kopitar’s status for the theoretical opener is now in doubt.
Kopitar’s agent, Pat Brisson, added that his client is in good spirits and the ailment “is nothing to be alarmed with,” according to the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott.
Before the lockout began, the NHLPA warned that players recovering from injuries sustained in Europe might get in trouble once the work stoppage ends.
“We expect that your NHL club would suspend you without pay until you are fit to play,” an NHLPA memo said.
For that reason, the union recommended that players choosing to play in Europe insure their NHL contracts.
Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.
Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.
The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.
“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.
The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.
Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.