Brassard shows optimism for first full season with Rangers

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While Brad Richards sputtered and Rick Nash struggled in the 2013 playoffs, Derick Brassard carried over his post-trade momentum with 12 points in 12 postseason games. Overall, he made a fantastic first impression on the New York Rangers.

Still, he admitted to Blueshirts United on Friday that his departure from the Columbus Blue Jackets was a bit overwhelming, although the condensed schedule allowed him to avoid too many distractions.

“I was in one point in my career – I’m 25 years old now – that I needed a change and I felt like in New York, I needed to prove myself,” Brassard said. “One thing I noticed is that I was not thinking too much on the ice, I was just playing. And that’s my game.”

The skilled forward hopes to play big minutes and be a “huge part” of the team in 2013-14. It’s not surprising that he gave the Alain Vigneault hire a thumbs up, then.

“I think all the guys are pretty excited about it,” Brassard said.

Brassard reflects on the trade – including needing to use Jeff Halpern’s gloves last season – and anticipates the 2013-14 season in the video below.

Should the Winnipeg Jets stand pat at the trade deadline?

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There are whispers that the Winnipeg Jets could stand pat at the trade deadline and get away with it.

It’s not necessarily the most popular opinion, but one that has gained a small following given how their season has shaped up to this point.

The growth of rookie forward Kyle Connor, who scored his 21st goal of the season on Sunday, has been impressive. Connor went from a mediocre training camp that saw him begin the season in the American Hockey League to play a vital role on Winnipeg’s top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

Jack Roslovic began the season in the AHL and was only called up recently to fill in the gaps as Winnipeg’s health began to deteriorate. Now, Roslovic, a dynamic player with speed and play-making ability, has performed so well that he likely won’t see the minors again.

The Jets are also anticipating the return of towering center Adam Lowry (out with an upper-body injury) and defenseman Jacob Trouba (out with a lower-body injury) by the time the playoffs roll around, turning into quasi-trade deadline additions.

The Jets, who have scored 13 goals in their past two games, are as good as any other team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. A recent adjustment to their lines — one that included putting 20-plus goal scorers Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on the third unit — has diversified Winnipeg’s top-nine to a scary extent.

The Jets have three lines that are capable, at the moment, of putting up a lot of points on any given night. So the argument that the Jets don’t need to add someone to their top-six, or even their top-nine, has some merit.

That said, as the old sports cliche goes: there’s always room to improve. The Jets could still use some depth on the fourth line. Matt Hendricks, while a good presence in the room and a decent penalty killer, isn’t the quickest player on the ice. Joel Armia shows flashes of brilliance and then goes on long stretches where he’s mostly invisible. The return of Brandon Tanev from injury will be useful in that regard. But adding a budget center could be the shrewd move general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to solidify a solid fourth-line combo.

On defense, Ben Chiarot has played admirably in place of Trouba but he may be a surplus to requirements when Trouba returns. One wonders what Cheveldayoff is thinking when it comes to Toby Enstrom, however. The diminutive defenseman had a tough outing in the physical department during the Jets last playoff appearance — their only visit since returning to Winnipeg — during the 2014-15 season. And his injury history should have the Jets thinking about at least shoring up that possibility.

The Jets could turn to Chiarot’s size and physicality in a similar scenario or could turn to the trade market for another option.

This is a good headache for any general manager. The Jets are one of the top teams in the NHL without having made a trade thus far this season.

Their goaltending has been spectacular, their power play has been lethal and their penalty kill is up near the top. Bell MTS Place has become a place teams go to die and the Jets, at the moment, would have home-ice advantage in the first round.

It makes for an interesting week leading up to Monday’s trade deadline.

Here’s a look at what the Jets could be/are considering:

Forwards

Rick Nash: A pricey rental player that would add size and scoring to the Jets top-six. But pricey is the key word here and it’s unlikely the Jets want to dig into the farm to own a guy for a couple months.

Mike Hoffman: Skilled and quick with the ability to score. He would be a good fit for the Jets, but as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on the weekend, Hoffman has a limited no-movement clause and Winnipeg is on the list. With term left on his deal, the price wouldn’t be cheap either.

Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu: Two depth forwards that would bolster Winnipeg’s bottom end. Maroon isn’t the fastest guy around, and he’s not scoring 27 goals like he did last season playing with Connor McDavid. But a fresh start after not getting a contract in Edmonton might be just what Maroon needs to get his confidence up and running. Letestu, meanwhile, offers bottom-six depth up the middle. Matt Hendricks, currently occupying the fourth-line center role, didn’t play in last year’s playoffs for the Oilers. He could make way again depending on what the Jets do at the deadline. These would be cheaper options.

Ryan Hartman: It would be odd for the Chicago Blackhawks to trade a 23-year-old budding forward to a divisional rival, but stranger things have happened. Hartman had 19 goals in his rookie season last year and is playing on a very poor Blackhawks team this year. The price tag is likely high on him as well.

Mats Zuccarello: The New York Rangers announced they were holding a yard sale, and Zuccarello is a name that’s been thrown around when it comes to the Jets. Zuccarello is a good penalty killer and plays a game, not unlike Mathieu Perreault, who the Jets covet. Zuccarello also comes with an extra year on his contract. and could help the Jets beyond this season.

Defenseman:

Nick Holden: Continuing with the Rangers fire sale, Holden could be an option. He’s a left shot defenseman that could fill in for an injury to Enstrom. Holden’s possession metrics don’t jump off the page, but he’s a serviceable third-pairing guy who can play bigger minutes in a pinch.

Jan Rutta: One player the Blackhawks may be willing to part ways with is defenseman Rutta, who is on a one-year entry-level deal that’s set to expire at the end of this season. Rutta shoots right and has better possession metrics than Holden.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

U.S. out to solve its Olympics scoring problem vs Slovakia

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The United States had a goal-scoring problem at the Olympics.

If it lasts much longer, the Americans are going home early.

Only Norway and South Korea scored fewer goals than the four the U.S. put up in three preliminary-round games. Yet only Canada has gotten more shots on net than the United States’ 96 so far, so the goal in the qualification round against Slovakia on Tuesday is to figure out a way to turn opportunities into production.

”We haven’t scored goals, but we’ve a made it hard on teams in their own end,” coach Tony Granato said.

Without the young offensive talent of players like Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau and Shayne Gostisbehere left behind in the NHL, USA Hockey knew this could be a problem after seeing similar high shot and low goal totals from the Deutschland Cup in November. The late general manager, Jim Johannson, brought in college players Ryan Donato, Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, American Hockey League scoring star Chris Bourque and former power-play specialist James Wisniewski to score and they’ve combined for three of the four goals.

A goal or two a game isn’t going to get it done from this point on. Maybe the U.S. hasn’t gotten many helpful bounces, but at times it hasn’t deserved them.

”We need to make sure we’re getting more pucks to the net and earn our bounces,” defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti said. ”It’s a combination (of) screens, the traffic and the secondary speed crashing the net, trying to find those loose pucks.”

Falling into the trap North American teams sometimes do on the wider international ice, the U.S. has taken a lot of harmless shots from far out, many without traffic in front of the net to screen the goaltender. Many goals in this tournament have come on those kinds of shots – deflecting off a body or stick in front – or scrambles around the net.

That’s a talking point for U.S. coaches and players.

”We’ve got to get more bodies to the net, we’ve got to be hungry around the net,” forward Broc Little said. ”We’re getting a lot of shots, but they’re not quite the looks that we need. We’ve got to take the goalie’s eyes away. I think we’ve had a lot of point shots, a lot of shots from outside and goalies in this tournament are going to be too good to beat them there.”

U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski has been off and on and will be needed to stop the shots he’s supposed to against Slovakia, especially given the offensive struggles. Granato said his team got four or five ”glorious” chances in a 4-0 loss to the Russians and believes he has the skill on the ice to finish.

”Creating scoring chances doesn’t do anything for you,” Granato said Monday. ”Finding ways to produce and score does, so I think we’ve got enough goal-scorers in that room that have had enough chances to feel good about creating the chances and now it’s about, ‘OK, I’ve got to find a way even to work harder or find a way to deserve a bounce by positioning myself a little more aggressively around the net.”’

In addition to higher-quality shots and more bodies for goaltenders to see through, one key might be the Americans using their speed – feet and puck movement – against a big Slovakia team that may not be able to handle that.

”We’re a fast team, so we really have to make sure we move the puck quick,” Wisniewski said. ”Maybe our defensemen have to get the puck toward the net and make sure we get it to the net, not getting it blocked, and we have to create some rebounds and some screens.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

Olympic women’s hockey expanding from 8 to 10 teams in 2022

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The women’s hockey tournament will be expanded from eight teams to 10 for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation says he believes the talent gap between the North American powerhouse teams and the rest of the world will close much faster than it took on the men’s side of the game.

IIHF President Rene Fasel confirmed the move Monday and said it was made at the request of Beijing Olympics organizers.

”I think the women are coming closer,” Fasel said.

The IIHF already has announced expanding the 2019 world championships to 10 teams, and IIHF council chairwoman Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer said the quality of women’s hockey around the world is good enough for this step. She pointed to Japan beating Sweden 2-1 in overtime Sunday in the classification round and no team scoring more than eight goals in a game as signs of progress.

”In Sochi, the first result was 9-0, and we now have here 8-0 both for the Korean team, so we can say that women’s hockey developed a lot in the last eight and four years compared to Vancouver and Sochi,” Kolbenheyer said.

In 2010, Canada routed Slovakia 18-0. The combined Korean team opened these games with an 8-0 loss to Switzerland but played much better a week later in a 2-0 loss to the same country.

Kolbenheyer also noted standout play by several young players in this tournament, including Switzerland’s Alina Muller, 19, who had four goals in her Olympic opener, and Anna Shokhina of the Russian team. She had three goals and two assists in four games.

”If we could continue like that, I think we can get to the next level for the next Olympics,” Kolbenheyer said.

Beijing will be the seventh Olympics with women’s hockey since it was added in 1998 in Nagano. Either the United States or Canada has won the gold medal each time, and the Americans are back in the final again after a 5-0 win over Finland , the world’s third-ranked team last year.

Canada and the U.S. have met in the final at every Olympics except 2006, when Sweden upset the Americans in the semifinals. The U.S. won bronze.

Kolbenheyer said the 2019 world championships with 10 teams will be a test event for the IIHF to see how the format works.

”We will keep the structure we have at that tournament as well, and then we will see if we would like to change it for Beijing,” she said.

More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

NHL Power Rankings: The Jets offense can be scary good

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When we talk about the top Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference the first team that comes to mind would have to be the Nashville Predators. They were in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, made significant additions to the roster, and are still in a position to make at least one more this week before the NHL trade deadline.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights, currently the top team in the West, also have to be in that conversation as well. They have a great offense, strong goaltending, and seem to have that intangible chip on the shoulder with something to prove.

But after that who do we have next?

Well, it might just have to be the Winnipeg Jets thanks in large part to an offense that has become ridiculously good in a short period of time. After finishing sixth in the league in goals a season ago, the Jets have come back this season and entering play on Monday are third in the league in goals per game.

Now that Mark Scheifele is back in the lineup that are clicking on all cylinders.

They not only have high-end talent like Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers, it is a deep, balanced offense that really does not have many weak links.

Entering the week they have the top spot in the Central Division (though Nashville is only two points back with two games still in hand) and are just two points back of Vegas for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference.

This is an organization that is still searching for its first ever postseason victory, and how well Connor Hellebuyck holds up in net will determine how many wins they will be able to get in the playoffs once they get there, but this offense is going to give them a chance against anybody.

They reach the No. 3 spot in this week’s power rankings.

Let us take a look at where everyone else sits this week.

The Elites

1. Boston Bruins — They were blown out by Vancouver recently but that is just a small blip on the radar. They are still 20-3-3 in their past 26 games.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — Entering play on Monday the Vegas Golden Knights have the best points percentage in the NHL. That means they are on track to win the Presidents’ Trophy. In their first season.

3. Winnipeg Jets — They are a fun team to watch. The rebuild has been slow, but it is finally paying off.

4. Nashville Predators — They have to be considered one of the top favorites in the NHL at this point and you have to assume they are going to make a big addition before the trade deadline. Rick Nash seems perfect.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning — With four losses in their past seven games that qualifies as a little bit of a slump. Still not much to worry about big picture. This team is legit. Slumps like this happen over 82 games.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins — Matt Murray and Carl Hagelin starting to round into form is a pretty big deal for the Penguins. Could be game-changers.

The Rest Of The Contenders

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — They lost four games in a row in mid-January. Since then they are 11-4-0 and scoring a ton of goals. They are never boring.

8. Dallas Stars — Remember just a couple of years ago how their games were just defense optional goal scoring surges? The Stars are fifth in the NHL in goals against this season. The Ken Hitchcock effect.

9. Philadelphia Flyers — They are winning an awful lot but with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth injured who is going to play in goal?

10. Washington Capitals — The results are there, but the more I watch them the more doubts I have about them. Still very good. Still a dangerous team. Just not sure about them.

All Of These Teams Seem The Same

11. San Jose Sharks — Have to give the Sharks a lot of credit for getting through some pretty significant injuries and still finding ways to score goals and win. Not easy to be without a player like Joe Thornton.

12. New Jersey Devils — Just when it looked like they were in danger of really falling out of the playoff race they go on a four-game winning streak. Taylor Hall is making a strong MVP argument for himself.

13. St. Louis Blues — A three-game losing streak, as well as a surging Dallas team, has pushed the Blues back into a Wild Card spot and a little closer to the playoff bubble. They are still in pretty good shape so concern shouldn’t be too high. Yet.

14. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is quietly having a better season this year than he did last year. His performance last year was completely unexpected, too. If they make the playoffs he will be a big reason why.

15. Calgary Flames — Along with the Kings and Ducks, the two teams that follow them in this week’s rankings, they could either finish in the top-three of the Pacific Division or just as easily miss the playoffs. They have only won five of their past 14 games.

16. Los Angeles Kings — They don’t have a ton of talent and could probably use a bit of a reset in terms of how they build their team. They could make the playoffs, but even if they do, do they seem like a threat to go far?

17. Anaheim Ducks — Right in the thick of that jumbled Western Conference playoff race, but everyone they are competing with has games in hand on them, giving them a slightly steeper mountain to climb with less margin for error than some of the other teams they are competing with.

18. New York Islanders — They already have seven players with at least 14 goals this season. Imagine them with a halfway decent defense and goaltending situation.

19. Carolina Hurricanes — Let’s take a look at how things have gone for the Hurricanes over the past month. Lost two. Won three. Lost three. Won three. Lost three. Consistently inconsistent.

20. Florida Panthers — They have won a lot recently, they still have a ton of games in hand on everybody, but it still seems like that gap is still too much to make up. But we will give them credit for the way they have played recently and bump them up a few spots.

21. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon returned, and that is good. Then they lost to Edmonton at home. That is … not good.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets — They are trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time. They should be better than this. They might be better than this. They need to start getting some results though.

Buy A Lottery Ticket

23. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist looks completely exhausted and totally worn out. The team in front of him is lousy defensively and is probably only going to get worse over the next week when players get traded.

24. Detroit Red Wings — Bad time for Mike Green to be injured. Unless they are just keeping him out of the lineup to preserve him for a trade?

25. Chicago Blackhawks — The eight-game losing streak got a lot of attention but it is actually much worse than that. They have won just five of their past 17 games entering play on Monday.

26. Ottawa Senators — Who is going to go over the next week? Derrick Brassard? Mike Hoffman? Jean-Gabriel Pageau? Dare we ask … Erik Karlsson?

27. Vancouver Canucks — When you are rebuilding and out of the playoff race you just have to re-sign Eric Gudbranson. Well, no, no you don’t, but the Canucks seem determined to make that happen anyway.

28. Arizona Coyotes — They still have the worst record in the league but give them a lot of credit for playing the way they have recently and stringing some wins together.

A Level Of Their Own At The Bottom

29. Edmonton Oilers — Updating a stat from a week ago. Since Feb. 1, a stretch of nine games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined to score 16 goals. The Edmonton Oilers have won two of those games. Keep boosting those draft lottery odds.

3o. Buffalo Sabres — They were lousy with Jack Eichel. They are even lousier without him. Perhaps the low point of the season came over the weekend against the Los Angeles Kings when they gave up three goals on three consecutive shots.

31. Montreal Canadiens — Only 4-11-1 in their past 16 and one of the worst records in the NHL overall.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.