Pittsburgh’s youth movement will be vital

6 Comments

Ray Shero has identified the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and locked it up for a long time.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi are signed through the 2016-17 season. Combined, they’ll earn $41 million annually and, what’s more, all seven of them have some form of no-movement clause.

So, barring something major, those are your Pittsburgh Penguins for the next four years.

That’s the easy part.

Where Shero’s job gets difficult is in finding people to play with that core. The reigning NHL GM of the Year has always been an active in the trade and free agent market, but now it seems his best course of action might be an old fashioned one:

Draft and groom.

There’s a blueprint for success out there, and it involves getting production from guys on entry-level and second contracts. Last season, Chicago surrounded its pricey core (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) with key contributors on cheap deals: playoff hero Andrew Shaw, Calder nominee Brandon Saad, defenseman Nick Leddy and power forward Bryan Bickell.

None of those players made more than $900,000 last season; Bickell (who to be fair, was on his third contract with the club) made a mere $541,667 while finishing second in the team in playoff goals, with nine.

In Pittsburgh, a similar development may unfold.

Beau Bennett, who scored 14 points in 26 games last year as a rookie, has two more years left on his deal at $900,000. Big things are expected from the 2010 first-rounder this season, especially with the departures of forwards Jarome Iginla, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Brenden Morrow.

“He played 26 games for us, and showed what he could do power-play-wise, what he could do making plays with the puck,” Pens head coach Dan Bylsma said of Bennett. “I think there is an opportunity for Beau, and I think he’s capable of adding in that regard on our top six with our skilled players.

“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people by the end of the year with how he can help our team.”

On defense, the Pens will have a number of young options to choose from. Simon Despres, the club’s first-rounder from 2009, seems ready for full-time action, and has one year left on his ELC at $840k.

There are also 2012 first-rounders Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta, still a year or two away from contributing but ready to potentially replace the likes of Brooks Orpik (who’s deal is up after this season) and Paul Martin (done after the 2014-15 campaign).

Shero acknowledged the importance of having young guys at the ready.

“When it is time to turn some of your club over,” he told NHL.com, “it is really helpful to have guys like that ready to step in.”

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

Getty
1 Comment

Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

1 Comment

Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

5 Comments

The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

1 Comment

Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.