Columbus Blue Jackets v Phoenix Coyotes

Have you noticed? Columbus is playing pretty well

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Let’s show a little love for the Blue Jackets.

After a dismal start to the season, the BJs have turned it on by winning six of their last nine, moving within two points of Carolina for the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

But the real story is how Columbus has done it.

The Jackets are winning games without four of their highest-paid and most important players: Marian Gaborik (out since Nov. 14 with a knee injury), Sergei Bobrovsky (out since Dec. 4 with a groin ailment), James Wisniewski (out since Dec. 6 with an upper-body injury) and Nathan Horton (missed the entire season recovering from shoulder surgery).

That quartet represents the club’s top sniper, a Vezina-winning goalie, a top-four defenseman and a prized free agent power forward — big losses for a team light on talent.

Yet the Jackets have made it work.

They’ve recorded quality wins over this 6-3-0 stretch — a 6-0 drubbing of the Leafs in Toronto, back-to-back shutout wins over Tampa Bay and Minnesota — and have played well in their losses, dropping a tough 3-1 decision in Boston and a 2-1 defeat in Pittsburgh.

The most startling thing, though, is how Columbus has coped with its goaltending situation.

When Bobrovsky went down, the Jackets turned the No. 1 gig over to career journeyman Curtis McElhinney, a former Calgary draftee that spent time in Anaheim, Ottawa and Phoenix before joining Columbus last season (spending all of last year in AHL Springfield.) He won three of his first four starts in relief of Bobrovsky, including a 20-save shutout of the Wild.

But on Thursday, McElhinney was injured during the first period of a 4-2 win in New York… forcing Columbus to put in third-stringer Mike McKenna, who was playing his first NHL contest in three years.

Undeterred, McKenna stopped 17 of 18 shots the Rangers threw his way. That raised the spirits of head coach Todd Richards, who praised his players for a “great win.”

“It’s starting to get to that point where I think the confidence is growing in the group,” Richards told the Columbus Dispatch. “And the confidence the coaching staff has in the group is starting to grow.

“We’re starting to see more good things throughout a 60-minute game.”

Ristolainen, still without a contract, makes ‘good will’ gesture towards Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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Rasmus Ristolainen doesn’t have a contract yet, and he’s not particularly close to getting one either.

But the Sabres defenseman, a restricted free agent, doesn’t want to burn any bridges, so he arrived at KeyBank Center on Thursday as a “good will” gesture, reports The Buffalo News. He’ll practice with his teammates, head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed.

“Everyone knows how dedicated he is to his training, and he wanted to continue to build on the gains he made this summer,” Ristolainen’s agent, Mike Liut, wrote in an email to the News. “In the end, this made sense to him, at least in the short term.”

The eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Ristolainen had nine goals and 32 assists in 82 games for the Sabres last season.

“I still trust that we will make that contract happen,” Ristolainen told reporters a couple of weeks ago at the World Cup in Toronto, where he was representing Finland. “I like Buffalo. I want to be there as long as I can and I feel they feel the same way about me. I trust it’s going to be taken care of.”

Related: Rieder’s agent thinks trade from Coyotes is best for both parties

Wild to play Coyle at RW, likely on top line with Parise and Staal

Minnesota Wild center Charlie Coyle, right, controls the puck against Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith during the first period of Game 1 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoffs in Chicago, Friday, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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It’s been the ongoing storyline over Charlie Coyle‘s four years in Minnesota — center, or wing?

This year, it’ll be the latter.

At least to start.

Head coach Bruce Boudreau confirmed Coyle will begin the year playing at right wing, potentially on the club’s top line next to Zach Parise and Eric Staal.

“I think I’m built more for that game,” Coyle said, per the Star-Tribune. “Long-term, I think they like me at center, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me, but it is nice to be able to consistently play one place and not go back and forth.

“Mentally, once you play one place, you feel more comfortable.”

Coyle has played center quite often, most notably during the ’14-15 campaign when he finished third on the team in faceoffs taken (behind Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund). And while it’s obvious he’d be able to impact the game more playing down the middle rather than outside, Coyle’s attributes on the wing are hard to pass up.

Specifically, his ability to find the back of the net.

Coyle scored a career-high 21 goals last year, many of them coming while playing RW. For a Wild team that isn’t all that dynamic offensively, such production is hard to pass up.

What’s more, the Wild do have options down the middle.

Staal and Koivu are there, as is Mikael Granlund. Erik Haula‘s proven to be a quality 3C or 4C, and Coyle could always flip back to center in a pinch.

Putting Coyle on the wing would also give Boudreau more balance among his forward group. Granlund — who, like Coyle, is also versatile enough to play wing — could move to the left side on the Koivu-Jason Zucker line, which would give Minnesota a nice third unite comprised of Haula, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.

Stecher makes memorable debut for Canucks, the team he grew up supporting

Vancouver Canucks' Alexander Edler, of Sweden; Joseph Labate; Alexis D'Aoust; James Sheppard; and Troy Stecher, from left, celebrate Labate's goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period of an NHL hockey preseason game Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Troy Stecher admitted he was “still shaking” when he met with reporters following last night’s preseason game in Vancouver. The 22-year-old rookie defenseman had just scored one goal and added two impressive assists in the Canucks’ 5-3 win over the Oilers.

Not bad for an undrafted, local kid who grew up a fan of the team.

“Something I’ll never forget, obviously,” Stecher said. “First game at Rogers (Arena). I grew up watching the Canucks, coming here. It was a different feeling being on the other side of it.”

It was only one game, but for the second year in a row, a defenseman who just finished his college career appears to be pushing for a spot on the Canucks. Last year, it was Ben Hutton, out of Maine, and he made it.

So, could Stecher, out of North Dakota, actually crack the Canucks’ roster as a right-shot, offensive defenseman?

Well, he’s already beaten out Jordan Subban, who’s been returned to the AHL. His main, remaining competition figures to be North America returnee Philip Larsen, who’s been in the KHL the past couple of seasons.

The answer has to be yes.

But again, it’s only been one game. He’s earned another one, according to head coach Willie Desjardins, so he’ll have to build on his first one.

“I’m a young guy, so confidence is huge,” said Stecher. “I think I played pretty well. If I have a poor game, then you kind of dwell on it all day tomorrow and it’s in your mind. At the same time, I’ve just got to put it in my back pocket. Tomorrow’s a new day and I’ve got to come to the rink prepared to work hard and just continue to do my thing.”

Related: Prized North Dakota d-man Stecher goes pro, signs with Canucks

Report: Lindholm seeking eight-year deal from Ducks, at least $6M per

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Hampus Lindholm #47 of the Anaheim Ducks reacts to his power play goal with Kevin Bieksa #2 to take a 4-1 lead over the Los Angeles Kings during the second period at Staples Center on February 4, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Details are starting to come out about the contractual impasse between Anaheim and prized young defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

Fresh off an appearance with Team Sweden at the World Cup, Lindholm — a still-unsigned RFA — is reportedly seeking “more than $6 million per season over eight years,” according to the O.C. Register.

The 22-year-old is currently in Sweden training with SHL club Rogle BK, the team he played for prior to getting drafted sixth overall in 2012.

Lindholm is coming off his three-year, entry-level deal, one that carried a cap hit of $894,166.

The Ducks are in a bit of a financial squeeze and also need to sort out another RFA — versatile forward Rickard Rakell — so it’s understandable why negotiations with Lindholm have been drawn out.

That said, they’re not going to want to drag feet much longer.

Lindholm is a budding star on defense, coming off a year in which he scored a career-best 10 goals and 28 points in 80 games, averaging 22 minutes per night. He was also a huge part of Anaheim’s run to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final the previous spring, scoring 10 points in 16 games while increasing his ice time to 23:15.

According to the Register, the “feeling” is that Anaheim’s closer to a deal with Rakell than Lindholm. And on that note, it’s worth mentioning the Ducks make their season debut in two weeks — on Oct. 13, with a road date in Dallas.