Oilers head scout defends team’s results after years of high draft picks

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Lately, the Edmonton Oilers have almost become a cautionary tale about the dangers of fully embracing a complete rebuild. They got the first overall pick from 2010 through 2012 and that hasn’t been enough to propel them into contention for a playoff spot.

Edmonton Oilers head amateur scout Stu MacGregor admitted that the team needs to “build our prospect base and make some strides.” But why hasn’t that already happened to the point where we’ve seen tangible results?

“Keep in mind our best players, and the players we rely upon, are still only 21, 22, 23 years old, so some of those players are still learning the NHL,” MacGregor said, per NHL.com.

As we recently discussed though, the NHL’s a young man’s game. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were just 22 when they first led the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were 21 and 22 respectively at the time of the Penguins’ latest championship.

You could argue that the Oilers don’t have a Kane, Toews, Malkin, or Crosby, but their problem is more fundamental than that. Taylor Hall has established himself as a great first-line forward at this point while Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have also proven to be valuable contributors. Their young talent can and likely will do more as time goes on, but their not what’s holding them back to begin with. The issue is that unlike recent championship teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago, the Oilers don’t have a strong group built around their young talent.

So while the Oilers have another high draft pick to work with, it will be more interesting to see what, if they make any major adjustments through the trade or free agent markets to try and make this team competitive.

Bruins’ Donato, Predators’ Tolvanen can’t crack playoff lineups

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Late in the regular season, two strong teams seemingly got better when the Boston Bruins lured Ryan Donato from Harvard while Eeli Tolvanen came over from the KHL to join the Nashville Predators.

Fans of both teams waited with baited breath to see them join their squads, yet right now, it seems like they’re struggling to gain traction during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Let’s take a look at each situation.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Donato lost in the shuffle

The Boston Bruins have seen their 3-1 first-round series lead evaporate into a 3-3 tie against the Toronto Maple Leafs. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty notes frustration for the dominant top line of David PastrnakPatrice BergeronBrad Marchand and is calling for more production from Rick Nash.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy’s done plenty of “tinkering” lately, yet if the most recent lines are any indication, Donato is still losing that game of musical chairs.

Whether it’s Tommy Wingels or Danton Heinen, the Bruins have mixed different forwards in, but Donato’s been absent most of the time, even when Bergeron was a surprise scratch. At this point, it’s fair to be confused, especially when you consider that Boston has enjoyed so much success by handing young players the car keys rather than distrusting them like many other teams do. It’s quite baffling for a Bruins team that currently looks a bit too dependent upon a few players to beat red-hot Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.

Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones discussed the merits of choosing Donato over the likes of Wingels:

Through six games in this series, the Bruins dressed Donato once: in Game 2. He didn’t get much of a chance, receiving just 9:24 of ice time.

Now, it’s fine that they did as much there, as the Bruins dominated their way to a 7-3 win. Still, it doesn’t exactly give Donato much of an opportunity to prove himself, either.

The 22-year-old’s generally been running with his real opportunities so far in the NHL, too. Donato did so most dramatically in his NHL debut on March 19, scoring a goal and two assists against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was a heck of a statement for someone who was still worrying about grades.

His NHL career amounts to a small sample right now, but Donato made a compelling argument that he could help the Bruins with supplemental scoring. Through 12 regular-season games, Donato collected five goals and four assists for nine points. He never went more than two contests without generating a goal or an assist.

While Donato received the cushy zone starts you’d expect from a fresh face, he did his part by generating nice possession stats.

Sure, the jury’s out on whether he can be a consistent point producer at the NHL level … but it’s also bewildering that the Bruins wouldn’t look to him for a possible scoring boost.

If nothing else, Donato could make sense in a role as an offensive specialist, ideally adding some creativity to a power play that needs it. After scoring five power-play goals through the first two games in this series, the Bruins have only connected once in the past four contests, going 1-for-9. Some of that might be a matter of referees rarely reaching for their whistles (they only received three power-play opportunities in the series’ three games in Toronto, really emphasizing home-ice advantage?), but Donato could give them as shot in the arm.

Not doing so could lead to a lot of soul-searching if the Bruins fall in Game 7. Even if they advance, they really need to think long and hard about giving Donato more reps.

Tolvanen not yet fitting in

The Donato situation in Boston is more confounding because he’s shown that he can produce at the NHL level, and he’s also been thrust into prominent scenarios thanks to the Bruins’ wave of injuries.

Despite riding a wave of hype to North America, Eeli Tolvanen remains stuck in a holding pattern with the Nashville Predators.

Tolvanen failed to crack the Predators’ lineup during their six-game series against the Colorado Avalanche, even with Ryan Hartman receiving a one-game suspension. Much like Boston, Nashville saw its power play dry up after a hot start; the Predators went 0-for-9 during the last three games of that series. You’d think such relative struggles might have opened the door for Tolvanen to get a look, but that didn’t happen.

To be fair, Tolvanen hasn’t shown a ton so far with Nashville.

He only suited up for three games, failing to score a goal or an assist. It’s not as if this is a matter of bad bounces alone, as Tolvanen only managed three shots on goal, with all three SOG coming in his third appearance.

While Donato’s likely further along in his development at 22, Tolvanen is just 19 and isn’t that far removed from being drafted (30th overall in 2017). There’s a solid chance that Tolvanen simply is not ready.

***

That said, the Predators are readying for what could be an epic second-round series against the Winnipeg Jets. If they want to win, they’ll likely need to play some of their best hockey, so they’d be foolish not to at least consider putting Tolvanen back in the lineup.

The Bruins organization has seen firsthand how a talented rookie can revitalize a series, as Tyler Seguin memorably gave them a big surge after being a healthy scratch during Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup run.

Considering the championship aspirations of both teams, they’d be wise not to dismiss their intriguing rookies.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lured out of retirement, Preds’ Mike Fisher chasing 1st Cup

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Losing the Stanley Cup last June wasn’t what hurt Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg the most. Seeing how painful the loss was for veteran center Mike Fisher proved even more agonizing.

”That was probably the worst feeling for me personally,” Forsberg said. ”Seeing the look on Fish’s face, how close it was and obviously didn’t know then if he had another chance. And yeah, he’s definitely one of the guys that I would love to win for.”

One final shot at the Stanley Cup that’s eluded Fisher throughout his 17-year career wasn’t the priority last August when the 37-year-old center announced his retirement . The Predators, who always wanted him back, persuaded him to return late in the season with some help from Fisher’s wife, country star Carrie Underwood.

Fisher says the support means a lot to him.

”It also means you’re getting old too,” Fisher quipped.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

”You don’t have too many chances. But part of this coming back too wasn’t just about me, it was about the guys too and you figure try to help a group and do it together,” Fisher said. ”That’s the thing about team sports and hockey is just having that fun together. There’s nothing like it. So it’s definitely more than just about me the old guy winning. It’s so much greater than that for sure.”

Nashville wanted Fisher back for his skills on the ice and his experience.

Fisher can play both ends of the ice and can win face-off battles in the defensive zone. He also has played 1,104 regular-season games in his career. In this postseason, only Toronto’s Patrick Marleau (182) and San Jose’s Joe Thornton (160) have played more postseason games than Fisher (140) without winning a Stanley Cup.

The 6-foot-1 center now is in the playoffs with a Presidents’ Trophy winner. After finishing off Colorado in six games Sunday night, Nashville awaits a showdown with the Winnipeg Jets in the second round.

Knowing the Predators had a great team was only part of why Fisher came out of retirement. Spending time with good friends added to the attraction.

”You look at your career and playoffs are what you do and so much fun,” Fisher said. ”I’ve had the opportunity to have some pretty good runs. But you look back and those are really fun times that you enjoy and you remember with guys. And so it’s good memories.”

Fisher helped the Predators win their first Western Conference title last spring to reach the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final. Then they lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Fisher didn’t make a decision on retirement until August.

The Predators made sure to protect themselves while waiting.

General manager David Poile signed Nick Bonino as a free agent away from Pittsburgh. In November, Poile acquired center Kyle Turris away from Ottawa as part of a three-team trade giving Nashville plenty of depth at the position.

The Predators kept the door open to their former captain. They started talking more in December, knowing the depth needed to play into June. Underwood also kept asking Fisher what he wanted to do. The husband and father who had focused on building a house and a hunting show finally said yes.

A chance to win the Cup was too good to pass on, then again Underwood could have just decided to kick Fisher out of the house.

”That might’ve been part of it,” Fisher said with a laugh. ”But yeah, definitely it’s good to be back. She’s a big fan. She’s going to be at all the games she can.”

Fisher announced his return at a news conference Jan. 31 . He spent February working his way back into shape and signed a one-year, $1 million deal for the rest of the season Feb. 26 when NHL rosters expanded at the trade deadline. Fisher, who had 18 goals and 24 assists last season, scored in his first game back , a 4-3 win in Vancouver on March 2.

Against Colorado, Fisher centered Nashville’s fourth line. He averaged 11 minutes, 16 seconds per game in the first round while winning 75.5 percent of his face-offs.

Forsberg said Fisher looked like himself from his first game back and obviously is more comfortable with each game.

”Really good guy to have around the team,” Forsberg said, ”and he’s been awesome.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

How should Blue Jackets feel about their season?

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are a team with a relatively young core. Even though they were the “underdogs” in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals, they have to be disappointed a with the way things ended, and there’s a few reasons for that.

The Jackets caught the league by storm last season, as they went from a 76-point season in 2015-16 to a 108-point season in 2016-17. John Tortorella’s team went from being 15th in East to third in the Metropolitan Division, but they eventually lost to Pittsburgh in five games last spring. At the time, that outcome was widely accepted as being successful (by people outside the organization) because of the quick turnaround from one year to the next. This year’s playoff loss is a different story.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Before we dive into what went wrong during the postseason, let’s take a look at the 82 games of the regular season first.

Columbus won eight of 12 games in October. They followed that up by dropping four games in a row early in November, but they responded by rattling off six consecutive wins. Even though they got off to a good start, Tortorella made it clear that their stars weren’t playing well. A lot of their early-season success came from Sergei Bobrovsky‘s stellar play.

Their play fell apart in the middle of the year, but even though it looked like they were in trouble, they managed to get their season back on the rails.

Artemi Panarin eventually got comfortable and he became the offensive catalyst the Blue Jackets expected him to be. Pierre-Luc Dubois, who’s still just a teenager, also grew up quite a bit during the season. He looked more confident down the stretch. It took some time, but Cam Atkinson also picked up his play in the second half of the year. Combine all that with Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and company on defense and Bobrovsky, and you have a team that ended up finishing in a Wild Card spot. For whatever reason, it simply didn’t end up working out in the postseason.

Things were looking good early on, especially because they found a way to win Games 1 and 2 in Washington. Going back home with a 2-0 lead should have resulted in the Jackets eventually punching their ticket to the second round. Instead, they’ll be hitting the golf course earlier than they wanted to.

That’s not to say that the Blue Jackets totally fell apart. Four of the six games against Washington ended in overtime. In Game 5, they completely dominated the Capitals, outshooting them 16-1 over the final 20 minutes of regulation. Unfortunately for them, they ended up losing in overtime on a perfect deflection from Nicklas Backstrom. Washington ended up taking a 3-2 lead in the series and they never looked back.

“We learned a lot about ourselves, but I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m tired of learning,” Nick Foligno said after being eliminated, per beat reporter Steve Gorten. I want to continue to get better, and continue to move on. I hope we understand that now’s the time for this team.

“We had a real good opportunity being up 2-0 and didn’t make the most of it. That’s how fine it is to win. It’s hard in the postseason to close out things. I hope guys understand and realize the window you have to win. This is a hell of a team. Now’s the time to start winning.”

The quote above says it all. They may have put together back-to-back solid campaigns, but they’re a team that has legitimate expectations when it comes to making a run. As well as they’ve played at different times over the last two years, it doesn’t mean much if they don’t take the next step when it counts.

The Blue Jackets aren’t just a good story anymore, they’re a team that people expect to see in the playoffs every year. But simply getting into the postseason isn’t good enough by the fans’ standards or the team’s standards.

There’s some solid building blocks in place, now it’s just about gaining the confidence necessary to overcome adversity in the playoffs. The next two or three seasons should be interesting for this organization. Still, you can’t help but feel that they didn’t take a step forward in 2017-18.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: King Clancy nominees; Rutherford mad at Flyers fans

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Each team unveiled their nominee for the King Clancy Award, which is given “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” Ryan Getzlaf, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, P.K. Subban, the Sedin twins are all on the list. (NHL.com)

• Winning three Stanley Cup titles in a row would be a great accomplishment for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but a successful year would be making it out of the Metropolitan Division bracket. Anything beyond that is gravy. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• Pens GM Jim Rutherford wasn’t happy with Flyers fans after they threw beer can on the ice following their team’s Game 6 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

• Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy sat down for a Q&A with Sports Express. He talked about Nikita Kucherov‘s ability to torment goalies, Evgeni Nabokov’s influence on him, and much more. (Raw Charge)

• Paul Maurice’s playing career came to an abrupt ending, but he managed to transition into coaching pretty quickly. Even though he had doubts early on, everything worked out. (Featurd)

• After a great season, the Avalanche decided to give Jared Bednar a one-year contract extension. Also, don’t be surprised if the team becomes even younger than they were this year. (Denver Post)

• There’s been rumblings about Erik Karlsson being on the trade market. Most teams would jump at the opportunity to acquire a player like that, but here’s three reasons why the Rangers should stay away. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• The Minnesota Wild decided to part ways with GM Chuck Fletcher for a few reasons. Cap management, the losses in the expansion draft and the struggles they’ve had in the entry draft are three of the reasons he got let go. (Hockey Wilderness)

• This gay ECHL referee hasn’t had it easy during his time in the hockey, but he keeps pushing forward with his sights set on the NHL. (New York Times)

Jim Howard of Puck Junk recently came across an audio yearbook on the 1979-1980 New York Islanders. The record touched on the Isles’ journey from an expansion team to Stanley Cup Champs. (Puck Junk)

• The Vancouver Canucks need a lot of help on defense heading into next season. They can either hope to win the right to draft Rasmus Dahlin, or they can go after John Carlson in free agency. (TSN)

• Northeastern’s Dylan Sikura was back on campus after spending some time with the Chicago Blackhawks down the stretch. (College Hockey News)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.