Looking to make the leap: Jeremy Morin

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After spending the better part of four seasons riding the bus in the American Hockey League, Jeremy Morin will have every opportunity to be a regular with the Blackhawks in 2014-15.

Speaking to reporters at the NHL Draft in June, GM Stan Bowman said he expects Morin to make the leap to the NHL much like Ben Smith did last season.

Entering training camp, there are opportunities for budding prospects on both the right side of Chicago’s third line and the left side of the team’s fourth line.

Morin could slot in on either, and at a drastically smaller cap hit ($800,000) than say a Kris Versteeg ($2.2 million), Morin could win out in the numbers game as Chicago currently sits more than $2 million over the salary cap, per CapGeek.

The Blackhawks re-signed the left-winger to a new two-year, $1.6 million deal on June 27 following a 2013-14 campaign which saw him produce at a point-a-game pace (24 goals and 47 points in 47 games) in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs.

Morin also appeared in 24 regular season games for Chicago scoring five goals and 11 points, in part, while Bryan Bickell was sidelined with a knee injury. The 23-year-old appeared in two playoff games for the Blackhawks where he was held pointless.

“He’s been patient with us. Sometimes I know it’s tough to spend a couple years in the minors when you’re an NHL-ready player,” Bowman said. “Give him credit, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to. The only thing that was missing, was an opportunity. Now we’re giving him that opportunity, he’s going to be on the team.

“He’s hungry, he wants to prove what he can do, and he’s going to get the chance.”

The former second-round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers (45th overall in 2009), Morin was acquired by the Blackhawks on June 24, 2010 as Chicago, fresh off its first Stanley Cup win since 1961, was in salary dump mode.

Chicago sent Akim Aliu, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel to Atlanta in exchange for Morin, the Thrashers’ first round (Kevin Hayes) and second round (Justin Holl) picks in 2010, which were acquired in a previous trade from the New Jersey Devils, as well as Marty Reasoner and Joey Crabb

Billed as a creative goal-scorer, Morin doesn’t shy away from the physical game. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound, Morin has 12 career AHL fights according to hockeyfights.com and racked up 121 penalty minutes during the 2011-12 season with the IceHogs.

Given that Chicago’s top six is all but set in stone, Morin won’t necessarily be relied on for his goal-scoring prowess. In order for him to stick with the big club this season, he will have to show his gritty, physical side in addition to his soft hands.

Related: Under Pressure: Brad Richards

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

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.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

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

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson