Cunningham could solve Bruins’ problems

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We mentioned last week the salary cap crunch the Boston Bruins are currently under. Adding to general manager Peter Chiarelli’s problems is the fact both Torey Krug and Reilly Smith (both restricted free agents) are unsigned.

The Boston Globe suggested moving one of the Bruins pending unrestricted free agent defensemen in order to both clear cap room and potentially add a right winger – an area the Bruins are currently lacking since the departures of veterans Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton.

However, Bruins’ prospect Craig Cunningham has another idea.

Cunningham, the Bruins fourth-round selection at the 2010 NHL Draft, has his eyes set on the Bruins roster for the upcoming season.

“Once you play and get sent back down, it makes you that hungrier,” Cunningham told Steve Ewen of  The Province. “The life is night and day, pretty much. It’s the life that I want. Everything’s different.”

The 23-year-old made his NHL debut on Dec. 17, 2013 and also suited up for the Bruins April 13 – the only two games he has on his resume.

Cunningham has been a model of consistency at the AHL level with the Providence Bruins registering three straight seasons of 20-plus goals. This past season he led Providence in goals (25) and was third in points (47).

In July, Boston rewarded him with a new, one-year, two-way contract, which pays him $85, 000 at the AHL level and $600,000 at the NHL level.

Cunningham hasn’t really had an opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level and though he’s a right-shot, right-winger – what the Bruins could use, he’s hardly a guarantee to make the team.

Boston also has Jordan Caron, Justin Florek and Matt Fraser, who are all likely ahead of Cunningham in the pecking order.

“You need to go to camp in the best shape possible and see where you fit in and what role you can play,” said Cunningham. “It’s always nice to know that there’s an opportunity. It pushes you that much more throughout your summer.”

Cunningham will need to have an excellent showing during the preseason to get any sort of consideration for time in Boston.

Related: B’s strength coach once viewed Lucic as ‘stringbean’

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”