Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs

Looking to make the leap: Peter Holland

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Is this the year for Peter Holland to finally establish himself as a full-time NHLer?

Probably. But it won’t be easy.

Holland, the 15th overall pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, should benefit from Toronto’s thinned-out center position. Two middle men from last season — Jay McClement and Dave Bolland — have signed elsewhere, and the offseason additions of Mike Santorelli (coming off major shoulder surgery) and Petri Kontiola (hasn’t played an NHL game in six years) aren’t exactly sure things.

According to Steve Spott — head coach of the AHL Marlies — Holland is.

“He’s an NHL centerman,” Spott said during the Calder Cup playoffs, per the National Post. “I firmly believe that. His skill set, his vision, is elite for this level. We’ll enjoy him for as long as we have him.”

How long the Marlies have Holland remains to be seen. After coming over from Anaheim last November, he bounced back and forth between the minors and NHL, scoring five goals and 10 points in a career-high 39 games for the Leafs before falling out of favor late in the season — following a rough three-game stretch in mid-March where his ice time dipped below 10 minutes a night, Holland played just once more for the Leafs down the stretch (a 1-0 loss to Ottawa on Apr. 12) and spent most of his time suiting up for the Marlies.

Now, he’s looking to stay in the bigs all season long.

Holland has a few things working in his favor on that front. The first is his contractual status, per the Toronto Sun:

Holland is almost assured of starting the season with the Leafs. The reason? Leafs are convinced they’d lose him on waivers if they tried to send him to the minors and they aren’t willing to lose Holland at this time.

Holland inked a two-year, $1.55 million extension with the Leafs in July, the first one-way contract of his career. That should give him a leg up on the competition, though it remains to be seen how he’ll fare in the wake of heavy competition up front.

While Toronto’s depth at center isn’t all that great, there are a slew of forwards on NHL deals (15, per CapGeek) and competition will be stiff at camp. Holland will also need to establish himself in the eyes of head coach Randy Carlyle — who, lest we forget, was the one that ultimately dropped Holland out of the lineup last year — and prove that he’s capable of being an every-night player.

The opportunity to make the leap is there, but there’s still work to be done.

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg (3) is hit by St. Louis Blues center Paul Stastny (26) during the second period in Game 1 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.

 

Video: Roussel opens the scoring for Dallas and Elliott wasn’t happy about it

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The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.

Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.

WATCH LIVE: Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks – Game 1

Nashville Predators' Paul Gaustad, left, defends against San Jose Sharks' Joel Ward (42) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. Nashville won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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After stunning the Anaheim Ducks with a Game 7 win in the first round, the Nashville Predators remain in California to take on the San Jose Sharks in the second round. You can catch Game 1 on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Sharks have some ‘pent up energy,’ eager to start series with Preds

Game 7 win is ‘a big step’ for Predators

Burns, Doughty, Karlsson named finalists for 2016 Norris Trophy

Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson poses with the James Norris Memorial Trophy after winning the award at the NHL Awards show Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson have been named finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, but the debate about who should win is likely to persist right through to June 22 and the annual NHL Awards.

Not only did Karlsson, last year’s Norris winner, lead all blue liners is points with 82, he led the league in assists with 66 and finished tied with Joe Thornton for fourth in the entire NHL in total points. Those lofty offensive totals could make the Ottawa Senators star the clear favorite to claim the award for a third time in his career.

From NHL.com:

Karlsson is the first NHL defenseman to score at least 82 in a season since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (85 points) and Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins (82 points) in 1995-96.

Burns — is there an award for most outrageous beard? — is also coming off an impressive regular season, finishing just shy of the 30-goal mark with 27 and 75 points in 82 games for the Sharks. He’s also had a strong showing in the post-season, as well, with eight points in the opening round versus L.A.

Doughty’s offensive numbers don’t match up with the production from Karlsson or Burns, with 51 points in 82 games for the Kings. There were eight defensemen ahead of him in overall point production. But he’s often recognized for logging hefty amounts of ice time, averaging 28:01 in the regular season, on a Kings team that often dominates puck possession at even strength.

“If you’re going to win, I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to have to play the other side of the puck,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi recently said to the Associated Press.

“You’re going to have to make those little plays that aren’t going to show up on the highlights. (Doughty’s) defensive partners — the little things he’ll do just to get his partner time to make a play. He’s three steps ahead of everything, and because he is that, he makes it look easy.”