Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer and prospect expert at The Hockey News.
Alexander Nylander (LW)
Height: 6-foot Weight: 180 pounds Shoots: Right
Team: Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 3 North American skater
Kennedy says: “The younger brother of Toronto’s William Nylander, Alex had himself quite the first season in North America. Not only was he named OHL rookie of the year, but he was also lightning for Sweden at the world juniors, picking up for his brother when William was concussed by a Swiss player early on.
“Alex is slightly bigger than his brother, but has just as many jaw-dropping moves. His passing vision is sublime and because he was technically ‘loaned’ to Mississauga from Swedish club Rogle, he does not have to stay in junior next season – he could also play in the AHL (or NHL, or Europe).”
A new points king, and some concerns for the Kings
With two goals on Saturday, Connor McDavid might just pull off an impressive-yet-depressing feat: winning the Art Ross Trophy and then sitting at home after his team misses the playoffs. He now has 96 points on the season, one more than Nikita Kucherov.
That nice output helped the Edmonton Oilers upset the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in regulation. With this result, the idle Anaheim Ducks hopped into the third spot in the Pacific, while wins for the Avalanche and Blues force Los Angeles out of the wild-card spots, too. More on that here.
Here’s the goal that gave McDavid the lead, at least briefly:
If nothing else, McDavid might generate two 100-point seasons in a row.
Players of the Night
Nicklas Backstrom was dishing out some great passes in Washington’s 6-4 win against Montreal. His four-assist night is quite the accomplishment, though you could argue that it isn’t all that rare for the slick Swede.
Vincent Trocheck generated a clutch performance for the Panthers, collecting two goals and an assist during a third period rally that saw them avoid being spoiled by the Arizona Coyotes. Keith Kinkaid generated back-to-back wins for the Devils, with 35 of 36 saves coming in a tight win against the Lightning. This post has more on what all of that means for the playoff races.
Alexandar Georgiev getting more reps is one of the silver linings of the Rangers roughing it through the end of the regular season. He’s now 4-3-1, yet with a strong .926 save percentage after making 43 out of 44 saves in a win against the Sabres on Saturday.
An ovation for Karlsson
The fans in Ottawa gave Erik Karlsson a heartwarming ovation during his return to the Senators lineup following the death of his infant son. Karlsson collected an assist in Ottawa’s loss.
Brenden Dillon probably gets the W in this jarringly aggressive fight, but give Garnet Hathaway credit for rallying back in the end, and merely for dropping the gloves against a larger competitor. Wow.
With points at a premium for teams in the NHL’s bubble races, sometimes it’s about digging deep … and maybe getting a bounce or two.
All four division leaders either hold huge or at least comfortable edges over their competitors through Saturday, so let’s focus on teams that are in more urgent battles for positioning, if not spots altogether.
Blues > Blue Jackets
After rattling off 10 consecutive wins, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell short against the St. Louis Blues in a 2-1 regulation decision. St. Louis is on a nice run of its own, as this gutsy win gives them five in a row.
Earlier on Saturday, the Avalanche beat the Golden Knights 2-1 via a shootout, so the Avalanche and Blues now hold the West’s wild-card spots. Each team could conceivably creep into the Central’s top three, yet they also don’t have a lot of room ahead of the idle Anaheim Ducks. (Update: Minnesota ended up beating Nashville, widening its lead.)
Third in Central: Wild (defeats Nashville) – 92 points, 74 games, 38 ROW First WC: Avs – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW Second WC: Blues – 89 points, 75 GP, 39 ROW
Update – Third in Pacific: Ducks – 89 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW Ninth place: Kings (after loss to Oilers) – 89 points, 76 GP, 39 ROW
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
Gutsy wins by Devils and Panthers
For quite some time, it looked like the Arizona Coyotes might play the spoiler against the Florida Panthers.
Florida entered the third period down 2-0, but Vincent Trocheck helped them rally with two goals, pushing him to 30 on the season. Denis Malgin ended up collecting the game-winner in an eventual 4-2 win for the Panthers, who willed their way to a big win.
The New Jersey Devils probably rank as even more impressive. One night after gutting out an overtime win against the defending champion Penguins, the Devils beat the East-leading, more-rested Lightning by a score of 2-1. Taylor Hall assisted on the game-winner by Kyle Palmieri after scoring in OT on Friday, while Nico Hischier had two goals in as many nights.
Keith Kinkaid was even better closing out back-to-back wins, as he stopped 35 out of 36 shots on goal against the dangerous Lightning.
With the Atlantic top three essentially locked in and the Capitals closing in on the Metropolitan Division crown, take a look at the Metro’s other two spots, the two wild-card holders, and where the Panthers rank after a busy Saturday:
East WC1: Flyers – 88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW East WC2: Devils – 86 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW
Ninth: Panthers – 83 points, 73 GP, 35 ROW
With three games in hand on the Blue Jackets and two on the other relevant Metro teams ahead of them, the Panthers are in a strong position to push their way into the postseason if they can keep things going.
Imagine how Florida felt going into the third. They lost their most recent game to Columbus by a humbling score of 4-0, and were down 2-0 with a four-game road trip looming. Saturday could have delivered a punch to the gut; instead, they kept fighting and demanded a big win.
Losing in regulation keeps Columbus from a) at least briefly grabbing a round of home-ice advantage and b) creating a meaningful cushion ahead of the bubble pack. They remain in third in the Metro even after this loss, but this one stings.
The Flames haven’t won a game since, dropping five in a row by a soul-crushing cumulative differential of 25-7. Their closest losses were by three goals. Woof.
Calgary now sits at 80 points with only six games remaining, all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. (The second West wild-card team, as of this writing, is the Ducks at 89 points, and they hold a game in hand on the Flames. Woof again.)
Maybe it was already too late for the Flames when Smith shut out the Oil, but this five-game flop really buried any long-shot hopes. Now, Calgary must close out the season and ponder what to change during a summer that will demand serious soul-searching.
[everyone cheering about their respected teams heading to the post-season]
Losing Smith for a lengthy, crucial stretch for about a month (13 games) struck a brutal blow to a team that sometimes asked him to clean up some significant mistakes.
That said, overall, the Flames pass the sniff test as far as possession metrics go. This team simply hasn’t been able to finish enough chances despite often hogging the puck, to the point that it’s become an uncomfortable refrain for fans and media alike.
Q: What does a bounce and an arena have in common?
Via Natural Stat Trick’s measures, the Flames’ 6.87 shooting percentage at even-strength ranks among the bottom five in the NHL. That’s not an end-all, be-all stat, yet consider that the bottom eight teams look all but assured to miss the playoffs.
CGY’s SH% in all game states (meaning PP ad ES) this month is 5.4%. Bonkers.
They’ve been struggling on special teams, too, as their 16.6 percent success rate ranks fifth-worst in the NHL. Allowing seven shorthanded goals only pours more salt in their wounds. The power play’s been especially miserable lately, only converting one time since Feb. 27 (1-for-37).
Not enough support
On paper, the Flames seem like they should at least be a playoff team, if not a legitimate contender.
Such struggles would be easier to stomach if certain forwards panned out. It’s difficult not to pick on Sam Bennett, the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, who is stuck at 26 points in 76 games after failing to score a goal or an assist for the last seven games.
Whether you pin it on Father Time, untimely injuries, or other factors, the Jaromir Jagr experiment was also a bust.
The Flames have done a lot right in building this team.
Aside from Tkachuk (whose rookie deal expires after 2018-19), the Flames have their core members locked up long-term. In the case of someone like Gaudreau, they’re getting a star player at a bargain rate of $6.75M through 2021-22.
Still, Smith is 36, and maybe more alarmingly, Giordano is already 34.
With aging-but-important players like those, you never know when the bottom might fall out and the window really closes. It’s easy to picture Calgary figuring a few things out – do they make trades, a key signing, maybe a coaching change? – and become as deadly on the ice as they are in some of our imaginations.
None of this erases the bitter taste of failure for the team and its fans, though.
WINNIPEG — The gloves came off at Winnipeg Jets practice on Saturday.
A small scuffle that involved a couple of Jets players ensued after a point shot was taken by Blake Wheeler during a drill. That melee turned into fists being tossed between Wheeler and Jets defensemen Ben Chiarot, with Wheeler being sent to the dressing room by coach Paul Maurice after the fight broke up.
“It’s just boys being boys,” said Chiarot, who had a small cut on his nose after practice. “Tempers get up. Intensity in practice is always a good thing and that’s something we’re trying to bring here before the playoffs. I look at it as a good thing.”
🎥 Ben Chiarot speaks on the intensity in today’s practice, the team’s versatility this season, and more. pic.twitter.com/PEBgRF5uVq
Paul Maurice watched the fracas from center ice but didn’t say anything until Wheeler’s glove’s game off, at which point he yelled for the pair to stop.
“You’d like a few more of those during the year if you could,” Maurice said after practice.
When pressed as to why, Maurice spoke of keeping the intensity level high throughout the season.
“Our theory in how we practice is really short, as fast as we can, a full-contact sport,” Maurice said. “In the games, somebody gets an elbow up, somebody gets a piece of someone that happens and occasionally in practice that’s going to happen. It’s all good.”
Jets forward Adam Lowry said players were already moved on to the joking phase following the altercation.
“They might be mad at each other for 10 minutes, but you don’t expect a grudge to be held too long,” Lowry said. “I’m sure (by Sunday), they’ll be laughing about it.”
Asked if there would be any repercussions for either player, Maurice shared a joke.
“There will be no family meeting tomorrow,” he said.