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Alexander Wennberg is becoming a star for Columbus

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It’s been almost a year since the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Ryan Johansen.

At the time, the trade seemed to open a huge hole at center ice, one that Jackets fans hoped might be filled by Auston Matthews.

But, of course, the Jackets didn’t get Matthews. They ended up with the third overall draft pick, using it to select Pierre-Luc Dubois, a player who believes he can be a “first-line center in the NHL,” but was sent back to junior at the start of the current season.

And so many felt it would be another year of struggles for the Jackets. Until they had a legitimate No. 1 center, it was going to be tough. Sure, the young defense would develop, and perhaps Sergei Bobrovsky could keep them in most of their games. But as a whole, hopes for 2016-17 were pretty low.

Enter Alexander Wennberg, the Jackets’ first-round draft pick in 2013. The 22-year-old is surpassing all expectations in 2016-17. Playing on a line with Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno, Wennberg has piled up 20 points in 21 games, including 15 assists.

“He has the vision, he can make plays,” Saad told the Columbus Dispatch recently. “Once he has the puck on his stick, he’s deadly with it.”

Last Friday against Tampa Bay, Wennberg won a puck battle in the corner, then fed Saad in front for the game-winning goal:

Wennberg’s play-making has also helped the Blue Jackets become the NHL’s most deadly team with the man advantage. While rookie defenseman Zach Werenski has deservedly earned much of the credit for the Jackets’ power play, it’s Wennberg’s nine PP assists that lead the team.

       Read more: Werenski learning the rigors of an NHL schedule

Where did all this come from?

Well, head coach John Tortorella started giving Wennberg more ice time about a year ago, not too long after he took over from Todd Richards.

“He’s been probably one of our best play-makers,” Tortorella said in January, per NHL.com. “When you talk play-makers, everyone thinks offense, but coming out of our end zone, too, he makes plays. He’s not an off-the-glass guy. He wants to try to make a play so we keep possession. For such a young man, I just love his poise, and that’s what you need. You can’t be afraid to make a play and he has shown that.”

It remains to be seen if Wennberg can maintain his points pace. He may cool off a touch, or maybe even more than a touch. But as of today, he’s keeping some pretty impressive company among NHL centers:

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Wennberg scored his fifth goal of the season last night; it turned out to be the game-winner in a 5-1 domination of the Lightning.

The Jackets now have just one regulation loss in their last nine. In their last five games (2-1-2), they’ve outshot their opponents by a combined margin of 189 to 125.

Their next game is Thursday in Colorado, where the Avalanche better bring a lot more intensity, because this Columbus team might be for real.

Related: Don’t tell Torts, but the Jackets’ Corsi has been really good lately

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.