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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:

wennberg

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

Moving on up: Devils win NHL Draft Lottery, secure No. 1 overall pick

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The New Jersey Devils entered the Draft Lottery with an 8.5 per cent chance of winning it. They will leave with the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.

The Devils finished the regular season with just 70 points, tied with Arizona for the third fewest in the overall standings. They’ve also had plenty of difficulty scoring goals in recent years, and this provides them with an opportunity to land a player — forwards Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are expected to be the top two players selected in June — that can help remedy that.

It’s become quite a close race between the two heading into the draft, which goes June 23-24 in Chicago.

From Bob McKenzie of TSN:

For TSN’s Draft Lottery edition, five scouts ranked the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Patrick No. 1; five scouts ranked the 6-foot-1, 176-pound Hischier No. 1. The Swiss pivot has closed the gap with his dynamic play, which came at a time when Patrick’s injury-riddled season was ended prematurely by an upper-body ailment that wasn’t related to the groin/abdominal issues that plagued him for the first half of the season.

While the Devils emerged as the overall winners, the Philadelphia Flyers had an enormous rise up the board. So, too, did the Dallas Stars.

The Flyers had just a 2.2 per cent chance of winning the lottery, yet they moved all the way up into the No. 2 selection spot when it was over. The Stars, with a 5.8 per cent chance of winning the lottery, also had a good day, moving up into the No. 3 overall spot.

Here is the 2017 draft order:

  1. New Jersey Devils
  2. Philadelphia Flyers
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. Colorado Avalanche
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Vegas Golden Knights
  7. Arizona Coyotes
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Detroit Red Wings
  10. Florida Panthers
  11. L.A. Kings
  12. Carolina Hurricanes
  13. Winnipeg Jets
  14. Tampa Bay Lightning
  15. New York Islanders

As you see, there were a few other key developments in this lottery.

Vegas was given a 10.3 per cent chance at winning the top pick — the same odds given to the 28th place team — however, the Golden Knights will pick sixth overall. The Colorado Avalanche, which finished with a miserable 48 points and had the best odds to win lottery, now pick fourth overall.

And once again, the Canucks endured more disappointment at the lottery.

Last year, they dropped two spots, from third to fifth. Needing an impact forward in order to help kickstart their rebuild, they dropped three spots, from No. 2 to No. 5 overall, on Saturday.

Related: Report: Devils GM plans to reach out to Kovalchuk’s agent next week

Report: Devils GM plans to reach out to Kovalchuk’s agent next week

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Rumblings of a possible return to the NHL for Ilya Kovalchuk have continued for some time now, and it appears the New Jersey Devils are taking the next step in this process.

On Saturday, prior to the draft lottery, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported that Devils general manager Ray Shero plans to reach out to Kovalchuk’s agent next week to gauge Kovalchuk’s interest of a potential return.

Kovalchuk is now 34 years old, having spent the last four seasons with St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL.

Getting Kovalchuk back for the Devils could provide an instant boost in scoring, which is an area New Jersey has struggled in. This past season, the Devils finished 28th in the league in goals for. Only the Canucks and Avalanche were worse in this category.

Kovalchuk had 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games this past season.

From NJ.com:

Kovalchuk would step in and immediately serve as a top-six winger for the Devils, Outside of Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, the Devils constantly rotated wingers into the top six last season. Having him up top would add another scoring dimension and help the depth down the rotation by bumping a player down.

Kovalchuk has also been in the news for more than a possible NHL comeback. According to reports on Saturday, he will forego the upcoming World Hockey Championship for Russia in order to have knee surgery.

Pageau’s brilliant four-goal game lifts Senators to comeback OT win over Rangers

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Jean-Gabriel Pageau had himself a performance for the ages in Game 2 against the New York Rangers on Saturday.

Pageau completed the hat trick to tie the game late in the third period, forcing overtime as Ottawa roared back from a late two-goal deficit. But he wasn’t done there. His best moment was still to come.

His fourth goal of the game was the winner, as he ripped a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Henrik Lundqvist to give Ottawa a thrilling 6-5 double overtime victory.

The Senators now take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Rangers, as it shifts back to Madison Square Garden.

On the deciding two-on-one rush, Pageau opted to keep his hot streak going, taking the shot instead of going for the pass.

For the Rangers, this could be a devastating loss.

Three times, they held a two-goal lead — thanks in part to a pair of goals from defenseman Brady Skjei, who is following up a strong regular season with what has so far been a very good post-season. The Senators, however, refused to go away.

Pageau recorded a pair of late goals in the third period, just 2:17 apart, erasing for good any lead New York had.

It was, until that point, shaping up to be a disappointing result for the Senators. Their power play not only went 0-for-4, but they conceded a pair of shorthanded goals.

Senators forward Clarke MacArthur left this game early in the second period, after taking a hit from Ryan McDonagh in the first period. He didn’t return. MacArthur has dealt with concussion problems in his career, however the club didn’t disclose any details of the apparent injury during the game.

The Rangers have scored two shorthanded goals against the Senators today

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The Ottawa Senators power play is off to a brutal start on Saturday afternoon in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers.

Not only did they fail to score on their first four power play opportunities of the game, they failed to generate a single shot on goal during any of them. That is … not ideal. But that is not even the worst of it. The worst is the fact they also allowed the Rangers to score not only one, but two shorthanded goals against them.

The first one came just 4:16 into the game (on the Senators’ first power play of the game) when Michael Grabner scored his third goal of the playoffs to give the Rangers an early 1-0 lead.

You can see that goal in the video above.

The Rangers added to the struggles of the Senators’ power play in the second period when Derek Stepan scored his second goal of the playoffs increase the Rangers’ lead to 3-1.

That goal came during a wild five-minute stretch that saw the two teams combine for four goals and helped the Rangers build a 4-2 lead late in the second period.