Pre-game reading: In today’s NHL, more defensemen are starring as teenagers

— Up top, check out the NHL’s Goals of the Week, featuring a pretty filthy toe drag by Derek Stepan.

— Remember when it was rare for a defensemen to make a big impact in the NHL without first spending a few years of developing? Yeah, not so much anymore. Teenagers like Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov are already stars for their teams. Aaron Ekblad is only 20, and he’s played almost 200 games for the Panthers. Sure, most d-men still need time after they’re drafted. But for the super-skilled guys, it’s a different story in today’s fast-paced NHL. (Associated Press)

— A neat story about a kid who turned his passion for hockey into a job with the Washington Capitals. “Ohashi’s journey — from obsessing over sports as a kid in Bethesda to studying psychology and mathematics at Bates to landing an internship and then a full-time job on Barry Trotz’s coaching staff for his favorite hockey team — is indeed the stuff of teenage dreams.” (Washington Post)

— Between the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, which team is more likely to maintain its winning ways? TSN’s Travis Yost says it’s the Jackets. “Columbus might be getting the majority of the bounces heading their way, but it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve it – they are obliterating their competition on a nightly basis and playing the vast majority of time in the offensive third.” As for the Wild, well, even if they do regress a bit, they’ve built a very nice playoff cushion. (TSN)

— Starting in the New Year, each team will get a “bye week” comprised of five days off, with no practices or games allowed. Click here for all the bye weeks. “It is a first for the league — and something the NHL Players’ Association negotiated last year as part of the new All-Star Game format. The players wanted a chance to rest their weary bones before the busy stretch run.” (ESPN)

— A list of the top 10 NHL stories of 2016. Number 1? That crazy day in June when Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, P.K. Subban was traded for Shea Weber, and, oh yeah, Steven Stamkos re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

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    Hurricanes give Di Giuseppe a two-way deal for 2017-18

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    The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

    The team announced that Di Giuseppe’s deal is worth $725K at the NHL level and $125K in the AHL in 2017-18.

    Di Giuseppe, 23, was the 38th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s been getting some looks at the NHL level with Carolina:

    2015-16: 17 points in 41 games
    2016-17: seven points in 36 games

    He’s also been splitting time between the AHL and NHL lately, so a two-way deal works well enough.

    Carolina doesn’t have much more to do on the free agent front, but that doesn’t mean that their off-season is wrapped up, as there’s still that whole ownership situation to settle.

    Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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    Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

    However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

    Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

    “On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

    Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

    Related

    Markov, Habs officially part ways.

    Markov is headed to the KHL.

    Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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    The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

    The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

    Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

    He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eichel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least develop into a regular NHL player.

    Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

    Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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    Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

    “I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

    (At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

    The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

    Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

    The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

    If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.