Pre-game reading: Who are the top 31 prospects for the 2017 NHL draft?

— Up top, the Washington Capitals are the next contestants on, Who Can Beat the Blue Jackets? 

— Who are the top 31 prospects for the 2017 NHL draft? International Scouting Services has made its latest list, and it’s still topped by Nolan Patrick. “The biggest risers among prospects in the top 10 in ISS’s January draft rankings – compared to December – are Nico Hischier and Casey Mittelstadt. Hischier, a right winger who plays for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, turned heads at the WJC with four goals and seven points in five games for his native Switzerland. As a result, Hischier rose from the No. 8-ranked prospect a month ago all the way to No. 3. Mittelstadt, a centre who’s playing high school hockey in Minnesota and has committed to the University of Minnesota next year, went from No. 12 up to No. 6.” (Yahoo Sports)

— An interesting Q&A with Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who used to be a public defender. “The plus side is you’re helping people. You feel good about that. The sad side is you get de-sensitized to some of the trouble they’re in, over and over. That’s the reality of it. The most sobering place, though, the reality check in becoming a defense attorney, was every time I had to go visit somebody in jail. That’s the eye-opener. It’s bars. It’s chains. It’s fences. It’s locks. It’s confinement. The one thing is, I know I got to leave every time when I left there. Everybody I was visiting wasn’t leaving. That’s pretty tough.” (Sports Illustrated)

— After a tough 2015-16 split between the Hurricanes and Rangers, Eric Staal is having quite the bounce-back season for the Minnesota Wild. “We’re winning a lot of games and I’m having fun. The transition, no question, has gone well for me. We have a long way to go, half a season, but I’m on a good team that has had a good start and is in a great position. It’s fun to come to work.” The 32-year-old really does look like the “Eric Staal he was in the past,” and he’s a big reason the Wild are 23-9-4. (The News & Observer)

— The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup with a helping hand from a number of players that came up from AHL Wilkes-Barre. The Baby Pens play the same system as the big club, and that really helps smooth the transition, according to defenseman David Warsofsky. “It’s a pretty complicated system. If you don’t know it right away, it can be difficult to play. When you keep the same thing at both levels, it helps out a lot.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

— The San Jose Sharks will honor former members of the California Seals on Saturday. The Seals were part of the NHL’s 1967 expansion. Granted, they weren’t a very successful part of it, but they’re the only NHL team in history that Tom Hanks ever sold hotdogs and sodas for, so they had that going for them. (Mercury News)

Enjoy the games!

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    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.