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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    Gibson skates, could start as Ducks face elimination in Nashville

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    John Gibson, who exited Game 5 of the Anaheim-Nashville series with a lower-body injury, could be back in the Ducks’ goal tonight for Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

    Gibson participated in today’s morning skate, and was the first goalie to exit. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief on Saturday and allowed two goals on 18 shots, stayed out for extra work.

    “When they skate, usually that leads you to believe that there is a great opportunity for him to play,” head coach Randy Carlyle said at Monday’s media availability. “But I haven’t talked to [Gibson]. We’ll wait until he is off the ice and has a conversation with the training staff.

    “And then we’ll make a decision based off that.”

    Gibson has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Ducks this postseason. His numbers (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage) are somewhat pedestrian, but he’s been a calm, steadying influence for his team.

    Bernier has also been good for the Ducks this year, though his playoff body of work is limited. Game 5 was just his third appearance of the postseason, and he’s never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before.

    Report: Thornton knee injury mostly MCL, not ACL damage

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    A fairly significant development regarding the health of veteran Sharks forward Joe Thornton, from NBC Sports California:

    Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL.

    As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17.

    Thornton, who turns 38 in July, suffered the tears on Apr. 2 against Vancouver. He sat out the final three games of the regular season and the first two of the playoffs before returning in Game 3 of the Oilers series. Playing through the pain, Thornton registered two points over four games while averaging just under 19 minutes per night.

    “I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” head coach Peter DeBoer said following the series. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

    That gutsy performance further endeared Thornton to the Bay Area faithful, and he was pretty beloved to begin with. It also clearly made an impact on his head coach.

    Those are just two of the many facets that promise to make up a compelling summer.

    Thornton just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M cap hit. He’s played exclusively on three-year contracts since coming to San Jose more than a decade ago, and TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp is looking for another.

    From Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s perspective, he’ll have to factor in Thornton’s recovery and long-term health outlook to any potential extension. Wilson also has a timing issue at play, as it would behoove the Sharks to sign Thornton after June’s expansion draft, so they don’t have to protect him.

    Finally, there’s the added factor of Thornton’s longtime running mate in San Jose, Patrick Marleau, also needing a new contract.

    Thornton’s situation does appear the more complex one. Some will argue his down ’16-17 campaign — one in which he only scored seven goals and 50 points — was a sign of father time catching up.

    Others will counter it was the byproduct of a brutally long ’15-16, one in which Thornton went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (and had 21 points in 24 games, it should be noted), then had a short summer before joining Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey.

    Karlsson, Brassard and Ceci all good to go in Game 6 for Senators

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    Trailing by five goals entering the third period on Sunday evening, Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher decided he was going to shorten his bench and protect some of his most important players from further injury. So defensemen Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci, as well as forward Derick Brassard, were given the entire third period off (after the game Karlsson said he could have played if needed).

    On Monday, Boucher confirmed that all three players will be ready to go for Tuesday’s Game 6 with the Senators facing elimination in the Eastern Conference Final.

    Karlsson was playing through a fractured foot earlier this postseason and appeared to be shaken up late in the second period on Sunday when he awkwardly fell to the ice during a tie up along the boards. Brassard was shaken up following a hit coming through the neutral zone from Penguins forward Chris Kunitz.

    Boucher also added that defenseman Mark Borowiecki, who has not played since Game 2 of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, is “possible” to play on Tuesday while forward Alex Burrows is not as likely to play.

    Before Game 5 Boucher said that Borowiecki was getting close to a return but was not quite ready yet on Sunday. He talked about what he could potentially bring to the lineup when he does get back.

    “I mean, he’s the number one hitter in the League. He’s a heat-seeking missile, that’s what he is,” Boucher said. “So, you know, it usually puts the opponents on their heels. It’s better for the tough players to get some ice around him. He’s one of those guys that creates fear in the opponent. That’s what he did all year. I mean, we’re missing it, but at the same time we’re getting something else from other players.”

    Sunday’s game, a 7-0 loss, was easily the Senators’ worst one of the postseason and on Monday Boucher seemed to attribute it to his team getting too excited and getting away from its game.

    “We have to play to our strengths,” said Boucher on Monday. “Last game we tried to play run and gun with the best offensive team and we got slapped.”

    Following the game on Sunday Boucher was asked if that type of game can leave a mark, a question that Boucher dismissed by citing the Senators’ blowout win over Pittsburgh in Game 3 and his team’s ability to rebound from tough losses earlier this postseason.

    “Did it leave a mark on Pittsburgh when we did that to them at home? They won the next game,” said Boucher on Sunday. “In the playoffs, just like the season, your ability to rebound from a great game or a really bad game is necessary. We’ve done it all year. We’ve done it in the playoffs. After the fourth game against the Rangers, we were supposedly done, so, rebound, get ready for the next one.”

    Game 6 is Tuesday night in Ottawa at 8 p.m. ET.

     

    No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

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    Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

    The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

    Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

    Update:

    Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

    Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.