Tough times for Maple Leafs during recent California trip

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A trip to California provided at least a temporary setback to the playoff dreams of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Three games in four nights against the San Jose Sharks, L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks can be a difficult task for any club, whether they’re at the top of the standings, middle of the pack or at the bottom. For the Maple Leafs, full of youth and an abundance of talented stars-in-the-making, they were able to secure only a single point out of a possible six, which obviously does nothing to help their playoff ambitions.

The trip was capped off Friday with a 5-2 loss to the Ducks — and former Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and goalie Jonathan Bernier.

It was a game Toronto actually had the lead in before Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell scored just 16 seconds apart and Anaheim took back the lead for good. Sami Vatanen, left all alone to bury a Ryan Getzlaf pass, put it further out of reach as the Ducks capitalized on defensive breakdowns from a young team that coach Mike Babcock lamented afterward.

From the Toronto Star:

The pant-dropping moments were junior-hockey-worthy mistakes. Marner and Connor Brown, the latter one of the Leafs’ most impressive forwards in Thursday’s game in L.A., both made turnovers that keyed goals. Babcock called timeout, huddled the troops, offered what appeared to be a stern lecture.

Marner was benched, at least briefly, playing 4:13 in the second period – considerably less than his usual minutes. But by the time Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen found himself alone on the back door less than two minutes into the third period — Ryan Getzlaf’s cross-eye threading setting up the one-timer — the Leafs seemed beyond redemption.

“I thought we did tons of good things but I didn’t like the free goals we gave them,” said Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “I thought we gave them three of them. The NHL is too good a league to think you are going to outscore your mistakes.

“You have to take care of the puck, you have to check right and you have to know what you are doing without the puck. It was evident on three of those goals we didn’t.”

A fruitless trip to California does not doom an entire season, though it’s certainly far from ideal at this time of year and given what is at stake.

The Maple Leafs were only one point out of a wild card spot prior to puck drop for Saturday’s schedule of games. They were also two points out of third place and four points out of second in the Atlantic Division.

Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski

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Last summer, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter stressed that some of the club’s young prospects needed to make an impact at the NHL level.

And now it’s happening.

Following the recalls and NHL debuts of Adrian Kempe and Paul LaDue, the Kings have brought up Jonny Brodzinski from AHL Ontario, the club announced on Thursday.

Brodzinski, 23, made the AHL All-Star team this year and leads the Reign in goals, with 25 through 56 games. The former St. Could State sniper left school early two years ago to join the Kings organization, after L.A. took him in the fifth round of the ’13 draft.

As mentioned above, this recall is in lockstep with what’s developed throughout the year. Kempe, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (29th overall) in ’14 and has fared well since joining the big club, with six points in 16 games.

LaDue, 24, was a sixth-round pick in ’12 that — like Kempe and Brodzinski — fared well in the American League before getting recalled in February. LaDue has appeared in 15 games for the Kings, scoring five points while averaging 16:25 TOI per night.

Los Angeles is still technically in the playoff race, but sits eight points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with just 10 games to play. As such, the focus might now shift to giving some youngsters NHL experience.

Brodzinski will have to wait for his, however. Per LA Kings Insider, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight, when the Kings host the Jets at Staples.



Polak gets two games for boarding Bjorkstrand


Roman Polak‘s hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand has drawn more than the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Today, the NHL announced that Polak, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been suspended two games for boarding Bjorkstrand Wednesday in Columbus.

In making the ruling, the league’s Department of Player Safety determined that Polak sent Bjorkstrand “violently” into the boards from behind, causing an injury. The DoPS also noted that the hit was avoidable, with the onus on Polak to “ensure that he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact.”

You can watch the full ruling below:

Wild prospect Kunin leaves Wisconsin, turns pro

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Minnesota is getting one of its prized youngsters in the mix.

Luke Kunin, the club’s first-round pick (15th overall) at last year’s draft, is leaving the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign, per the Star-Tribune. Kunin will reportedly join Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa on an amateur tryout.

Kunin, 19, is coming off a pretty successful campaign. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, scoring four points in seven games.

Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Kunin will play out this year in the minors, and his entry-level deal will kick in next season. That means he won’t be with the Wild at all this year — regular season or playoffs.

As mentioned, Kunin is just one of the many talented prospects Minnesota has in the fold. Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, all showed extremely well at the worlds.

Hurricanes sign Finnish prospect Kuokkanen

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The Carolina Hurricanes have another talented, young Finn under contract.

The ‘Canes announced this morning that they’ve signed forward Janne Kuokkanen to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Kuokkanen was drafted in the second round, 43rd overall, in 2016. The 18-year-old is currently with the OHL’s London Knights. He finished the regular season with 26 goals and 36 assists in 60 games.

“Janne was outstanding in our rookie tournament in Traverse City in September, and stayed in North America to continue his development in the Ontario Hockey League,” said ‘Canes GM Ron Francis in a release. “He’s a smart, skilled forward and we look forward to the start of his professional career.”

The ‘Canes already have two Finnish forwards in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.

Aho and Kuokkanen were teammates in the Karpat (Liiga) development system in Finland.