The Florida Panthers, losers of seven of the past eight games, are facing what is almost certainly a must-win game on Monday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They will have to do it without the services of start defenseman Aaron Ekblad and center Denis Malgin due to concussions that they suffered on Saturday night in their loss to a depleted Tampa Bay Lightning team.
Coach Tom Rowe announced on Monday (via the Miami Herald) that both players are expected to be sidelined for at least 7-10 days.
Because of the injuries the Panthers had to call up MacKenzie Weegar from the AHL, while Jakub Kindl will draw into the lineup to take Ekblad’s spot.
The 20-year-old Ekblad had appeared in every game for the Panthers this season and recorded 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) before the injury.
The hit that caused the concussion infuriated Rowe, calling it a “real cheap shot from behind” after the game. Gabriel Dumont, the player that delivered the hit, will not face any discipline from the NHL’s department of player safety.
Losing Ekblad at this point is a pretty massive blow to the Panthers’ already fading playoff chances. They are in the middle of a stretch that has seen them collect just three out of a possible 18 points in the standings to fall seven points back of Toronto in the Wild Card race.
A loss to the Maple Leafs on Monday would be pretty much the final blow to their playoff chances.
The concern for Ekblad at this point is this isn’t the first head/neck-related injury he has had over recently. He missed time last season due to another concussion, and was then sent home from the World Cup of Hockey with what was later called “whiplash.”
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.
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:
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.
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.