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After ‘breakout’ year in AHL, Fleury ready to crack ‘Canes lineup

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If it feels like we’ve written about Haydn Fleury being ready to make the leap before… well, it’s because we have.

Quite a few times.

There are reasons for this, of course. Fleury was the second defenseman off the board at the 2014 draft, taken six spots behind No. 1 overall selection Aaron Ekblad. He’s just one of two top-15 picks from his draft year yet to play in the NHL — the fifth overall selection, Isles prospect Michael Dal Colle, is also waiting to make the leap — and he’s already two years behind fellow ‘Canes blueliner Noah Hanifin, who was taken in the ’15 draft and just wrapped his sophomore NHL campaign.

Progress has been a slow process. But now, it finally sounds like Fleury’s ready to break through.

“He’s had, in my opinion, a breakout year,” AHL Charlotte coach Ulf Samuelsson said this week, per the Observer. “He’s been one of our most consistent players. He’s taken a step maybe each month and the last month has made the biggest step because he’s now using his size.

“He’s hard to play against. He’s always been good joining the rush, jumping up, but he has turned into a really good two-way defenseman.”

After a lengthy junior career in Red Deer, Fleury played his first season of pro hockey in Charlotte this season, and acquitted himself nicely. He raced up seven goals and 26 points in 69 games and, as per Samuelsson’s above quote, has used his 6-foot-3, 207-pound frame to his advantage.

Some might look at Fleury’s slow progression to the pro game, and consider him a draft bust. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

‘Canes GM Ron Francis has taken a more deliberate approach with Fleury, 20, and another promising blueliner, 21-year-old Roland McKeown. Both were knocking on the door of making the Carolina roster to start the year, but Francis opted to send them back to Charlotte for more seasoning.

One might wonder why Francis opted to slow play these two, when Hanifin was fast-tracked to the NHL at 18. The answer might not lie with Fleury and McKeown, but rather the group as a whole — Carolina had one of the youngest bluelines in the league this year, featuring Hanifin (20), Jaccob Slavin (22), Brett Pesce (22), Ryan Murphy (24) and Justin Faulk (25).

Murphy, however, could be lost to Las Vegas in the upcoming expansion draft, resulting in an open roster spot. And journeyman Matt Tennyson, who appeared in 45 games on defense for the ‘Canes this season, is a pending UFA.

All this points to Fleury making his long-awaited NHL debut in the fall.

Report: Hobey Baker winner Butcher won’t sign with Avs, will test free agency

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It looks like the NCAA’s Hobey Baker Award winner won’t sign with the NHL team that has his rights … again.

Last year, Jimmy Vesey rejected the Nashville Predators’ offers in a very public way, ultimately signing with the New York Rangers. Defenseman Will Butcher will test free agency on Aug. 15 instead of agreeing to an entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche, as his agent confirmed to BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater.

“We informed the Avalanche of that decision,” Butcher’s agent, Brian Bartlett, told BSN Denver. “We appreciate what Colorado has done, and we’re not ruling out the Avalanche as a potential destination. But we just feel there will be other opportunities that should be explored too, and therefore we’re going (to the 15th).”

Those who’ve followed Butcher’s situation probably aren’t too surprised by the news.

It became clear as early as 2016 that the Avalanche weren’t interested in signing Butcher, a high-scoring defenseman they selected in the fifth round of a disastrous 2014 draft class.

This disinterest came even as Butcher generated 32 points in 39 games for the University of Denver in 2015-16, and he topped that last season, generating 37 points in 43 contests to take home the Hobey Baker. Butcher also enjoyed team success in 2016-17, helping Denver win a national championship.

At 22, he’d sign a cheap entry-level deal, only getting more expensive bonuses if Butcher excels, which would be worth it for just about any suitor. He’s likely to draw plenty of interest, whether he takes the Avalanche’s offers seriously or not.

Pension Plan Puppets provides an argument for why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be interested, while Second City Hockey went in-depth on the pluses for the defense-challenged Chicago Blackhawks, just to name two possible destinations that could make sense for Butcher.

Sharks add assistant Barr as ‘eye in the sky’

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The San Jose Sharks added experienced assistant Dave Barr to Peter DeBoer’s coaching staff on Wednesday.

The team noted that Barr will serves as the Sharks’ “eye-in-the-sky” during the 2017-18 season.

DeBoer has experience with Barr, as he served as an assistant during the New Jersey Devils’ run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Barr was also part of that mess with the Florida Panthers last season.

Beyond that, Barr is quite experienced, as you can see from the team’s summary of his recent coaching travels:

Barr has spent the past nine seasons coaching in various capacities in the NHL, serving most recently as an associate coach of the Florida Panthers during the 2016-17 season. Prior to his time in Florida, Barr served as an NHL assistant coach for eight seasons, with stops in Buffalo (2015-16), New Jersey (2011-15), Minnesota (2009-11) and Colorado (2008-09). Barr was a member of Peter DeBoer’s coaching staff during his four-year tenure with New Jersey, helping the team reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. 

The 56-year-old Barr spent four seasons as the head coach and general manager of the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) from 2004-08, where he was named the Matt Leyden Trophy winner as the OHL’s Coach of the Year in 2005-06. In addition, he was selected to coach Canada’s National Summer Under-18 Team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2007. 

Coyotes add MacLean and Allen to coaching staff

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John MacLean will, indeed, be an assistant coach on Rick Tocchet’s staff in Arizona, as reported yesterday.

So too will Scott Allen.

“We are very pleased to have John and Scott join the Coyotes organization,” said Coyotes GM John Chayka in a release. “Both individuals bring a wealth of hockey knowledge and coaching experience to our team and we are confident that they will be great additions to Head Coach Rick Tocchet’s staff.”

MacLean — who had a short, unsuccessful stint as head coach of the New Jersey Devils in 2010 — was last behind an NHL bench as an assistant on Kirk Muller’s staff in Carolina from 2011-14.

Allen spent last season as an assistant in Florida, before being let go to make way for Bob Boughner’s new staff.

The Coyotes also announced Mike Van Ryn as the new head coach of their AHL affiliate in Tucson. Van Ryn will be assisted by John Slaney and Steve Potvin.

Mark Lamb, last year’s head coach in Tucson, and Mark Hardy, Lamb’s assistant, will not be back.

Lamb was only hired a year ago; however, he got the job thanks in part to a previous working relationship with Dave Tippett. So it’s no surprise to hear Lamb won’t be back — especially after the Roadrunners missed the playoffs.

Related: John MacLean could reportedly join Tocchet’s coaching staff in Arizona

Welcome Nick Holden to the trade rumor mill

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Last summer, when Nick Holden was traded from Colorado to the Rangers, Patrick Roy called Alain Vigneault to say, “You just got one of my better defensemen.”

Now it seems that Holden may be on the trading block again.

From the New York Post, in the wake of Mika Zibanejad‘s contract extension:

The Blueshirts are projected to start the season with just $445,556 of cap space if they carry eight defensemen (including Alexei Bereglazov) and 14 forwards (including Andersson and Boo Nieves with Jesper Fast on IR). The Rangers are expected to attempt to deal defenseman Nick Holden ($1.65 million) in order to bulk up in the middle, if possible.

Holden played 80 games for the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals with 23 assists. The 30-year-old is signed for one more year before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

If Holden is traded, the Rangers could go into next season with a top four of Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei. That would leave Marc Staal, Bereglazov, Anthony DeAngelo, and perhaps even Neal Pionk to fight for minutes on the bottom pairing.

What’s unclear is Holden’s value on the trade market. After all, the Rangers only gave up a fourth-round draft pick to get him from Colorado. Has his value risen significantly since?