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Zacha should be ready for big step forward for Devils

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

Ever since Ray Shero took over as the team’s general manager the New Jersey Devils have tried to add a lot of offensive punch to their lineup. They have traded for Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson. They signed Brian Boyle this summer. They drafted Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick this summer and are hoping that 2015 third-round pick Blake Speers can make the leap to the NHL on a full-time basis this season.

But their top pick in that 2015 class might be one of the most important players on the roster this season when it comes to whether or not the Devils can show significant signs of improvement in their rebuild. That pick, of course, was No. 6 overall selection Pavel Zacha.

After spending all but one game of his draft year back in the Ontario Hockey League playing for the Sarnia Sting, Zacha got his first full-time look in the NHL during the 2016-17 season and it was a bit of a mixed bag, something that is to be expected for a 19-year-old, especially one that bounced around between two different position — seeing time at both center and wing — and started the season recovering from a hip injury.

With just seven points in his first 37 games it was looking like his rookie season was going to be a bit of a disappointment.

He was able to salvage it in the second half, however, with a strong finish that saw him record a very respectable 17 points over the final 33 games. He also seemed to fit in more comfortably on the wing and took more of a shoot-first mentality with the puck, getting more shots on net as the season progressed. All of that is a good indication that he was starting to figure it out at the NHL level and could be poised for a big step forward in year two. He spent the offseason training in New Jersey working firsthand with the team’s trainers and coaches to help get there.

The Devils are going to need him to for a couple of reasons.

Not only because he is a top draft pick from just two years ago, making him a central part of the team’s ongoing rebuild, but also because of the injury suffered by Travis Zajac that is going to sideline him for at least four-to-six months. That is a pretty massive blow to an already thin Devils lineup. It’s not yet known where the Devils see Zacha on a full-time basis, but the center position was kind of turned upside down over the past couple of months with the additions of Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle along with the injury to Zajac. He played his best hockey last season on the wing, but they might have a need down the middle. No matter where he fits in the lineup if the Devils are going to become a better offensive team both now and in the future players like Zacha are going to have to play a key role in it.

Sharks reportedly making ‘serious push’ for Erik Karlsson

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Try to picture this: A blue line with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson on it. Together. That would be a whole lot of fun, wouldn’t it?

That may have seemed farfetched a few months ago, but not anymore. According to TSN 1200’s AJ Jakubec, the San Jose Sharks are making a push to acquire Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. TSN.ca’s Travis Yost backup up Jakubec’s report.

Before Sharks fans get too excited, the report also mentions that the “Bobby Ryan factor” is complicating things, which isn’t unexpected at all. Ryan has four years left on his contract that comes with a cap hit of $7.25 million, and the Sens want to include him in any deal involving Karlsson.

Any team adding Karlsson and Ryan would be taking on $13.75 million. That’s why any trade involving the Swedish defenseman would likely have to include a third party willing to take Ryan or at least a portion of his contract.

As for San Jose, they have quite a bit of money coming off the books this summer (Joe Thornton‘s $8 million, Joel Ward‘s $3.275 million and Jannik Hansen‘s $2 million), but they already have $24.17 million committed to their top five blue liners in 2018-19 with Burns, Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brendan Dillon. Adding Karlsson would take them over $30 million, but that’ll be the least of their worries if they can make this trade happen.

The Sharks still have their first-round pick to use as a trade chip, but they have no picks in the second or third rounds.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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The PHT NHL Trade Deadline Tracker is your one-stop shop for completed deals as the Feb. 26, 3 p.m. ET deadline approaches.

Feb. 25 – Nashville Predators acquire Brandon Bollig and Troy Grosenick from the San Jose Sharks for 2018 sixth-round pick.

Feb. 25 – Nashville Predators acquire Mark Letestu from the Edmonton Oilers for Pontus Aberg. Predators then trade Letestu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. | PHT analysis

Feb. 25 – The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire Tomas Plekanec* and Kyle Baun from the Montreal Canadiens for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and Toronto’s second-round draft pick in 2018. (*The Canadiens will retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 25 – The Boston Bruins acquire Rick Nash* from the New York Rangers for a 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 seventh-round pick, Matt Beleskey*, Ryan Spooner and the rights to Ryan Lindgren. (*The Rangers will retain 50 percent of Nash’s salary, while the Bruins are retaining half of Beleskey’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 24 New York Islanders acquire Brandon Davidson from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 23 – Vegas Golden Knights acquire Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-round pick; Pittsburgh Penguins acquire Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn, Tobias Lindberg and a 2018 third-round pick; Ottawa Senators acquire Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – New Jersey Devils acquire Michael Grabner from New York Rangers for 2018 second-round pick and Yegor Rykov. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – Florida Panthers acquire Frank Vatrano from Boston Bruins for 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 21 – Washington Capitals acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Feb. 21 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Tobias Rieder* and Scott Wedgewood from Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. (*Arizona retains 15 percent of Rieder’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – Boston Bruins acquire Nick Holden from New York Rangers for Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – San Jose Sharks acquire Eric Fehr from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2020 seventh-round pick.

Feb. 19 – Washington Capitals acquire Michal Kempny from Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional* 2018 third-round pick. (*Chicago will receive the higher of Washington’s own third-round draft choice or the third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Washington acquired the Toronto draft pick from the New Jersey Devils as part of the Marcus Johansson trade on July 2, 2017.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 19 – Philadelphia Flyers acquire Petr Mrazek* from Detroit Red Wings for a conditional* 2nd round pick in 2018 or a 3rd round pick in 2018 or a 4th round pick in 2018 and a conditional* 3rd round pick in 2019 (*Red Wings retain half of Mrazek’s salary. *The 2018 fourth-round pick turns into a third-round pick if the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins five games during the regular season. That pick will become a second rounder if the Flyers win two playoff rounds and Mrazek wins six games. The 2019 third rounder becomes Red Wings property if Mrazek signs with the Flyers.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 15 – Chicago Blackhawks acquire Chris DiDomenico from Ottawa Senators for Ville Pokka.

Feb. 15 – St. Louis Blues acquire Nikita Soshnikov from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2019 fourth-round pick.

Feb. 13 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Dion Phaneuf*, Nate Thompson from Ottawa Senators for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore. (*Senators retain 25 percent of Phaneuf’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Ilya Kovalchuk reiterates desire to return to NHL next season

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Ilya Kovalchuk made a bit of news after he won the Olympic gold medal with the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The 34-year-old winger confirmed that he wants to return to the NHL next season.

He last played for the New Jersey Devils during the 2012-13 season, but he’s been with SKA St. Petersburg for the last five seasons.

Kovalchuk, who put up five goals and two assists in six games during the Olympics, has put up some relatively impressive numbers over in Russia, so there should be no shortage of interest from teams in North America. But according to Sports Express’ Slava Malamud, he’ll prioritize winning a Stanley Cup ahead of money.

Malamud added that teams from the New York area, the state of Florida and the city of Los Angeles will be the favorites to land him. Would the Devils take him back? How close are the Rangers and Islanders to winning the Stanley Cup? Maybe playing with Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov is interesting for him, but teaming up with Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning might be too much to pass up. The Kings would also be in the mix.

Kovalchuk’s rights belong to SKA St. Petersburg until the end of this season. Once his contract runs out in the KHL, he’d remain property of the New Jersey Devils until July 1st, but he’d hit the market with all the other free agents on that day, per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas hockey team wins state championship

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The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School varsity hockey team can now call themselves state champions, 11 days after a gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others on the Parkland, Florida campus.

Their 7-4 victory over Jesuit High School capped off a Sunday that saw them upset top-seeded East Lake High School 3-1 in the semifinals. Stoneman Douglas lost to both teams in the round-robin phase of the tournament on Saturday. Their three losses in the early stage put them as the lowest-seeded team heading into the elimination games of the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida High School State Championship tournament held at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida.

According to NBC2’s Joe Putrelo, some Stoneman Douglas players dyed their hair yellow to honor a friend of the team, Joaquin Oliver, who died in the shooting.

The state title now means that Stoneman Douglas will take part in the high school hockey national championship tournament next month in Minnesota.

“We came into the game knowing we had to give it our all to get the win and that’s what we did, and now we get to bring the trophy back to the best high school in America,” said forward Joey Zenobi.

MORE: Panthers’ Luongo gives emotional speech about Florida school shooting

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.