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Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

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The Vancouver Canucks were finally able to sign restricted free agent Bo Horvat to a new contract on Friday, giving him a six-year, $33 million contract.

The team is obviously excited about what Horvat has accomplished and what he is capable of in the future with general manager Jim Benning calling him a “foundational player.”

Horvat, the team’s first-round pick in 2012, chosen with the pick that was acquired in the Cory Schneider trade with the New Jersey Devils, had his best year to date in 2016-17 by scoring 20 goals and recording 32 assists, leading the team in both goals and total points. It was the first time since the 2005-06 season that a player other than Henrik or Daniel Sedin finished as the team’s leading scorer (Markus Naslund was the leading scorer that year).

Just now entering his age 22 season, Horvat should be entering the portion of his career where he is capable of his best hockey, and that has to be an encouraging sign for the Canucks given what he has already shown. His production has improved steadily across the board every year that he has been in the league and this past season he took a big step toward being a reliable top-line scorer.

He believes that he is just now starting to scratch the surface.

Here he is talking about his new deal on Friday, via Sportsnet’s Iian MacIntyre:

“I did,” he said today. “(But) I think them signing me to a long-term deal means that they they have a lot of support for me and they believe in me. I’m really humbled by that and, obviously, I respect them for that.

“I think I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve only been in the league three years. These next six years is where I can really step up my game and prove myself.”

He was one of just 11 players age 21 or younger to score at least 20 goals and record at least 50 points this past season, joining a list that included Connor McDavid, Austin Matthews, Patrik Laine, Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Eichel, William Nylander, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin.

The bad news for the Canucks as a team is that are still looking at what will probably be another long season in 2017-18, especially as the Sedins get one year closer to retirement.

But Horvat, assuming he continues to develop as he has over his first three years in the league, is at least one player that should provide a little bit of hope for the future.

Ducks’ duo of Getzlaf and Perry could reportedly be reunited

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The Anaheim Ducks appear to be putting the band back together.

With three preseason games remaining for head coach Randy Carlyle to nail down different line combinations ahead of the beginning of the regular season, reports out of Anaheim suggest he may be reuniting a duo that has had success in the past.

From the Orange County Register:

And there appears to be the reunion of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as linemates after the two largely played apart from each other last season. Perry did finish up with Getzlaf in the playoffs after Patrick Eaves went down to injury.

The combination of Perry and Getzlaf has over the years, been able to dominate the opposition at times, using both their size — Perry is apparently the smaller of the two, listed at 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds — and skill to help drive the Ducks offensively.

That doesn’t mean they haven’t been subject to separation in the past, just like any other line around the league at one point or another. That included last season, as the pair went through an offensive slump.

Last season, the now 32-year-old Perry scored only 19 goals, which, if you exclude the 2013 lockout-shortened season, is the third lowest total for his entire career, and the lowest since 2006-07. Perry and Getzlaf were once again united during the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Ducks looked to jump-start the former while he endured a down year in the scoring department.

“It’s a line I’m comfortable with,” Perry told the L.A. Times at the time of Carlyle’s playoff decision. “We played a lot of the year together and we had some good success in past years as well.”

Canadiens’ Drouin ‘day-to-day’ with upper body injury

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Some mildly concerning news for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday as the team announced Jonathan Drouin will not play in their preseason game tonight due to an upper body injury.

He is currently listed as being day-to-day. He will be replaced in the lineup tonight by veteran forward Torrey Mitchell.

At this point it is just something that is keeping him out of a preseason game, so it’s not really a huge deal at this point. Seeing as how the game doesn’t count there is no sense in risking further injury for a player that is going to be a key piece of this year’s roster. But the fact he still has something that is bothering him enough to keep him out of a game has to be at least a little bit of a concern for Canadiens fans.

The Canadiens acquired Drouin this summer for top defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev and are counting on him to be an impact player. They also immediately signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract extension.

The plan right now seems to be to try him out at center to help fill what might be the Canadiens’ biggest organizational need — a top-line, No. 1 center.

Drouin is an exceptional talent and still has superstar potential and is coming off of a season that saw him take a huge step forward. In 73 games with the Lightning he scored 21 goals and added 32 assists. His 53 total points would have made him the third-leading scorer on the Canadiens. If he takes another leap in his development and solidifies that No. 1 center spot his addition could be a total game-changer for the Canadiens’ roster.

The Rangers are keeping J.T. Miller at wing

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When the New York Rangers traded center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason it created an opening at a pretty important spot in their lineup. With that new vacancy at center it seemed reasonable to conclude that J.T. Miller, coming off of a career year that saw him score 22 goals and record 56 points, would move back to his natural position on a more permanent basis.

According to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Monday, that will not be the case to start the season.

Vigneault announced on Monday that Miller is going to open the season playing on the wing, not necessarily because of anything he has or has not done, but because of the play of the other centers in Rangers camp.

This would seem to be good news for 2017 first-round picks Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both have not only been impressing the team at camp, but still remain in the running for a roster spot. With Jesper Fast currently sidelined due to an injury, Vigneault said it is possible both of the Rangers’ first-round picks could start the season on opening night roster.

Along with the two draft picks, the only other move the Rangers made this offseason to address the center position was to bring in veteran David Desharnais.

Mika Zibanejad, who was limited to just 56 games a year ago due to injury, will also be expected to take on a bigger role in what will be his second year with the team.

The Rangers traded Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a deal that brought them back the No. 7 overall pick (used to select Andersson) and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo in an effort to create some cap space and help rebuild their defense.

Jets’ Wheeler: ‘It just felt right to take a stance’

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Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was one of the few NHL players to make some sort of an unprompted statement in response to President Donald Trump’s weekend comments regarding NFL players and their protests during the National Anthem.

During a speech in Alabama on Friday the President urged NFL owners to fire players that “disrespect” the flag by taking a knee during the National Anthem.

On Saturday, Wheeler was critical of the President’s comments in a series of Tweets.

On Monday, Wheeler was asked about why he spoke out and ended up talking for several minutes on the subject.

“I think crossing over into the sports world it hits home a little more,” said Wheeler, via the Jets’ website. “I think a lot of people, similar to my wife and I, it has been kind of a slow boil. The rhetoric over and over, he has just kind of gone a little too far too many times. It just felt right to kind of take a stance.

“There have been a lot of players who have felt a certain way, one way or the other, when you start coming into their territory a little bit. Some of the language that he used referencing NFL players, I think that was kind of the last straw for a lot of guys, whichever way they feel about it to voice their opinion.”

Wheeler was later asked if he would support a teammate if they decided to take a knee during the National Anthem.

“I’m absolutely for the first amendment,” said Wheeler. “I’m a big believer that what makes America a special place is you’re allowed to stand up for what you believe in. With just cause, if someone were electing to do that they would 100 percent have my support. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with why they do it it is their right to feel that way, it is their right to behave that way. If I didn’t agree with it, I would absolutely sit down, have a coffee, talk about it, try to understand why they feel that way and maybe you become a little more sympathetic.”

His entire media session is available via the Jets.

Jets coach Paul Maurice said he supported Wheeler’s Tweets while adding that Wheeler is “one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”

During NFL games on Sunday pretty much every team took part in some sort of a protest during the National Anthem, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans who remained in the locker room prior to their games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, announced that they will be accepting their invitation to visit the White House just one day after the NBA’s Golden State Warriors announced they would not be attending.