Early 2018 NHL Draft rankings favor Dahlin (and uh oh, another Tkachuk)

NHL training camps mark a time of renewed – sometimes unrealistic – optimism, with players who might end up getting injured crowing about being in the best shape of their lives.

Even so, there are some fans who can see the writing on the wall: their favorite team is going to be really bad. There’s at least a handful of fans who, even in September, are already dreaming of getting that top spot in the draft lottery for the 2018 NHL Draft.

So, who should they hope their team gets?

Well, some prospect rankings are already trickling through, from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Craig Button to the Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy and so on, with a near-unanimous consensus that the favorite to be the top pick is Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (pictured).

McKenzie reports that many believe that Dahlin could be a difference-maker as a top defenseman, not just a top-pairing blueliner.

He already has some sweet highlights, to boot:

When it comes to the second pick, Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov is a frequent choice. McKenzie and others indicate that, if anyone’s going to push Dahlin as the top pick, it would most likely be Svechnikov.

There are other intriguing considerations, with McKenzie noting that Adam Boqvist, another Swedish defenseman, is more divisive among scouts because he lacks ideal size.

The only other prospect to get a vote at No. 2 is Dahlin’s countryman Adam Boqvist, a 5-foot-11, 168-pound blueliner who is said to have electrifying offensive ability. But there’s a wider divergence of opinion on Boqvist, probably rooted in his sub-six-foot size. Three scouts surveyed by TSN did not include Boqvist among their top 10. Boqvist is the younger brother of New Jersey forward prospect Jesper, who was taken by the Devils in the second round of the 2017 draft.


And then we transition from interesting to potentially infuriating – at least for opponents – as there appears to be another Tkachuk who could make a difference.

Back in July, PHT’s Cam Tucker took a look at Tkachuk, with Brady inspiring a pretty telling quote.

“Makes something happen on almost every shift with an excellent compete level,” David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting told He has very good hockey sense and thinks steps ahead of the play, especially on the offensive attack. He is tough to play against and is willing to go to the tough areas to make a play.”

Sounds like he’ll fit in at Tkachuk Thanksgiving, eh?

Anyway, it should be fun to see how these prospects rise and drop in the rankings, as 2018 has generally been tabbed as a promising year for NHL prospects.

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    Why Flames are going out with a whimper


    On March 13, Mike Smith blanked the Edmonton Oilers, giving the Calgary Flames at least some hope in making a playoff push.

    The Flames haven’t won a game since, dropping five in a row by a soul-crushing cumulative differential of 25-7. Their closest losses were by three goals. Woof.

    Calgary now sits at 80 points with only six games remaining, all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. (The second West wild-card team, as of this writing, is the Ducks at 89 points, and they hold a game in hand on the Flames. Woof again.)

    Maybe it was already too late for the Flames when Smith shut out the Oil, but this five-game flop really buried any long-shot hopes. Now, Calgary must close out the season and ponder what to change during a summer that will demand serious soul-searching.

    Let’s ponder what went wrong.

    Bad luck

    Losing Smith for a lengthy, crucial stretch for about a month (13 games) struck a brutal blow to a team that sometimes asked him to clean up some significant mistakes.

    That said, overall, the Flames pass the sniff test as far as possession metrics go. This team simply hasn’t been able to finish enough chances despite often hogging the puck, to the point that it’s become an uncomfortable refrain for fans and media alike.

    Via Natural Stat Trick’s measures, the Flames’ 6.87 shooting percentage at even-strength ranks among the bottom five in the NHL. That’s not an end-all, be-all stat, yet consider that the bottom eight teams look all but assured to miss the playoffs.

    They’ve been struggling on special teams, too, as their 16.6 percent success rate ranks fifth-worst in the NHL. Allowing seven shorthanded goals only pours more salt in their wounds. The power play’s been especially miserable lately, only converting one time since Feb. 27 (1-for-37).

    Not enough support

    On paper, the Flames seem like they should at least be a playoff team, if not a legitimate contender.

    Mark Giordano seems like a hot streak and a good squad away from getting more Norris Trophy buzz, while Dougie Hamilton is the type of producer you want in a modern system. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan make for a dynamic duo, while the “3M” line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik hold the puck hostage like few other trios. Smith’s also frequently given the Flames the goaltending they’ve craved for some time.

    The problem is that, in the modern NHL, you need your supporting cast to buttress those top players, and that hasn’t worked out often enough for Calgary.

    Travis Hamonic‘s had his struggles, making it that much more painful that the Flames gave up such a massive package of picks for the defenseman, including their 2019 first-rounder. T.J. Brodie‘s seen his ups and downs, too.

    Such struggles would be easier to stomach if certain forwards panned out. It’s difficult not to pick on Sam Bennett, the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, who is stuck at 26 points in 76 games after failing to score a goal or an assist for the last seven games.

    Whether you pin it on Father Time, untimely injuries, or other factors, the Jaromir Jagr experiment was also a bust.


    The Flames have done a lot right in building this team.

    Aside from Tkachuk (whose rookie deal expires after 2018-19), the Flames have their core members locked up long-term. In the case of someone like Gaudreau, they’re getting a star player at a bargain rate of $6.75M through 2021-22.

    Still, Smith is 36, and maybe more alarmingly, Giordano is already 34.

    With aging-but-important players like those, you never know when the bottom might fall out and the window really closes. It’s easy to picture Calgary figuring a few things out – do they make trades, a key signing, maybe a coaching change? – and become as deadly on the ice as they are in some of our imaginations.

    None of this erases the bitter taste of failure for the team and its fans, though.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Fists fly in Winnipeg: Wheeler and Chiarot exchange pleasantries in practice altercation

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    WINNIPEG — The gloves came off at Winnipeg Jets practice on Saturday.

    A small scuffle that involved a couple of Jets players ensued after a point shot was taken by Blake Wheeler during a drill. That melee turned into fists being tossed between Wheeler and Jets defensemen Ben Chiarot, with Wheeler being sent to the dressing room by coach Paul Maurice after the fight broke up.

    “It’s just boys being boys,” said Chiarot, who had a small cut on his nose after practice. “Tempers get up. Intensity in practice is always a good thing and that’s something we’re trying to bring here before the playoffs. I look at it as a good thing.”

    Wheeler didn’t speak to the media following being sent off. He appeared to be sporting a welt over his left eye and tossed his helmet into the Jets bench before heading down the tunnel.

    The Jets own a 10-point stranglehold on the second seed in the Central Division and appear set for their first playoff appearance in three seasons.

    Winnipeg notched its 100th point of the season on Friday in a 3-2 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks.

    Mark Scheifele, who was in the vicinity, said he was just an innocent bystander in the ordeal.

    “I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I was just sitting in the slot, I don’t know if I had anything (to do with it.)”

    Paul Maurice watched the fracas from center ice but didn’t say anything until Wheeler’s glove’s game off, at which point he yelled for the pair to stop.

    “You’d like a few more of those during the year if you could,” Maurice said after practice.

    When pressed as to why, Maurice spoke of keeping the intensity level high throughout the season.

    “Our theory in how we practice is really short, as fast as we can, a full-contact sport,” Maurice said. “In the games, somebody gets an elbow up, somebody gets a piece of someone that happens and occasionally in practice that’s going to happen. It’s all good.”

    Jets forward Adam Lowry said players were already moved on to the joking phase following the altercation.

    “They might be mad at each other for 10 minutes, but you don’t expect a grudge to be held too long,” Lowry said. “I’m sure (by Sunday), they’ll be laughing about it.”

    Asked if there would be any repercussions for either player, Maurice shared a joke.

    “There will be no family meeting tomorrow,” he said. 

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Flying under the radar: Kyle Connor’s rookie season has been quietly impressive

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    Tucked away behind Blake Wheeler’s career season, Patrik Laine’s 43 goals and Connor Hellebuyck’s Vezina-type season is Kyle Connor’s impressive rookie campaign.

    I’d be open to suggestions, but you’d be hard-pressed to show me another rookie having a more impressive season than Connor is that is also seemingly flying under the radar in the National Hockey League.

    Up until about week ago, no one outside of Winnipeg was talking about the former Hobey Baker runner-up. And there’s a good reason for that given that Laine was doing things that, historically, no teenager had ever done.

    “Everything goes under the radar when you play for Winnipeg,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler this past Tuesday. “He’s been one of the huge X-factors for our team. Him stepping into our lineup and contributing at the rate he’s contributed at, it’s a huge reason why we sit where we are today. He was a got that you had high hopes for coming into the year, but obviously a little bit of a question mark. You didn’t really know what you were going to get. He’s taken the opportunity that he’s got this year and done a great job.”

    Connor, like he has all season, just carried on working in the shadows of others. Piling up the goals until there was no choice but to take notice at what he’s doing.

    Connor’s 28 goals are just one goal back of Brock Boeser for the rookie goal-scoring lead, something that Connor should surpass before the end of the season given his recent success in that department. He’s second the Jets with five game-winners.

    “It’s nice to have the coach have confidence in you,” Connor said. “To be able to go out there and try to make something happen and get a chance for game-winnernner.”

    Connor is picking up 1.8 primary points per 60 minutes played and his goals-per-60 is sitting at 1.3.

    He also has a little streak going for himself, with two overtime goals in the Jets past two games, becoming the second rookie ever to accomplish the quirky feat.

    And he’s done so by using his speed to create space for himself in open ice.

    There’s not much of a case to be made for Connor and the Calder — that belongs to Mathew Barzal. But Connor should be in the conversation, if only for the recognition of what he’s done.

    Unlike the Barzals, the Boesers and the Kellers and the Gourdes, Connor didn’t begin the season with the big club. Instead, the 21-year-old former Michigan Wolverine didn’t make the grade for the opening day roster out of training camp. He was just mediocre. And with a team oozing with offensive talent, mediocre wasn’t going to cut it.

    Connor, banished to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, played four games for the Jets farmhand, collecting three goals and five points, before his stay across the hall at Bell MTS Place came to an abrupt end.

    Injuries to Adam Lowry, Matt Hendricks and Mathieu Perreault meant the Jets needed some reinforcements, so Winnipeg recalled Connor on Oct. 16.

    He hasn’t looked back since.

    Connor’s recalled came with a period spent playing with Bryan Little and Laine before he was promoted to the top line.

    It hadn’t worked out with Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers on the top unit, and moving other pieces meant a cascading effect and a lot of line juggling. If Connor could fill in the void, the Jets could concentrate on getting their other three lines right.

    So there was a chance and a challenge: prove he can keep up with the relentless pace of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and you’ll stay right where you’re at.

    Connor obliged.

    Outside of a few hiccups — dropping down to the third and fourth lines at times — Connor has become an important piece on Winnipeg’s top line — a shifty player with a knack for finding enough space in front to get a quality scoring opportunity.

    “He’s awesome. He’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone on,” Jets forward Mark Scheifele said after Connor’s game-winner on Friday. “He goes to the right spots. He battles hard in the corner, he goes to the right areas, he goes to the dirty areas. He does everything so well and obviously, his knack for scoring is top notch. He’s been really fun to play with this season. It’s exciting to see him grow like that.”

    Connor has exploded for six goals in his past eight games, but it’s perhaps what he learned in an eight-game drought prior that’s played an important role in what he’s been doing lately.

    “So, he’s played a lot of good games, but the game in Carolina, he doesn’t score, plays exceptionally well and I think he was really working hard all that stretch, he had that little block there where he wasn’t scoring,” Maurice said on Friday. “He seems to me that he’s relaxed a little bit when the puck is on his stick. Confidence for any player is such an important thing and can’t be given to anybody, you get one and then all the sudden you get that good feeling and then you attach that good feeling to some really good play. He’d been playing very, very well and not scoring, so he wasn’t very far off it and a little bit of confidence and away he goes.”

    The only real pressure on Connor is what he puts on himself in Winnipeg. There’s enough heavy lifting happening, so Connor has had the freedom of figuring out his game and what works.

    “Well, you can never be too comfortable in this league,” Connor said. “Something I learned through this year is you’ve got to bring it every day. You’ve got to prove yourself. I think I’m getting more confident every game I play but I don’t think I’m too comfortable. You come to the rink and you’ve got to prove yourself.”

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    NHL Playoff Push: Blues, Panthers chasing key points on Saturday

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    Friday night was light as far as NHL action goes, with only 10 teams squaring off against one another. But it didn’t stop the plot from thickening in both conference’s playoff races.

    New Jersey and St. Louis picked up big wins their respective conferences. The Devils put a three-point gap between themselves and the Florida Panthers, who still hold two games in hand over New Jersey. The Blues, meanwhile, moved to within one point of the final wildcard in the West and three points of the third-place Minnesota Wild in the Central Division.

    Both teams are coming into the second game of back-to-backs on Saturday, and both need wins again, especially New Jersey as the Panthers play host to the lowly Arizona Coyotes.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    Eastern Conference:

    The Panthers still hold the keys to their own playoff fate in the East, and with the Devils in tough against a rested Tampa Bay Lightning team on Saturday, that gap could close to one after the night is over.

    With the Boston Bruins idle, the Lightning will be looking to push their lead atop the Atlantic Division to six points. Boston will have two games in hand after the day is through. Columbus can move into second in the Metropolitan Division with a win, two points behind the Washington Capitals if the latter fails to pick up points against the Montreal Canadiens.

    Western Conference:

    The Blues face their toughest test yet this season when they host the Blue Jackets, who have won 10 straight and are the NHL’s hottest team. Both teams have something to gain and, thus, something to lose in the matchup, but it’s the Blues who need the points more.

    St. Louis is on even terms when it comes to games with the Colorado Avalanche, who hold the second wildcard in the West. The Avs don’t have it easy against the Vegas Golden Knights in a matinee affair on Saturday, but a loss by Colorado could give the Blues some extra motivation against Columbus.

    The Sharks will look to tighten their grip on the second spot in the Pacific Division with a win coupled with a Los Angeles Kings loss to the Edmonton Oilers in Saturday’s late game.

    Tank wars:

    Buffalo got some help in the race for the best chance at Rasmus Dahlin as there is now a three-point gap at the bottom.

    Coyotes: 61 points in 74 games, 23 ROW
    Canucks: 61 points in 75 GP, 26 ROW
    Sabres: 58 points in 74 GP, 22 ROW

    If the playoffs started today

    Eastern Conference

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
    Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
    Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

    Western Conference

    Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche
    Vegas Golden Knights vs. Anaheim Ducks
    Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
    San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

    Saturday’s games

    Golden Knights at Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET
    Flames at Sharks, 4 p.m. ET
    Red Wings at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET
    Capitals at Canadiens, 7 p.m. ET
    Hurricanes at Senators, 7 p.m. ET
    Coyotes at Panthers, 7 p.m. ET
    Lightning at Devils, 7 p.m. ET
    Blackhawks at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
    Sabres at Rangers, 7 p.m. ET
    Blues at Jackets, 7 p.m. ET
    Predators at Wild, 8 p.m. ET
    Kings at Oilers, 10 p.m. ET

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck