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Lightning’s Yanni Gourde finding NHL success after a long road traveled


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If hockey hadn’t worked out for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Yanni Gourde, he would have found himself in the world of civil engineering.

“I like to understand how things work. I’m good at math, too, so it just interested me,” Gourde told Pro Hockey Talk on Friday.

There were plenty of times the thought of going to university passed through Gourde’s mind as he tried working his way up the hockey ladder to get a shot in the NHL. But the more he worked, the more he found himself going in the opposite direction.

Playing with the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Gourde finished his junior career in 2011-12 with 37 goals and a league-best 124 points, three years after going undrafted. That wasn’t enough to garner any interest from NHL teams and once again he went undrafted. But it wasn’t like the St-Narcisse, Quebec native was concerned.

“I was never really seen as a prospect. In junior I never really looked at me having a chance to get drafted,” he said. “I just went on and played my junior career and tried to play the best way that I could and eventually get a tryout somewhere. It wasn’t my primary concern. I just wanted to play hockey, help my team win and try to go deep in playoffs.”

After playing parts of two seasons with the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks following a tryout, Gourde found himself down in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings trying to figure out how to climb his way back up.

“My first year in pro hockey I really learned a lot about myself and how I was playing the game,” he said. “I was trying too much, trying too hard to make everything happen every single shift. When you realize that, you’ve got to slow things down and play the right way and go one shift at a time, play the right way every time you step on the ice. From that moment I just realized that was the better way to play on the pro level.”

As an undrafted, unknown player, you don’t get a long leash in professional hockey like most draft picks. For Gourde, all 5-foot-9 of him, it was easy for him to be overlooked and discarded by teams, and moving further and further away from the NHL had him thinking a breakthrough would never happen.

“I had doubt in my mind every single day since my first game… It’s tough to know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen,” he said. “As an undrafted [player], never seen as a prospect, it’s tough to really see yourself as an NHL player and see [yourself] as a regular player. I’m never going to take the chance I have right now for granted.”

Gourde played well in the ECHL to catch some eyes and in March 2014 he signed a contract with the Lightning and proceeded to lead their AHL affiliate in Syracuse in goals (29) and finish second in scoring behind Jonathan Marchessault with 57 points.

After following up that first AHL season with two more strong campaigns, injuries allowed the Lightning to give Gourde an extended look last season. He scored six times and recorded eight points in 20 games before going back to Syracuse and helping the Crunch during their run to the Calder Cup Final. He would finish second in AHL scoring with 27 postseason points and earn a two-year, $2 million extension.

That brief experience at the NHL level did wonders for Gourde’s confidence.

“It was huge. That’s where I knew from that moment that I could play in the NHL and from after that I just need to play my game and play the right way and go out there with the best effort every night and hopefully things are going to work out for me,” he said.

The contract was a nice feeling of security, but if Gourde’s journey taught him anything, it was that nothing is guaranteed. He understood that his spot on the Lightning wasn’t set in stone, and despite a new deal he could find himself once again moving in the wrong direction on hockey’s ladder.

While the Lightning are a much healthier team than a year ago, Gourde has carved out a spot as a regular in Jon Cooper’s lineup. His production — 22 goals, 43 points in 58 games — has entered his name in the long list of Calder Trophy candidates. While he’s eligible for the award at age 26 by three months, that’s not the trophy he’s thinking about receiving in June.

“To be honest, I don’t really think about [rookie of the year],” said Gourde, who’s fourth in rookie scoring. “Every day I’m coming to the rink, I go out on the ice and I want to get better. I don’t really look too much into stats and into what’s going on around in the league. I want to play my game. I want to be the best version of myself and try to get better. It’s flattering to be even just mentioned in those types of things but I just want to play good for my team and help my team win.”

Fine. Let his coach be his Calder hype man: ”Individual awards are garnered a ton because of the team’s success, and our team has had a lot of success, and Yanni Gourde has been a big part of it,” Cooper said earlier this month.

Gourde is just one of a number of Lightning players having outstanding seasons beyond the big names. Braydon Point and Vladislav Namestnikov have 39 goals combined and rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev has 30 points and is logging nearly 16 minutes a night.

The Lightning have the most points in the NHL (81) as of Friday and have positioned themselves as a Cup favorite in part because they aren’t being carried by just their top lines. Everyone is pitching in and the continued production of their depth will take this team far.

“All four lines are really good. Our top eight D are very good, too, and both of our goalies are excellent. It’s the depth of this organization and the way we come up together,” Gourde said. “We want to win games. We want to be dominant. We want to step on the ice and be the best team out there.

“It’s our mentality, how we approach games, and that’s been helping us win those games and trying to be consistent. We’re never satisfied, we always want [to be] better.”


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

Bruins’ David Backes suffers leg laceration in collision (video)


A scary scene unfolded in the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

David Backes and Yanni Gourde came together in the Lightning crease, with Gourde’s skate appearing to cut Backes on the outside of his right leg.

Backes was able to make his way to the Bruins bench on his own, but he was clutching the back of his leg before getting some help down the tunnel.

Backes did not return to the game.

The Bruins said that Backes suffered a laceration above his right knee, which required several stitches to close.

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

Dundon, Hurricanes suspend search for new GM: report


The Carolina Hurricanes’ search for a general manager is on hiatus.

Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported Saturday that the process of replacing former GM Ron Francis is being put on hold for the time being, citing that owner Tom Dundon needs more time.

“Tom hasn’t had the time he needs to do face to face interviews and feels that waiting will pay off,” Shannon wrote in a tweet.

Francis was removed from his post as GM on March 7 and “promoted” to a new role as president of hockey operations. There was only one catch: whoever replaced Francis would bypass the Hurricanes’ legend and report directly to Dundon.

The search, thus far, hasn’t been going that well, with three potential targets already withdrawing any interest they were thought to have had.

Part of that problem could be how hands-on Dundon appears to want to be. Part of it could just be timing. Fenton, for instance, could be on his way to a Stanley Cup ring this year in Nashville.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman touched on the situation in a recent 31 Thoughts column.

“I think what I’m looking for, is we have to be comfortable with each other. That’s the most important thing,” Dundon told Friedman when asked what he wants in a new GM. “I actually like to disagree and argue. I don’t want someone to come in and just do what I say, and I don’t want to make decisions. Someone to create a structure of how something is a good idea, and now we are going to get it done.”

You can add Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin to the list:

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Dundon wanting his hands all over the team — including whatever the GM is doing — isn’t the best selling point.

There’s some good, young talent on the Hurricanes for a new GM to come in and build around, but there’s also some dead weight, including what’s turned into a bad contract with goalie Scott Darling.

No GM wants to play puppet for an owner.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said the Hurricanes will suspend their search until the summer when a larger crop of candidates reveals itself.

Still, you have to wonder who’ll be willing to take that plunge. Someone will, of course, but people haven’t exactly been lining up to fill the role.

UPDATE: On Headlines on Saturday, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported that the salary being offered to a prospective GM in Carolina is $400,000, to which he said he doesn’t see any GM taking as it’s too low. Friedman, meanwhile, believes the search for a new GM is not on a complete hiatus.

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

St. Patrik Laine has Jets looking like perennial contender

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The Winnipeg Jets can thank their own St. Patrik for their success this season and potentially for years to come.

Patrik Laine was the consolation prize in the 2016 NHL draft behind generational talent Auston Matthews. But he has been a cause for celebration in Winnipeg as a franchise-changing superstar at age 19.

Mathieu Perreault saw the power Alex Ovechkin had to alter the direction of the Washington Capitals and turn them into a perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender. When Laine arrived from Finland, the winger started doing the same things in Winnipeg.

“The organization wasn’t having a whole lot of success, and then they get Ovi as a young kid and he starts scoring goals, and all of a sudden the team starts winning,” Perreault said.

“They became a very dominant team for many years. So you kind of sense that here, where the team’s been struggling for many years, not making the playoffs. And then you get this young kid coming in and scoring goals for your team and helps your team win games. I think coming up in Winnipeg we’ll have a dominant team for many years.”

That’s because Laine is already a dominant player. With 16 goals and eight assists in his past 14 games, Laine has the longest point streak by a teenager and already passed Wayne Gretzky for the most goals by a player before turning 20.

The best part for the Jets? Laine is just getting started.

“It’s really impressive when you factor in he’s still learning the game,” coach Paul Maurice said. “His scoring has taken off of late, but so has his game, his all-around game. … He’s an impressive young man at 19. At any age, those numbers would be elite. But at 19, that’s pretty exciting because there’s lot of room as he physically matures, for his game to change and become a power forward and a big, strong man who can score off the rush. Take pucks to the net. There are lots of places Patty is going to improve over the years.”

Laine is drawing comparisons to Ovechkin for his shot, which teammates and opposing goaltenders say is even more deceptive than the Russian 600-goal scorer ‘s blast. Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who has taken Ovechkin shots in practice for years, said Laine’s long stick changes the angle of where the puck is going.

“He shoots it, he pulls it in a little bit weird – long stick – and makes it really hard for us to read,” Grubauer said.

As much as Laine looked up to Ovechkin as a kid, the respect is now mutual. When Ovechkin scored twice Monday to reach 600 and get to 42 this season, Laine answered with his 41st and showed he has what it takes to go goal-for-goal with hockey’s best.

“He’s a great talent and still young and still can produce lots of dangerous (chances),” Ovechkin said.

Laine said it has always been a goal to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, and he’s in the race to do that. Entering Saturday, he’s one behind Ovechkin and one ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s always been one of my dreams to win it,” Laine said. “It’s good motivation for me.”

Laine is also motivated by trying to help set the Jets up for the playoffs and make a long run this spring. Winnipeg has been banged up and secondary scoring has been hot and cold, but Laine’s scoring pace has his teammates believing anything is possible.

“You give him one opportunity and it’s in the back of the net,” Perreault said. “Right now every shot it seems goes in. It helps us win games when he scores like that. It’s been fun to see.”

Maurice doesn’t know what he sees as Laine’s ceiling, but doesn’t think it matters. As Laine’s game rounds out, he’ll face different kinds of defensive challenges, and then it’ll be up to him to prove he can sustain scoring the way Ovechkin has over the past decade-plus.

“The overall game Patty will play will become far more important than whether it’s 40, 50 or whatever that number (of goals) ends up being,” Maurice said.

“At some point, Patty is going to play 20 minutes a night. Maybe not at 19, but when that happens, he’ll be playing against the `A’ group. It’s not as easy to keep scoring like Ovechkin has when you move up the lineup and you play more minutes and you play against the other teams’ best.”


This stick save by Roberto Luongo is absolutely incredible


The Florida Panthers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and desperately trying to make an improbable run for one of the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Great goaltending will go a long way toward getting them there, and Roberto Luongo is still one of the best in the business even in his age 38 season.

On Saturday afternoon against the Edmonton Oilers he made one of the saves of the year when he did this to help the Panthers hold on to a 2-1 lead in the second period.

That looked like it was going to be a sure goal for Anton Slepyshev.

Luongo has been limited to just 26 games this season but has been absolutely spectacular when he has played, carrying a .926 save percentage into Saturday’s game.

Unfortunately for the Panthers that save by Luongo was not enough on Saturday as they ended up giving up three consecutive goals to fall, 4-2.

The Panthers entered the day three points out of a playoff spot with games in hand on the teams they are chasing. They are still 16-5-1 win since Jan. 30, but if the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets pick up wins on Saturday their playoff chances are going to take a pretty significant hit, even with the games still in hand.



Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.