Blake Wheeler

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Jets’ Josh Morrissey staying healthy while constantly getting in the way


NEW YORK — Josh Morrissey is one of three Winnipeg Jets who has not missed a game since last season — Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers being the other two.

That the 22-year-old Morrissey hasn’t sat out due to injury is impressive considering the type of game he plays. Over that same time period, he’s fourth on the Jets in hits with 270 and leads the team with 293 blocked shots (He’s 12th in the NHL since last 2016-17).

Some of those blocked shots are of the fortunate variety where they might go off of Morrissey’s stick or a part of his skate where his shot blockers are, thereby decreasing the risk of injury. Others, of course, need to be absorbed by some part of the body, which is something that knocks players out of games on a nightly basis.

“There’s definitely been times over the course of the last few years where everyone in the room has little things bugging them,” Morrissey recently told Pro Hockey Talk. “But sometimes it’s sort of Murphy’s Law where all of a sudden you go down and you have protection pretty much everywhere and the puck seems to hit the one spot that’s open — so that can be a little bit frustrating, but nothing that a couple of ice bags can’t fix.”

To learn more about the skill of shot blocking, we chatted with Morrissey after a recent morning skate.

Q. When it needs to be a split-second decision, how are you able to recognize when you should block a shot or let it go through to the goalie?

MORRISSEY: “There’s times where I try to play with a desperation on defense where you don’t want to let any shots get to the net. There’s times where you have to block a shot, sometimes on the penalty kill or 5-on-5 where a guy’s coming and you see that it’s a dangerous shooting and you want to try to not allow that shot to get through. Obviously, it’s a split-second read. You try to put yourself in the best position as possible to be as protected as possible, but it’s something that I take pride in — not trying to let any shots up kind of thing. That’s something that I’ve worked up in my game.”

It’s chaos out there, so are you aware when you’re positioned in the sight line of the goaltender?

“Yeah, totally. It’s a thing we talk about and I think it’s similar for most teams. When you’re the D-man standing in front of the net and guys are shooting from the point or from far out, those are times where if it’s a wrist shot or something like that that you’re 100 percent sure you can get in front of, definitely get in front of it; but if it’s going to be one [that’s] sort of far away from you or it’s a slap shot that’s rising, those are the ones where you’re almost screening the goalie. I think those ones from farther out, unless you’re 100 percent sure that you’re going to block it, sometimes it’s best to get out of the way and try to box the guy out in front of you and try to give that sight line. Some wrist shots you can knock down and get going, but when the guy’s heat it up from outside, up top, it’s best to get out of the way for safety, and also just screening Helly [Connor Hellebuyck] or Mase [Steve Mason] or whoever’s in net.”

Is there a proper way to block a shot in a situation when you recognize it and have time to go down?

“If you watch a lot of guys, they sort of [take a] one knee down approach in certain situations. Obviously, you try to have your glove turned over so your hands not facing the puck — just little things like that. There’s lots of times where you go down, block the shot and you have protection in a lot of areas, but it just seems to hit the one area that’s not. A lot of it is luck and maybe a little bit of technique. I also think the closer you are to the guy, too. You can kind of make it so that you know the puck’s going to hit a certain area, whereas if you’re farther away there’s more time for it to go one side or the other, hit you in a spot you weren’t really ready for.”

Was this always part of your game or did it develop as you go into junior and into the NHL?

“Even in junior, we never kept shot blocking stats, but I don’t know if it was a huge part of my game. As time’s gone on, I’ve improved on it a lot more. It’s just sort of that attitude, trying to not allow any shots to the net. But it’s something you have to do as part of the game now and something that our defense as a whole take pride in doing it. Our whole team does. Most teams in the league definitely get fired up when a guy blocks a shot because they know it sucks sometimes, but it’s what you’ve got to do to win games. If you’re in the right position, you’re in the right spot, a lot of times you can just get your stick on it and not have to block the shot, but there are those times where you have to do it.”

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


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

Center stage: NHL contenders go deep down the middle

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A linesman orders Sean Couturier out of the faceoff circle and Claude Giroux shrugs before stepping in and winning the draw.

Two centers on the ice at once is a nice luxury for the Philadelphia Flyers to have.

”He’s one of the best in the league at faceoffs,” Couturier said of Giroux, who ranks third in the NHL. ”When you start with the puck, it’s a huge part of the game.”

Beyond just controlling faceoffs, having depth at center is a growing factor for success in the NHL. Contenders like the Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins all boast depth down the middle and are spreading centers all over the lineup.

The flexibility gives teams potentially game-altering matchups with the playoffs coming up in a month.

”You can never have enough center-ice men on your team for lots of reasons,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Crucial faceoffs, injuries and defensive-zone coverage are many of the reasons to load up on centers who can almost always shift to wing and not miss a beat. Philadelphia has long followed the model of drafting and acquiring centers and moving them around, and now has nine natural centers on its roster.

The Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup going with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Max Talbot down the middle and captured it the past two years with Crosby, Malkin, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. The free agent departures of Bonino and Cullen left a void that Pittsburgh filled by trading for Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan to again look like a championship contender.

”To have the depth that we have at this point at the center-ice position is I think an important aspect of our overall game,” Sullivan said. ”We didn’t have that coming into training camp. I think our general manager, Jim (Rutherford), has worked extremely hard at making sure that he gave us what has become now I think a strength of our team.”

It’s also a strength of the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning, who are overflowing with center options beyond Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and trade-deadline pickup J.T. Miller. The Toronto Maple Leafs also roll deep with forwards who play center or have in the past, including Patrick Marleau and recent acquisition Tomas Plekanec.

”I can get a can’t-miss matchup,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. ”You’re not scared of any matchup as time goes on.”

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

It’s all about the matchups in the arms race that is the absurd Central Division. It wasn’t good enough that the Central-leading Predators had Ryan Johansen, signed Bonino last summer and traded for Kyle Turris in November; they welcomed center Mike Fisher back from retirement and still have Colton Sissons and Craig Smith.

The Jets acquired center Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues to add to an already forward-heavy roster. It paid immediate dividends with Patrik Laine extending his point streak to 13 games and Winnipeg cruising along after Mark Scheifele went down with an injury.

”We’ll be putting two centers out there for D-zone draws and whatnot,” said Andrew Copp, who thinks Winnipeg’s center depth stacks up with the best in the league. ”That’s really important, and then just depth with injuries. … Now we’ve got six, seven, eight guys that we can really lean on.”

It’s an increasingly popular strategy. The Flyers are vying for the league lead in faceoffs, handling the early-season crackdown on faceoff violations and compensating for a young, mostly unproven defense with versatile forwards.

”Being strong up the middle is important,” coach Dave Hakstol said. ”That’s the backbone of every line, so to have guys that are comfortable in that spot I think is important. Playing down low in your zone – there’s so much switching and interchanging that goes on from the wing to that down-low position in coverage, having somebody that’s comfortable being down there I think is a benefit, as well.”

Two centers are better than one not just for faceoffs but because the extra responsibilities of the position allow for better awareness in the defensive zone, where wingers typically are only tasked with defending their respective opposing winger in man-to-man schemes. Giroux shifted to wing on the top line with Couturier after spending the past eight-plus years at center and is approaching his career high in points and playing some of the best hockey of his career.

”We get a read off each other,” said Couturier, a leading candidate for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. ”It’s about chemistry and trying to trust each other out there. Guys can fill in different roles and it’s nice and it helps the team. That’s what you kind of want from having so many centermen is you want to fill in each other’s roles.”

Having extra centers is a substantial benefit – if they can handle the position change. Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler made a rapid adjustment from wing to center amid injuries, but just about everyone agrees it’s much easier to go the other way.

”There’s a real quick adjustment to going from center to the wing: figure out how to work the walls and find your point men,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. ”That’s a very difficult change.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at

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Jets must hope Ron Francis comparison sticks for Paul Stastny


So far, Paul Stastny has been a pretty fantastic fit for the Winnipeg Jets.

Through four games, there are certain signs of “new car smell” that will wear off. The playmaker isn’t likely to maintain a 28.6 shooting percentage, and his giant possession stats should settle down to “very good.”

Still, it’s that mixture of little things and bigger elements, like all-around play and clever passing, that help Stastny make an already-imposing Jets forward group downright scary. Patrik Laine told’s Dan Rosen that it’s all about that “extra half-second” that Stastny opens up for snipers, but head coach Paul Maurice really provides the fun comparison.

“He does so many of the things Ronnie Francis would do,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said, referencing the Hall of Fame center he coached for six seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. “He has such a great understanding of what’s going on on the ice, the adjustments the other teams are making and what’s happening around him.”

Rosen notes in the quote above that Maurice coached Francis for six seasons in Carolina, but amusingly enough, he might want to evoke “Ronnie Franchise” from his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Consider this:

  • When Francis was traded to the Penguins, they’d missed the playoffs in seven of their previous eight seasons. Pittsburgh went on to win their first Stanley Cup with key contributions from Francis.
  • As of this writing, the Jets/Thrashers have never won a playoff game, let alone a playoff series. Yet, when you look up and down that lineup, it’s a nightmare for defenses. The Blake WheelerMark Scheifele — Roving Lucky Winger (currently Kyle Connor) combo is now supplemented by Stastny, Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mathieu Perreault helps to round out a murderer’s row lineup.
  • Both players are all-around, “cerebral” players who happen to be gifted playmakers.
  • In each case, you’re getting quality players with plenty of motivation, who might also benefit from not being, “the guy.” (Or “The Franchise.”)

So far, Stastny is averaging 16:11 TOI per game in four contests with the Jets after falling between 18:30 and 19 minutes per night in recent times with the St. Louis Blues. As a pending UFA and competitor, maybe Stastny would prefer more minutes and heavier usage. Perhaps that will come with time, or failing that, injuries.

Then again, maybe this is the ideal scenario for a player who’s often been judged as much by healthy paychecks as he has been by steady play. As the Athletic’s Craig Custance noted upon word of the Stastny trade on Feb. 28 (sub required), he might finally be falling in the optimum spot in a lineup.

“Paul is a really good third-line center,” texted one NHL head coach after the deal. “Best position for him.”

All due respect to Bryan Little‘s useful, defensive-minded line, but even now, it seems silly to consider Stastny’s trio with Laine and Ehlers a “third line.” Still, Stastny and his young wingers can be deployed strategically, leveraging situations as to make things downright uncomfortable for opponents.

Chances are, there will be a taker for Stastny, 32, who will probably pay him at such a rate that he’ll be asked to do more than be a very, very nice complimentary player in Winnipeg. That might really complete the parallel to Francis, who was an overwhelming piece on loaded Penguins teams and a top player on Whalers/Hurricanes squads that struggled.

(Granted, it’s fair to consider Stastny a “poor man’s Francis,” which again … is far from a bad thing.)

Going back to being a big fish in a medium-sized pond isn’t such a bad thing, although much like Francis, Stastny might enjoy this run enough to decide to stick with a contender at a more moderate rate. His lifetime earnings make you think he could afford such a move, if nothing else.

If not, this one run could be a fun peek at that alternate route.

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

Winnipeg Jets fill need with Paul Stastny acquisition from Blues


This is what six losses in a row and contract talks going nowhere gets you. St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is shaking things up and hoping this is a soft retooling.

The trade: Winnipeg Jets acquire Paul Stastny* from the St. Louis Blues for a conditional 2018 first-round pick, a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick and Erik Foley. (*St. Louis retains 50 percent of Stastny’s salary. If the Blues fail to sign Foley before Aug. 16, 2019 they will get the Jets’ fourth-round pick in 2020. Should Winnipeg somehow end up with one of the top three picks in the 2018 draft, St. Louis gets Winnipeg’s first-round pick in 2019. If not, they will get that pick in 2018.)

Why the Blues are making this trade: Stastny had to waive his no-move clause in order to make the deal happen. Like Armstrong did last year at the deadline with Kevin Shattenkirk, Stastny probably wasn’t going to re-sign, and considering the Blues’ recent slide, it’s better to get something for an asset now than let him walk for nothing in the summer. St. Louis still made the playoffs last season and are only a point out of the wild card in the Western Conference right now. If Jake Allen and Carter Hutton can get their games straightened out, a similar situation could play out again this spring.

Let’s check in on how the deal is going over in the room:

Per Cap Friendly, this move means the Blues have just under $4 million in cap space to play with, so Armstrong could ideally add if there’s a deal out there to be made.

Why the Jets are making this trade: Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff tried to sign Stastny four years ago when the 32-year-old forward was an unrestricted free agent. It didn’t pan out then, but now he gets his man, who’s set to become a UFA this summer.

Stastny is still a fancy stats darling with a 55 percent Corsi and 5.29 percent Corsi Relative, per Corsica. He has 40 points in 63 games this season. He’s the center Cheveldayoff was looking for and is a nice addition for the Jets’ playoff run. He also played with Blake Wheeler in Germany for a short time during the lockout, so there’s some familiarity there.

Who won this trade: The Jets missed out on several players over the weekend and finally land a center they’ve been searching for. Stastny won’t need to be the main attraction in their lineup, which should suit him well. He’s also a big-time setup man, so having him center Patrik Laine and dishing out one-timers to the young Finn will be a delight to watch. Tough to definitively say that the Blues are sellers right now, but it’s clear that Winnipeg sees an opportunity out West this season and are going for it.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


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

NHL Awards: Under-the-radar Hart Trophy candidates


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Nikita Kucherov has received most of the mainstream buzz when it comes to the 2017-18 Hart Trophy discussion and rightfully so. The Lightning forward has led the league in points for most of the season and he’s currently third in goals behind fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who are also obvious candidates to be named league MVP.

Kucherov’s teammate, Steven Stamkos, was in the conversation for a while too, but that talk seems to have died down a little bit. Everyone seemed to be jumping on the Nathan MacKinnon bandwagon before he got injured, but missing eight games has put a damper on the hype train.

Even last year’s winner, Connor McDavid, has put together a solid season, but with the Oilers out of the playoffs there isn’t really much hope for him to take home the award for a second year in a row.

But there are still some quality candidates that haven’t received as much press this season. It’s important to remember that the Hart Trophy isn’t necessarily given to the best player. It’s “given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team”.

Here are some under-the-radar candidates that aren’t getting enough buzz:

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils

The Hall-for-MVP talk started building over the weekend after the Devils forward picked up a point in his 18th consecutive game. No one picked the Devils to make the playoffs this season, so the fact that they’re currently in a Wild Card spot in pretty impressive. Hall isn’t the only reason they’re in a playoff position, but there’s no way they’re in this position without him. The 26-year-old has 24 goals and 62 points in 54 games this season. New Jersey has a 1-3-1 record with Hall out of the lineup this season.

Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Despite losing Mark Scheifele for over six weeks, the Jets managed to stay afloat for a few reasons. One of them is the way their captain played while Scheifele was on the shelf. Wheeler was forced to move to center for a little while and he definitely didn’t look out of place. In the 16 games that Scheifele missed, the Jets went 11-2-3 and Wheeler accumulated 16 points during that stretch. The 31-year-old is up to 67 points in 59 games this season.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Let’s be totally clear, if the Kings don’t make the playoffs Kopitar can’t be considered a serious candidate. As of right now, Los Angeles is two points out of the final Wild Card spot in the West. Regardless of whether or not they make the postseason, no one can deny that Kopitar’s been a two-way beast for them in 2017-18. After posting just 52 points in 76 games last season, the Kings captain already has 63 points in 59 games, which puts him on pace to pick up 88. It’s clear that playing under new head coach John Stevens has done the 30-year-old a lot of good.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

Many people have already counted the Panthers out of the playoff race because they’re six points back of the final Wild Card spot, but what people fail to realize is that Florida (sort of) controls their own destiny. They have four games in hand on the last playoff team, Carolina. The major reason why they’re still in striking distance is because of Barkov, who has really emerged as an NHL superstar. He’s often compared to Kopitar, and it’s easy to see why. They’re both big centers that can contribute offensively while playing sound hockey in their own end. Barkov has amassed 54 points in 55 games so far. If the Panthers get in, he needs to be a major part of the Hart Trophy discussion. In the one game he missed this season, Florida got obliterated 7-3 by Colorado.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Yes, you could easily put Patrice Bergeron in this slot, but he’s been getting a lot of love throughout the NHL. Rask, who got off to a rocky start, has been lights out for the Bruins. Since Nov. 29, he’s lost just two games in regulation. Sure, the Bruins are clearly more than a one-man team, but we have to give Rask some love. He overcame adversity at the start of the year, and he’s arguably been the best goalie in the league for the last three months.

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