Clayton Keller

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Which NHLers could be heading to the World Juniors?

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The World Junior Hockey Championship is just a few weeks away, which is great news. Although most countries have named their preliminary rosters for the upcoming tournament, there’s still a chance that NHLers could be added in the next little while.

NHL teams have the option to loan out their junior-eligible players to their respective countries for the two-week tournament that runs from Dec. 26, 2017 to Jan. 5, 2018 in Buffalo, New York.

Reminder: Teams have until Dec. 19 to decide if they’re going to loan their players to their respective countries.

So, who’s in and who’s out?

TEAM CANADA

Jakob Chychrun-D-Arizona Coyotes

Chychrun made his 2017-18 regular season debut on Sunday, after he missed the start of the season because of a knee injury. He played 22:40 and scored a goal against the Golden Knights in his first game of 2017-18. Chychrun heading to the World Juniors is probably unlikely, but it simply can’t be ruled out because of the amount of time he missed due to injury.

Pierre-Luc Dubois-C-Columbus Blue Jackets

The Jackets rookie has a modest 11 points in 28 games, but six of those have come in the last five games. Dubois wasn’t getting much ice time early on in the season. That seems to be changing, as it appears as though he’s earned head coach John Tortorella’s trust. He’s played over 18 minutes in five of his last seven contests. Dubois is starting to become a big part of the team. It would be mildly surprising to see him be loaned out for the tournament.

Samuel Girard-D-Colorado Avalanche

At the start of the season, you probably would’ve thought that Girard would be playing in the tournament, but things have changed. Since being traded from Nashville to Colorado, he’s played a huge role with his new team. He’s played under 20 minutes in each of his last five outings, but he’s still averaging 19:22 of ice time per game.

Tyson Jost-F-Colorado Avalanche

Jost missed a significant amount of time because of a lower-body injury, but he’s back in the lineup right now. The 19-year-old has no points in five games since returning and he’s up to just one goal and one assist in 11 contests this season. Colorado is four points out of a playoff spot, which isn’t significant, but they’re probably a year or two away from being a serious contender anyway. Jost won a silver medal with Team Canada last year. He had a goal and four points in 7 seven games during the tournament. Don’t be surprised if he represents his country again.

Victor Mete-D-Montreal Canadiens

Mete had a terrific training camp with the Canadiens, but he’s come down to earth a little bit. The 19-year-old has been made a healthy scratch a couple of times this season and with Jakub Jerabek and David Schlemko now on the roster, Montreal could opt to send their young blue liner to the tournament. Mete was part of Team Canada’s Summer Showcase roster last summer.

Nolan Patrick-F-Philadelphia Flyers

The second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has had a tough introduction to pro hockey. Not only has he missed nine games because of an upper-body injury, he also hasn’t really played much when he has been in the Flyers lineup. Patrick has two goals and four assists, while averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time in 19 games. The 19-year-old missed last year’s tournament because of an injury. Playing heavy minutes with players his own age could prove to be a valuable experience for the rookie.

TEAM FINLAND

Patrik Laine-F-Winnipeg Jets

This is probably the biggest no-brainer on the list. There’s absolutely no chance that Laine is going to Buffalo to represent his country. We’ll just leave it at that.

Jesse Puljujarvi-F-Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers didn’t loan Puljujarvi to Team Finland last year when he playing in the minors, so it’s unlikely that they’d let him take off now that he’s contributing on the NHL roster. He owned the tournament last time he played in it in 2016, as he had an incredible 17 points in seven games.

TEAM RUSSIA

Mikhail Sergachev-D-Tampa Bay Lighting

Sergachev had a disappointing tournament last year, but he’s been way too good with the Bolts to head back there. The 19-year-old has averaged 14:32 of ice time, which isn’t significant, but he’s been productive in limited minutes. Sergachev has six goals and 19 points in 28 games. That puts him on pace to score 18 goals and almost 60 points.

TEAM SWEDEN

Jesper Bratt-F-New Jersey Devils

In the first third of the 2017-18 season, there probably hasn’t been a bigger surprise than Bratt. The 19-year-old was the Devils’ sixth-round pick in 2016, and no one expected him to produce like this. The rookie now has nine goals and 19 points in 27 games. Would they ever consider sending him to Buffalo for the tournament? No way.

TEAM SWITZERLAND

Nico Hischier-F-New Jersey Devils

The top pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is having a strong rookie season. He’s picked up five goals and 20 points in 27 games, which puts him on pace to hit the 60-point mark in his first year. The Devils, who have shocked the hockey world by being in top spot in their division, need Hischier too much to allow him to leave for two weeks. He’s not going anywhere.

TEAM USA

Clayton Keller-F-Arizona Coyotes

Even though he’s slowed down over the last month, there’s no way the ‘Yotes will be sending Keller to the world juniors. The 19-year-old is an important part of his team and he doesn’t have anything left to prove in the junior ranks.

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.

Slashing crackdown, infusion of youth boost NHL scoring

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

The nets aren’t bigger, the goaltenders aren’t smaller and yet scoring is up significantly around the NHL.

Through the first two months of the season, goals are up more than 12 percent from the same time a year ago, including a whopping 14 percent increase on the power play and a 38 percent spike in short-handed goals.

”That’s what the league wanted,” San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc Edouard-Vlasic said. ”The league has done everything in their power to make there more goals out there, and that’s exactly what’s going on.”

The uptick can be credited to a concerted crackdown on slashing by issuing more penalties and a league-wide move toward younger and more skilled players. The current pace of 6.01 goals per game would be the highest since 2005-06, when a series of rule changes were put in to open up the game and get more scoring to attract new fans.

”Teams try to go for it more,” said New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose goals-against average is 2.66, nearly 13 percent higher than it was at this point a year ago. ”Most teams are trying to go for it, have this fast hockey, leave the zone quickly and it opens it up.”

Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly said general managers are pleased with the current pace, which has lasted beyond the typical high-scoring October as defenses settle in for the season. Stricter enforcement of slashing was designed to reduce hand and wrist injuries, though it has had a positive effect on offense with defenders unable to whack at puck carriers’ sticks in an effort to stop them.

”I do think that has created certainly more room for our players to be offensive,” Daly said. ”I think over time, clearly since we increased the standard for hooking and holding and interference (in 2005-06), slashing has become a way to defend and an effective way to defend, and I think this year it’s a less effective way to defend.”

Players have noticed, even if some are frustrated at the varying degrees of what rises to the level of a slashing penalty. Every referee is watching closely.

”The last five years, you could do so much more with your stick and probably now lots of players are afraid to use their sticks,” Los Angeles Kings forward Jussi Jokinen said. ”I think everybody wants to see more goals, so scoring being up, I think it’s good.”

Everyone except maybe the goaltenders may think so, but it’s not like they’ve been terrible. Four goalies who have played at least 20 games have a save percentage of .930 or higher.

”The goaltenders, they haven’t been any better than they are right now and some of them are still getting lit up pretty good,” said Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who has the league’s leading goal-scorer in Alex Ovechkin.

Certainly the emphasis on slashing has helped players such as Ovechkin, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and New York Islanders star John Tavares, who can do wonders with even a few extra inches of space. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson, who scored 10 goals in his first 15 games, said slashing is on everyone’s mind and ”guys are not getting (their sticks) up into the hands as much as they used to.”

Slashing and otherwise, there have been 173 more power plays than last season and teams are converting on 19.7 percent of them. Almost half the league is at or above 20 percent. The massive increase in short-handed goals has a lot to do with aggressive penalty kills stocked with offensive-minded players more likely to score.

”That’s one more thing that the power play has to worry about,” Capitals winger T.J. Oshie said. ”Now they don’t just have to worry about scoring goals. They have to worry about their turnovers, what plays they make, how risky they want to get because there is that chance if it goes the other way and it’s a 2-on-1, it could end up in the back of your net.”

Los Angeles coach John Stevens said teams are in ”attack mode” all the time now, and Trotz estimates that he spends three-quarters of time trying to figure out how to score more.

But risk is also inherent in the NHL getting younger and featuring so many rookie scorers such as Arizona’s Clayton Keller, Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser. The average age of an NHL player is 27 and Daly said the number has dropped over the past several years. He said more scoring is a byproduct as junior hockey and college programs get better at making players NHL-ready sooner.

Team composition has also changed. There are fewer journeyman faceoff specialists and grinders, and more players kept for speed and skill.

”Just the mold of all teams is kind of changing: They’re going for smaller, skilled guys rather than guys who are two-way forwards and stuff like that,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who is all of 27. ”These young kids have unbelievable skill, too. It’s kind of crazy how much skill. They have things they grew up getting taught how to do those things, which we didn’t have access to when we were kids.”

For all the offense so far, there are those who don’t expect it to keep happening. Goals were up through October last season and the NHL finished averaging 5.54 per game. DeBoer said teams often tighten their systems and structure after Christmas, making it more difficult to score.

”I think it’s still early to say,” Blackhawks winger Richard Panik said. ”The game is going to get tighter. It always does before playoffs.”

Fantasy adds & drops: One cool DeBrincat

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Every week, PHT will try to help its readers by providing some fantasy hockey advice. This column will attempt to guide you through the rough waters of your league’s waiver wire.

We’ll recommend players to pick up that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues and we’ll tell you who you should drop, too.

Here it is:

Alex DeBrincat-LW/RW-Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 36 percent of Yahoo leagues)

DeBrincat, who will turn 20 this month, picked up an impressive 14 points in 13 games during the month of November. He’s currently on pace to score 33 goals in his rookie season, which is pretty impressive for a player of his age. If you’re in a dynasty league, he’s a must-add off the waiver wire.

Mathieu Perreault-C/LW-Winnipeg Jets (18 percent)

Perreault has never hit the 50-point mark at the NHL level, but he seems to have figured things out this season. Even though he missed a good chunk of the season with a lower-body injury, he’s managed to put up 14 points in 15 games. The Jets have a ton of firepower which means they’ll likely continue filling up the net. Perreault probably won’t be a point-per-game player the rest of the way, but there’s definitely some value there.

Kyle Connor-LW-Winnipeg Jets (18 percent)

Connor is currently on the shelf with a minor injury, but he’s still worth picking up in most leagues. The 17th overall pick in 2015 is quietly putting together a solid rookie season, as he’s already up to nine goals and 17 points in 21 contests. The fact that he’s been playing with talented players like Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler will only help his fantasy outlook.

[More Fantasy: RotoWorld’s Waiver Wired column]

Adam Henrique-C-Anaheim Ducks (16 percent)

Henrique’s tenure with the Ducks is off to a great start, as he’s produced a goal and an assist in his first two games with his new team. Anaheim has been decimated by injuries (Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell and Ryan Kesler have all missed time), so Henrique will continue to play an offensive role with the team.

Pierre-Luc Dubois-C/LW-Columbus Blue Jackets (8 percent)

It might still be a little early to pick up Dubois off the waiver wire, but there’s no harm in giving him a mention at this point. He’s only picked up 11 points in 27 games this season, but he’s been producing a lot more lately. The Jackets rookie has a four-game point streak going (he’s picked up six points during that stretch). He’s also playing significant minutes during this stretch, as he’s played at least 18:49 in three of the four contests. He’s a high-risk/high-reward add in most fantasy leagues.

Drop: 

Clayton Keller-C/LW/RW-Arizona Coyotes (62 percent)

Having Keller on the drop list would have been unthinkable a month ago, but his production has really dipped over the little while. Even though  he has three assists in his last four contests, the Coyotes rookie hasn’t found the back of the net in 14 straight games. He was a great story early on, but it probably wasn’t realistic for anyone to think he would keep rolling at a point-per-game pace on a bad Coyotes team.

[More Fantasy: RotoWorld’s In the Crease column]

Matt Duchene-C/RW-Ottawa Senators (50 percent)

Duchene finally got his wish, as he was moved to Ottawa from Colorado a few weeks ago, but that hasn’t helped his on-ice production. Since playing his first game with the Sens on Nov. 10, Duchene has picked up just two points. He might get back on track eventually, but he can safely be dropped for now.

Henrik Zetterberg-C/LW-Detroit Red Wings (48 percent)

The Red Wings have been a disaster of late. Not only have they dropped seven games in a row, they’re also coming off a 10-1 dismantling at the hands of the Canadiens on Saturday night. Zetterberg hasn’t scored in 20 games and he’s accumulated just 15 points in 2017-18. As great as he’s been over the years, it might be time to part ways with him in all fantasy formats.

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.

The Buzzer: Boeser shines again, Sedin joins 1,000 point club

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Player Of The Night: Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks

No matter what happens with the Vancouver Canucks in the standings this season one of the biggest developments for the organization will be the fact that it actually seems to have a couple of young players it can build around for the future in Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

Boeser was the star in the Canucks’ 5-3 win in Nashville on Thursday night with three points, including two goals, allowing him to reclaim the NHL’s rookie scoring lead with 25 points. His 13 goals are also tops among all NHL rookies, moving him ahead of Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller and Chicago Blackhawks rookie Alex DeBrincat.

Bonus player of the night: Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings

Big night for the Los Angeles Kings to go into Washington, pick up a 5-2 win, and reclaim sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.

Leading the way was Marian Gaborik with a pair of goals, his first two of the season.

Injuries have really limited Gaborik’s availability and production the past few years, but if he can stay healthy and give the Kings a little more offense it would be a huge boost to their offense. He can still be a game-breaker.

Highlight Of The Night.

The Minnesota Wild were 4-2 winners over the Vegas Golden Knights and a lot of the credit has to go to goalie Devan Dubnyk. This save late in the third period on Jonathan Marchessault to help protect what was at the time a one-goal lead (Minnesota later added an empty net goal) was probably his best of the night. Given the situation, it is good enough to be our highlight of the night.

Factoid(s) Of The Night.

Daniel Sedin hit the 1,000 point mark on Thursday night making him the 87th player in NHL history to accomplish that feat.

He is only the 19th player to reach it with one team.

Patrick Marleau was credited with the game-winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs (with a huge assist from Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell). That brings him closer to the 1,100 point mark.

The Chicago Blackhawks have another one.

Scores

Los Angeles Kings 5, Washington Capitals 2

Montreal Canadiens 6, Detroit Red Wings 3

Minnesota Wild 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2

Vancouver Canucks 5, Nashville Predators 3

Dallas Stars 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3

Calgary Flames 3, Arizona Coyotes 0

Toronto Maple Leafs 6, Edmonton Oilers 4

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

Alex DeBrincat is defying your expectations

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No one expected this from Alex DeBrincat.

He was passed over 38 times by 25 teams in the 2016 NHL Draft.

He was undersized, his linemates were the reason for his successes in junior hockey and he wasn’t very good at the World Juniors.

The excuses for his pending failure were already laid out for him. He just had to walk the path.

Instead, DeBrincat went in a different direction, one where the questions about his stature and teammates have shifted to a singular query: ‘How good can DeBrincat become?’

Chicago Blackhawks fans have the luxury of salivating over the thought of DeBrincat’s ceiling.

The 19-year-old has been all the rage in Chi-Town and across the NHL after he notched his first career hat trick on Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, an outing that catapulted him (if he wasn’t already there) into the same conversation as fellow rookies Clayton Keller in Arizona, Matthew Barzal in New York (Islanders) and Brock Boeser in Vancouver.

With 10 goals and 18 points in 24 games, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman may just have the steal of the 2016 draft in DeBrincat. The Michigan native is on pace for over 30 goals, which would easily have his name in the conversation for the Calder Trophy — if not engraved on it — if he can keep it up.

As mentioned above, DeBrincat’s size may have been the main reason he slid to the Blackhawks in the second round.

He’s listed at a diminutive 5-foot-7 (two inches shorter than Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames) and weighs in at only 165 pounds, numbers that don’t add up to elite talent in the eyes of many.

He’s certainly no heavyweight, but he has the ability (like Gaudreau) to use his small size as an advantage when it comes to being elusive and hard to contain.

It would have been foolish, too, to overlook what he was able to achieve offensively at the junior level. It should come as no surprise to anyone that DeBrincat can score. A lot.

DeBrincat was an elite-level goal scorer and point producer with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League, and while junior success doesn’t always equate to the same in the NHL (just ask Eric Fehr), it doesn’t hurt either.

Here’s the breakdown of DeBrincat’s three-year junior career:

  • 191 games played
  • 167 goals
  • 165 assists
  • 332 points

Compare that to Connor McDavid’s three-year junior career with the Erie Otters:

  • 166 games played
  • 97 goals
  • 188 assists
  • 285 points

DeBrincat is, of course, not McDavid. But those are some bloody impressive numbers, regardless.

But there’s an argument that he always played with great players. From teammates in McDavid to Dylan Strome in Erie to Auston Matthews with Team USA, DeBrincat has been blessed with some exceptional talent as linemates.

But they’re not pulling the trigger for him. That knack for putting pucks in the back of the net is DeBrincat’s best trait.

And he makes it look pretty effortless.

Now, DeBrincat has the advantage of not being the guy who has to be leaned upon heavily in Chicago. He doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting yet, and that will aid in his development.

“He does all the things that scorers do,” coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “How good he’s going to be, it’ll be fun to watch that play out because he has the makings of being a special player.”

Indeed.


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