Johnny Gaudreau

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Do it, Flames: Put Jagr with Gaudreau, Monahan

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After an agonizing wait, the Calgary Flames bit the bullet and signed Jaromir Jagr.

To little surprise, skipping the preseason and not having an answer about the future has made for a bit of a stilted integration for the 45-year-old, who is still something of a possession monster when the puck gets on his stick.

Jagr finally collected his first point (an assist) with the Flames on Saturday, during their 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks. It came, fittingly, on the power play.

If assisting on a Johnny Gaudreau goal wasn’t enticing enough, take a look at the Flames’ offensive lines on Tuesday, a tempting tease with their next game coming Thursday:

Circumstance could play a role in Jagr getting at least a look with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. As Sportsnet’s Pat Steinberg noted, Kris Versteeg wasn’t around, so Glen Gulutzan might have been adjusting to Versteeg – Sam Bennett – Jagr not being an option.

(Micheal Ferland also has been a little banged up lately, although you can see that he at least suited up.)

Still, it’s fun to cross one’s fingers and hope that Jagr gets an extended look with the dynamic duo, especially since he enjoyed so much success in a similar situation with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau during his time with the Florida Panthers.

So far, the Flames have already experimented with Jagr in such a situation. From an even-strength perspective, he’s spent about two-thirds of his time with Bennett/Versteeg and one-third with Gaudreau/Monahan, according to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers.

Flames Nation’s Ari Yanover provides a fascinating perspective: maybe the experimenting should continue, with Jagr being used in a variety of attacking zone situations.

Perhaps the focus is a little less on “who should Jagr be playing with” and more on “whoever is getting the most offensive zone starts, that’s Jagr’s line”. And typically, it’s Gaudreau’s line getting the offensive zone starts. So maybe, once Jagr is ready, that should be his line after all. We know he has it in him – not just because he’s, well, Jaromir Jagr, but also because that’s exactly what he was doing in Florida half a year ago.

Interesting.

Selfishly, as fans of the aging wonder, many of us simply want more Jagr.

Being selective with how he’s deployed might just be the ticket for the Flames. It’s sensible that Jagr’s getting 13 minutes of ice time per game (with almost exactly three of them coming on the power play), especially as he eases in. Greedily, we still want more, but it’s up to Calgary to decide if that’s actually the best way to optimize what they have.

As the season goes along, it will be fun to see how Jagr is used. There aren’t many weapons like him in the NHL, and that’s assuming that he can still get it done.

(So far, the answer seems to be “mostly yes.”)

For another look at how Jagr could fit into the Flames’ lines, check out this bit from before the season.

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

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Clayton Keller focused on helping Coyotes as Calder Trophy buzz grows

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Clayton Keller received a special kind of rookie treatment last season moments before his NHL debut with the Arizona Coyotes.

Like other young players around the league, Keller’s teammates stayed behind in the tunnel and the rookie ended up taking a solo lap during warmups before a game against the St. Louis Blues last March. The moment was extra special for Keller, who grew up playing youth hockey in area under the tutelage of former NHLers Jeff Brown and Keith Tkachuk.

As a kid, Keller would attend Blues games with his father and grandfather, and it was there that his NHL dreams began to develop. As those dreams came closer to reality, it was his late grandfather who played a huge role in Keller achieving his goal of becoming a professional.

“He was probably the reason that I’m here today. He took me to everything growing up — hockey camps, school, hockey practice, and just about everything,” Keller told Pro Hockey Talk on Monday. “I know he’d be pretty proud today.”

Keller, the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, spent most of last season at Boston University where he scored 21 times and recorded 45 points in 31 games. Two days after the Terriers were knocked out of the NCAA tournament, he was taking that lap around Scottrade Center as family and friends cheered from the other side of the glass. He would play three games for the Coyotes and get to experience that “Welcome to the NHL” moment every rookie remembers.

“It’s pretty cool to see [Vladimir] Tarasenko and Jamie Benn,” Keller said. “I lined up next to those guys. That’s pretty crazy because I grew up watching both of those guys.”

Those three games introduced Keller to the pace of the NHL, which he quickly adjusted to. After the season ended, he was invited to play for the United States at the World Championship where he’d finish with five goals, including a hat trick against Denmark.

“It really helped me out a lot. You never really know how hard the NHL is until you play in it,” Keller said. “I got lucky at the end of last year and got a nice taste and realized how hard I had to work. That was a huge advantage for me.”

The talent Keller showed as a youth player on the U.S. National Development Team and in his only year at Boston University has led to lots of Calder Trophy buzz for the 19-year-old forward. But that talk is not something he’s focused on.

“I try to block it out. I don’t really pay attention to it,” Keller said. “I just play my game and the rest will [come].”

At 5’10, Keller isn’t the biggest out on the ice, which is why he cites Patrick Kane and Johnny Gaudreau as influences — players who don’t have the size, but are skillful and quick. That skill has been on display through five games this season. Playing alongside Derek Stepan and Max Domi, Keller had potted three goals, meshing well with new Coyotes linemates and head coach Rick Tocchet’s desired style of play.

“We want to play fast, in-your-face type hockey. But also with lots of skill and [a] good defensive zone. It’s a great system, and it’ll show,” Keller said.

Life as an NHL rookie can be a difficult. Adjusting to a faster pace, dealing with the physicality and just going through the highs and lows of a season with a team can be expected. For Keller, he’s fortunate that he has plenty of friends around the league in the same situation. Former BU teammate and current Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy is someone Keller frequently exchanges exepriences with.

“Charlie’s one of my best friends. I played with him last year. We definitely talked about how the season has been going so far,” Keller said. “It’s good to have a friend like that around the league. He’s an awesome person and an even better player.”

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

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It’s time for Athanasiou, Red Wings to make a decision on his playing future

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The NHL season is underway and there’s still no sign of Andreas Athanasiou in Detroit.

The Red Wings and the restricted free agent still haven’t come to terms on a contract extension, which is unfortunate for both sides.

Athanasiou has been skating with HC Lugano over in Switzerland over the last few days. According to The Hockey News, there’s a lot of interest from Swiss League clubs and Omsk in the KHL has reportedly offered him $2.5 million this season.

One of the benefits to playing in Europe in 2017-18, is that he could suit up for Canada at the upcoming Olympics. He might never get an opportunity like that again.

Regardless of what the player, team and agent (Darren Ferris) decide, it’s time for them to make a decision on Athanasiou’s short-term playing future.

It’s clear that the young winger is serious about getting the right dollar amount he feels he deserves (if he’s bluffing, he’s a crazy-good bluffer), but it’s time for his camp to decide what his next move is going to be.

In recent years, players like P.K. Subban and Johnny Gaudreau have missed training camp and regular season games during holdouts. Even though they were around the same age as Athanasiou is now, they were still more established in the NHL than he is at this point.

Subban gave in to what Montreal was offering him back in 2013, as he accepted a bridge deal. Despite missing training camp and a couple of games, he went on to win the Norris Trophy that year.

As for Gaudreau, he held out last season, got a long-term deal, but saw his production dip quite a bit (he had 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games two years ago, and 18 goals and 61 points in 72 games in 2016-17).

Athanasiou is nowhere near as accomplished as those two players. Still, his numbers would indicate that there is some intriguing upside there. The 23-year-old had 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games with Detroit last season. He also has a ton of speed, which is an asset, especially in today’s NHL.

The Red Wings may hold firm with their current offer, but last time I checked, their roster isn’t loaded with offensive superstars. After all, they missed the playoffs in 2017, so they can use all the help they can get.

The other way they can parlay Athanasiou into immediate help is by trading him to another team in the league. Even though his value isn’t sky-high right now, there will be teams interested in his services for the reasons mentioned above (Montreal, Ottawa and Los Angeles have all reportedly shown interest).

So either Detroit forks out the money Athanasiou wants, they trade him away, or they decide to let him suit up in Europe (that doesn’t benefit them at all). Whatever the decision is, it’s time for both parties to put this story behind them.

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.

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PHT Morning Skate: 5 toughest opponents Mark Scheifele has ever faced

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–Check out the highlights from Wednesday’s game between the Capitals and Penguins. Pittsburgh beat Washington in the playoffs last season, and they did it again last night. (Top)

–Surprisingly enough, Matt Duchene is still a member of the Colorado Avalanche. But how long before his teammates become as fed up of the current situation in Denver as he is? GM Joe Sakic has to pull the trigger on a move before this thing spirals even further out of control. (scottywazz.com)

–The Vegas Golden Knights are off to a strong 3-0-0 start, but their power play has been ineffective since the preseason. On top of not having the best talent at their disposal, they also don’t get to dangerous areas of the ice enough. (knightsonice.com)

–Goal scoring has been at a premium since the last lockout. On average, teams have been combining for 5.34 to 5.45 goals-per-game. It might be a small sample size, but teams are scoring 6.22 goals-per-game. Also, 15 teams are averaging three goals per game. (Fanragsports.com)

–Despite missing a number of key players like Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford and Jay Bouwmeester, the Blues have managed to start the year 4-0-0. “I would say our veterans have really stepped up their game, and not allowed any type of adversity to creep in and give us any type of excuses,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “Our group is a competitive group, and we believe despite having some guys out of the lineup, we’re still capable of winning hockey games.” (Sporting News)

–Carolina isn’t a traditional hockey market and they haven’t made the playoffs in a while, so it’s not surprising that their attendance is low, but the fact that they had just 7,892 fans for their home opener is mind-boggling. “I talk to our sales staff all the time (that) winning or losing doesn’t stop us from doing our job,” president Don Waddell said. “If we win, it’s going to make our job a little easier to sell more tickets. But we don’t use that as an excuse.” (Charlotte Observer)

–Lightning forward J.T. Brown was the first player to protest during the anthem this season. Commissioner Gary Bettman might not want to see protests from his players because the league isn’t political in his mind, but that’s not exactly true. (fiveforhowling.com)

–The Vancouver Canucks should be in rebuild mode, but the fact that they have so many veteran players is a problem for their NHL and AHL team. Top prospect Brock Boeser hasn’t been able to get into an NHL game yet, while Anton Rodin and Patrick Wiercioch have been scratched in AHL games. (vancourier.com)

–Jets forward Mark Scheifele describes himself as a “hockey nerd”. He watches hockey all the time, he thinks about hockey all the time, and now he’s even writing about hockey for The Players’ Tribune. In this story, Scheifele identifies the five most difficult players he’s ever played against. One of the players in the list is Montreal’s Carey Price. Scheifele had no problem admitting that Price has made him look silly before. (Players’ Tribune)

–A few years ago, the NHL decided to force every player that had under 26 games of experience to wear a visor when they got to the league. Today, 94 percent of NHLers have a visor in, which means that only 34 players don’t have one. That’s remarkably low. (Associated Press)

–Hockey has clearly become a young man’s game. A good number of superstars in the league are 23 years old or younger, which isn’t surprising considering what we saw from Team North America at last year’s World Cup. Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Filip Forsberg, Johnny Gaudreau and many others are still incredibly young, but also dominant. (NHL.com)

Scott Hartnell was bought out by the Blue Jackets this offseason, so he made his way back to Nashville where his career began. It’s early, but he looks rejuvenated now that he’s back with his old team. He’s scoring, contributing and causing problems for the other team in front of their net. (Tennessean)

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.

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How should Flames use Jaromir Jagr?

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After an anxious summer where Jaromir Jagr got kind of weird about not getting a deal on Twitter, the Calgary Flames provided the hockey world with relief in signing the living legend.

It’s something we should all cherish, too, as Jagr admitted that there’s a “99.9 percent chance” that this will be his last season, according to Sportsnet’s Roger Millions.

Even at 45, Jagr still could conceivably benefit the Flames. As GM Brad Treliving said, Jagr still has the ability to snag the puck beyond the blueline, and he can still make plays.

Let’s have a little fun with this, then, and ponder the scenarios where the Flames can get the most out of Jagr (and vice versa).

Jagr with Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg

So far, every indication is that Jagr will begin with the unfinished product of a prospect in Bennett and the journeyman winger in Versteeg. As this great Flames Nation piece by Ari Yanover states, this scenario would allow Calgary to roll out three potentially productive lines in the top-nine.

This scenario makes lot of sense, yet Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan should keep an open mind about how productive Jagr could be.

Jiri Jagr?

At the moment, the Flames’ top scoring line stands as Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland.

Ferland, 25, has shown some promise in top-line situations. He’s also been able to do something with limited opportunities: he managed 15 goals and 25 points last season, which is more impressive when you consider that his time-on-ice average was a skimpy 11:34 per night.

Even so, the sample size with higher-end players isn’t huge, particularly with key catalyst Gaudreau. If Ferland struggles against top defensemen and checkers, Gulutzan shouldn’t be afraid to give Jagr a shot.

Really, Jagr might just be able to fit in with Gaudreau and Monahan like fellow veteran Czech winger Jiri Hudler once did. Hudler managed almost a point-per-contest (76 in 78) with those two young forwards as recently as 2014-15. It’s unfortunate that Hudler’s reportedly dealing with some personal struggles now, but it isn’t outrageous to claim that he was the best fit for those two so far. Maybe Jagr can emulate some of that, even at an advanced age?

Jagr and Hudler share at least one similar trait beyond nationality: they both have been splendid playmakers. In fact, their impact on shooting percentage was nearly identical in this intriguing study by TSN’s Travis Yost.

Sometimes it makes sense to try to spread the wealth. There’s not necessarily just one way to succeed in hockey, and maybe it would benefit Monahan and Gaudreau to have a puck possession genius who still possesses a blistering hockey IQ?

It could bring them up the first-line power rankings, for all we know.

Puck possession Voltron?

Look, on its face, it almost feels sacrilegious to break up “The 3M Line”* of Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Frolik, and Mikael Backlund.

On the other hand, injuries happen and coaches love to shake things up.

Imagine, for a second, that already potent puck-possession partnership becoming nuclear-level with a still-fancy-stats-friendly Jagr plugged in one spot? It’s fun to think about.

But, yeah, not the best idea.

Fourth line duty?

What, do you have a heart of coal? Never speak of that again.

***

Really, the Flames could experiment with a variety of alignments. If Jagr’s late-career journeyman status shows us anything, it’s that the icon can adapt and help his team in a variety of scenarios.

Just, seriously, don’t bury him in the lineup. That’s unacceptable.

* – Still a little bitter that my soup-inspired “MMM Line” nickname never caught on. Is that what this is all about, actually? Uh oh.