Martin Hanzal

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Stars will keep top pick Heiskanen in Finland, not bring him over for camp

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Dallas Stars fans will have to wait another year to get an up close look at their team’s top pick from the 2017 draft, defenseman Miro Heiskanen.

General manager Jim Nill announced on Monday that Heiskanen will remain in Finland with his team (HIFK Helsinki) and not attend training camp this season.

Part of the decision might be related to the fact that Heiskanen is currently injured. It was recently reported in Finland that Heiskanen suffered a concussion, and when the Stars opened training camp this week his name was included on the list of injured players.

His absence from camp this year isn’t a huge deal from a big picture outlook because it was always unlikely that he was going to make the team this season. The Stars’ plan all along was to be patient with him, and while they would have given him an opportunity to make the team it always seemed inevitable that he was going to end up playing back in Finland for the entire season anyway.

He spent the 2016-17 season playing for HIFK Helsinki where he scored five goals and five assists in 37 games.

The Stars selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft and added him to their collection of promising young defensemen.

Dallas is already dealing with a crowded blue line situation this season with eight players under contract for this season, including offseason addition Marc Methot. The Stars loaded up again this summer with big moves, including Methot, starting goalie Ben Bishop and free agent acquisitions Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal.

Hanzal out with ankle injury as Stars open training camp

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The Dallas Stars began training camp on Thursday, however, forward Martin Hanzal will not be taking to the ice — at least not right away.

Signed by Dallas to a three-year, $14.25 million contract on the first day of free agency, Hanzal is dealing with an ankle sprain, per Mark Stepneski of the Stars’ website.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be a specific timeline for when the 6-foot-6 center could return to the ice.

The Stars made a number of big moves this offseason. It started with the hiring of Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, and continued with the acquisition of goalie Ben Bishop and defenseman Marc Methot, and the additions of Hanzal and Alex Radulov in free agency.

Dallas had a disappointing 2016-17 campaign, missing the playoffs after finishing as the top Western Conference team during the 2015-16 regular season.

Signing Hanzal provides the Stars with a versatile center, capable of playing in a shutdown role or perhaps moving into a top-six spot if Hitchcock decides that’s an option.

Cullen signs with Wild, opting against retirement (and Penguins)

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Matt Cullen is going home, but that doesn’t mean that he’s retiring from hockey.

Instead, the Minnesota native decided to sign a one-year, $1 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. It’s unclear why, precisely, Cullen didn’t ink a deal to try to “threepeat” with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Wild note that his deal also includes $700K in potential performance bonuses.

This will be the 40-year-old’s second run with the Wild. His first run came from 2010-11 through 2012-13, where he appeared in 193 regular-season games and five postseason contests for Minnesota.

Cullen managed back-to-back 30+ point seasons with the Penguins while providing useful all-around play as a veteran center. If he can maintain a reasonably high level of play, this gives the Wild quite the solid group down the middle, even with Martin Hanzal gone.

Looking to make the leap: Joel Eriksson Ek

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This post is part of Wild Day on PHT…

There’s no shortage of talented young prospects in the Wild organization — Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, to name a few.

But in terms of being ready to make the leap, one stands out.

Eriksson Ek, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (20th overall) at the 2015 draft, and made his NHL debut last season by scoring seven points in 15 games, while appearing in three postseason contests. That came during a year in which he made the Wild out of training camp, stuck around for a month before being returned to his native Sweden, then came back to Minnesota late in the year, making his Stanley Cup playoff debut in the process.

An exciting year, sure, but one with quite a bit of upheaval.

Now Eriksson Ek’s looking to stick in one place.

That, of course, would be in North America, preferably in Minnesota rather than Iowa. And it sounds like there’s a good chance of that happening, given Eriksson Ek’s performance in ’16-17 alleviated many of the club’s concerns about his game translating to the NHL.

“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said last season, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player.”

It doesn’t seem like playing surface really matters to Eriksson Ek. Consider what he accomplished last year. With SHL club Farjestads, he had 16 points in 26 games, and six in seven playoff contests. With Sweden at the World Juniors, he captained the club and had nine points in seven games. With Sweden at the World Hockey Championship, he had three points in 10 games en route to a gold medal win over Canada.

Yet even after all that success, there’s still an undeniably steep learning curve ahead. Eriksson Ek played limited and sheltered minutes last season, cracking the 12-minute plateau in just three of his 15 games (he was used sparingly in the postseason as well, skating just 22:44 total in the series versus St. Louis).

But that might change, as head coach Bruce Boudreau no longer has a wealth of options down the middle.

Last season, Boudreau didn’t have to throw Eriksson Ek into uncomfortable positions, because he had a host of veteran centers to fill ’em: Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle and Tyler Graovac all logged extensive minutes.

That depth is no longer there. Hanzal signed in Dallas, Haula was taken by Vegas at the expansion draft, and Graovac was traded to Washington.

As such, it certainly seems like Fletcher and company have opened up a spot for Eriksson Ek this fall.

Now we wait to see if grabs it.

Poll: Will Blues compete for Central Division title next season?

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

The St. Louis Blues went through a number of changes last offseason. They key veterans David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott in free agency, and no one really knew how it would affect them on the ice.

After struggling pretty badly in January, they fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and they ended up replacing him with coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo.

At the time of the firing, the Blues were clinging to the final Wild Card spot in the West. In the end, they were able to move up to third place in the Central Division.

Thanks to some masterful goaltending by Jake Allen, they were able to knock off the Wild in five games in the opening round, but they fell to Nashville in round two.

The Blues didn’t make a ton of changes to their roster this summer. They acquired Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia at the draft and they added winger Beau Bennett in free agency.

Is it enough to come away with the Central Division crown?

Both the Blackhawks and Wild finished ahead of them in the standings last season. The ‘Hawks made some major changes to their roster, as they dealt Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling and Marcus Kruger away. They’ve also already lost Marian Hossa for the season, too.

The Wild got off to a fantastic start last season, but they crumbled down the stretch and were no match for the Blues in the postseason.

As of right now, the biggest threat for the division crown is probably Nashville.  The Predators didn’t have a great regular season, but they managed to find a way to come together during a run to the Stanley Cup Final. They also added Nick Bonino, Scott Hartnell and Alexei Emelin this offseason. Notable losses include: James Neal, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson.  How will a long playoff run affect the Preds going into next season?

The most intriguing team in the division might just be Hitchcock’s new team, the Dallas Stars. They spent some money upgrading their roster, as they landed goalie Ben Bishop, winger Alex Radulov, center Martin Hanzal, defenseman Marc Methot. The Stars have had a tough time keeping the puck out of their own, so if Hitchcock and his new acquisitions can help them in that area, they’ll be tough to stop.

The Winnipeg Jets have an up-and-coming roster with plenty of skilled players. They signed Steve Mason to help young goalie Connor Hellebuyck out, but will that be enough? The Jets will likely be a dangerous squad in the near future, it just might not be this season.

And as for the Colorado Avalanche, well, let’s just say they still have a ton of work to do before we can put them in the conversation for the division title.

The Blues aren’t going to be the favorites to land the Central Division crown. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot. The key to this whole thing might just be Allen, who has always struggled with consistency at the NHL level.

If Allen can play anywhere close to the way he did during the playoffs (1.96 goals-against-average, .935 save percentage), they’ll have a chance to do some damage.

The biggest question is, did he just catch lightning in a bottle, or is he finally starting to take his game to the next level?

Alright, it’s your turn to have your say. Vote in the poll below and leave your opinion in the comments section below.