Nikolaj Ehlers

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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.

Steve Mason’s nightmare season continues

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Heading into the 2017-18 season, it was reasonable to picture things working out for the Winnipeg Jets, but it would have been tougher to see this surge coming largely without Steve Mason‘s help.

The Jets handed Mason a two-year, $8.2 million deal hoping that he’d stabilize a goaltending position that’s been a weakness for the team since day one in Winnipeg. Perhaps he did help, but if so, Mason assisted the team in an indirect way: by giving Connor Hellebuyck even more incentive to make the most of every start?

That’s about as far as you can go when it comes to positives this season, as it’s been a disaster from his first start, when he gave up five goals on 20 shots against Toronto in a game he didn’t finish.

Mason’s rarely had a chance to make the Jets situation into the sort of platoon he disdained in Philly, as his appearances have been limited by a combination of injuries, his poor play, and Hellebuyck’s breakthrough season. Mason missed considerable time because of one or more concussions, and cruelly, he followed up a 31-save shutout return appearance on March 6 with a knee injury.

In a way, he never bounced back from a poor start to his debut season with Winnipeg, allowing 11 goals in his first two appearances. Hellebuyck stormed out of the gate, meanwhile, not even recording his first loss of 2017-18 until Nov. 10.

This photo from Getty Images almost seems to capture the spirit of a lost season for Mason, and it probably deserves the “Hello darkness” treatment …

Get Simon & Garfunkel ready. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)

The team announced today that Mason is expected to miss two-to-three weeks after getting that knee scoped.

Such a window gives Mason a chance to play another regular season game before the postseason begins, but knee issues can be tricky, so who knows? Beyond that, the Jets might be more comfortable rolling with Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, whose $1.15 million contract can’t be completely ignored by Winnipeg.

Actually, contracts are where the intrigue builds.

Hutchinson isn’t the only Jets netminder who needs a new contract after 2017-18 ends. Hellebuyck will be an RFA this summer – assuming Winnipeg doesn’t hand him an extension – and he’ll be a tough goalie to gauge. Hellebuyck managed 26 wins in 2016-17, but his work was middling overall with just a .907 save percentage. Hellebuyck’s really flourished this season, going 35-11-8 with a .923 save percentage.

Even if Hellebuyck doesn’t break the bank, the Jets could plausibly find it difficult to justify Mason’s $4.1M cap hit. They’ll see Nikolaj Ehlers‘ cap hit jump to $6M and will need to pay up for Jacob Trouba, who’s also set for restricted free agency.

Whether those factors force Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hand or not, Mason finds himself right where he was heading into this season, and also when he was traded to the Flyers. He’ll need to start from scratch once again and hope that his luck will work out better in the future, whether that means during the playoffs or 2018-19.

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

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.

Fantasy impact of 2018 NHL Trade Deadline: West


PHT’s James O’Brien wrote the first part of this two-part fantasy series, yesterday. He broke down how the trade deadline affected teams in the Eastern Conference. You can read that story by clicking here.

Today, we’ll take a look at how the moves the Western Conference teams made will affect the fantasy world.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks made a minor move as they shipped Chris Wagner to the Islanders for Jason Chimera, who won’t be lighting the fantasy world on fire anytime soon. Anaheim will have to continue leaning on guys like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell and company to lead the charge offensively if they’re going to make the playoffs.

Arizona Coyotes: The ‘Yotes made a minor-league move, but nothing that will have any affect in fantasy leagues. Arizona will continue to be a graveyard for fantasy production between now and the end of the season.

Calgary Flames: Nick Shore was on the move for the second time in the month of February. The 25-year-old is a great depth piece, but don’t expect to contribute much offensively. He’s another player that won’t alter the fantasy landscape. Like Anaheim, if the Flames make it to the postseason, it’ll be because their top guns take them there (that means you Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan).

Chicago Blackhawks: Shipping Ryan Hartman to Nashville has opened up a spot on the wing. It looks like Tomas Jurco is going to get an opportunity to skate on the ‘Hawks second-ish line with Artem Anisimov and Anthony Duclair.

Trading Michal Kempny away to Washington on Feb. 19 seems to have opened up a roster spot for Carl Dahlstrom. The 22-year-old has three assists in eight games, but he’s still a little raw.

Colorado Avalanche: Outside of acquiring Ryan Graves from the Rangers, the Avs didn’t do much on deadline day. That means that Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen will continue to be the difference makers on a much-improved Avs team.

There were rumblings about Tyson Barrie potentially being on the move, but GM Joe Sakic decided to hold on to his offensive blue liner.

Dallas Stars: Jim Nill surprisingly didn’t make a move to help his team make a push for a playoff spot.

Edmonton Oilers: With Patrick Maroon now out of the picture in Edmonton, the Oilers are forcing Connor McDavid to carry Anton Slepyshev and Milan Lucic. All kidding aside, Slepyshev is a big body with some skill, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together at the NHL level yet. Assuming he continues playing with McDavid, he should get a nice little fantasy boost down the stretch. As for Lucic, not even McDavid can resurrect his fantasy stock. Sorry Connor, you’re on your own.

The Oilers were also able to land Pontus Aberg in the days leading up to the deadline. The former Predator has been skating on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Michael Cammalleri, so they’ve put him in an interesting position offensively, too.

Los Angeles Kings: GM Rob Blake made a couple of decent-sized moves earlier in February, but he didn’t do anything on deadline day. Obviously, Dion Phaneuf has fit in quite nicely since joining the group, as he’s picked up three goals and three assists in nine games with his new team.

Tobias Rieder, who was acquired in a trade with Arizona for goalie Darcy Kuemper, has had a tougher time adjusting to the Kings. He has just one goal in five games, but he’s been playing on a line with Adrian Kempe which is interesting.

Minnesota Wild: Chuck Fletcher seemed to learn from last year’s mistakes, when he made a splash for rental forward Martin Hanzal. That didn’t work out, so all the Wild did on deadline day was ship Mike Reilly to Montreal for a pick in 2019.

Nashville Predators: We talked about Hartman before, but he should get a significant fantasy boost now that he’s on the Predators. He’s been skating on a line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, so he should be in a much better situation to produce. He racked up the game-winning goal in Tuesday’s win over the Jets and he also registered an assist against Edmonton on Thursday.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks arguably got the best bang for their buck when they landed Evander Kane. If they don’t sign Kane to an extension, they lose a second-round pick. If they do bring him back, it’ll cost them a first-rounder in 2019. The former Sabre has been skating with Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi. It doesn’t sound like the Sharks will bring him back, but maybe he’ll change their mind. Kane has picked up three assists in his first two games with his new team. Maybe he’ll put some life into Pavelski, too.

St. Louis Blues: Well, the Blues shocked the hockey world and some of their players when they sent Paul Stastny to Winnipeg. Losing Stastny will hurt the Blues playoff chances and it’ll hurt them offensively too because they’ve lost a playmaking center.

Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning was able to find a taker for Thomas Vanek, but they failed to get a draft pick for him. Tyler Motte is the youngster they got in the deal (they landed Jussi Jokinen too, but yeah). The 22-year-old will get every opportunity to become a regular with Vancouver, but he doesn’t augment their offense in any way.

They also sent Philip Holm to Vegas for Brendan Leipsic.

Vegas Golden Knights: The NHL’s newest team surprised some people when they traded three draft picks to land Tomas Tatar from Detroit. Tatar spent most of his first game with Cody Eakin and Tomas Hyka, but don’t be surprised if he’s thrown into more of an offensive role as the games go by.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets augmented their depth at center by adding Stastny from a division rival. On top of going to a contender, Stastny also has been slotted on a line with wingers Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. That should help him produce a little more regularly even if he’s on Winnipeg’s third line. He had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s loss to Nashville. Having a playmaker like Stastny should also help both youngsters he’s playing with.

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

Predators edge Jets in West showdown


If you scanned this week’s schedule after a fascinating trade deadline, Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets probably stood out as a potential clash of titans.

These two Central Division standouts did not disappoint.

After a 0-0 first period, the Predators and Jets traded body blow after body blow. Winnipeg managed 3-1 and 5-3 leads during an explosive final 40 minutes of action, with Paul Stastny proving to be a quick study by collecting a goal and an assist in his Jets debut. It wasn’t enough, however, as the Predators kept fighting back until they nabbed a 6-5 win in regulation.

Not enough excitement for you? Consider this: the Predators’ latest big trade splash, Ryan Hartman, ended up scoring the decisive goal with just a minute remaining.

With 11 goals overall, it was an all-hands-on-deck affair for these two potential championship contenders, so it wasn’t all about narrative-friendly moments like Stastny and Hartman contributing. (That said, it had to feel good for Nashville after many people muttered “a first-round pick for Hartman?” on Monday.)

Usual suspects like Mark Scheifele (two goals) and Craig Smith (two goals making him an increasingly usual suspect, already at 20 goals) enjoyed nice showings. This Nikolaj Ehlers goal borders on the obscene:

Also bordering on obscene: Roman Josi‘s handsome five-assist night. He had already set a career-high with four earlier in that game, so even for a prolific point producer like Josi, this was a special output.

Basically, this was a great game, although goalies and defensive-minded coaches would probably disagree. It only seems right that the latest trade commodity helped Predators GM David Poile reach a lofty milestone, right?

Of course, the bigger milestones are ahead for both teams:

  • The Jets hope to win their first playoff game, then series, and then who knows?
  • Nashville aims to win Poile’s first Stanley Cup after reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

It wouldn’t be surprising if these two teams end up meeting in the playoffs. If they do, let’s hope the series is anywhere near as fun as tonight.

(Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck do not endorse this message.)

The two teams load up at the deadline

Jets surprise by landing Stastny from Blues.

Predators pay big price to get Hartman from Blackhawks.

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