Pavel Zacha

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PHT Morning Skate: ‘Negative experience’ with Vegas helped Shipachyov appreciate KHL days

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–Team USA announced that their men’s and women’s hockey team rosters will be unveiled on New Year’s Day. (NBC Sports)

–Former Olympic rivals Julie Chu (Team USA) and Carolina Ouellette (Canada) welcomed a baby last Sunday. (NBC Sports)

–For the first time ever, the IIHF will be compensating teams that will be sending players to the Olympics. The teams will get roughly $8,000 per player that participates in the tournament. (eurohockeyclubs.com)

–Former NHL defenseman Darius Kasparitis played for Russia on the international stage, but he’s going to represent Lithuania at the upcoming World Hockey Championship Division I Group B tournament next spring. (IIHF.hockey)

Jonathan Drouin and his former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, finally settled a dispute over a $212,500 performance bonus. Drouin needed to hit 0.73 points-per-game last season to get the money, and he did. But the Lightning contended that it was actually 0.726 points-per-game. In the end, they had to pay him most of the money. (Sportsnet)

–Since being put back on the first line, Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich has been playing some great hockey. There’s no doubt that the chemistry between Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider is alive and well. (blueshirtbanter.com)

–The Ottawa Senators were able to land Matt Duchene in a three-way deal with Nashville and Colorado last week. Duchene is the biggest name involved in the trade, but it sure seems like the Preds are the team that improved the most. (Sporting News)

–The pairing of Chris Tanev and Ben Hutton don’t come to mind when thinking of the top defense duos in the NHL, but their numbers show that they’ve been remarkably good together. Incredibly enough, Tanev and Hutton have been on the ice for just four even-strength goals against. (vancourier.com)

–The New Jersey Devils thought so highly of Pavel Zacha that they made him the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But sixth-rounder from 2016 Jesper Bratt has been the better of the two players this season. Somehow, they need to get Zacha playing like Bratt. (allaboutthejersey.com)

–Former Vegas Golden Knight Vadim Shipachyov signed a new contract with SKA Saint Petersburg last week. In a Q & A with the team’s website, Shipachyov admitted that his negative experience in the NHL helped him appreciate what he had in Russia. (SKA.ru)

–Here’s an incredibly sad story. Arianna Dougan, who was a young girl that had a special connection with the Blues and Vladimir Tarasenko, passed away at the age of 11. As you’d imagine, the news shook up the team. “The world is a sadder place without Ari, but we’re thankful to have gotten to know her and to have given her a distraction from her battle with cancer, if only for a few days,” the Blues wrote on their website. “Her road trip was supposed to create lasting memories for her, but it ended up meaning the world to us.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–Sorry for ending today’s Skate with another sad story, but we have to mention the passing of former Providence College hockey player Drew Brown, who had a courageous battle with cancer. He was just 25 years old.  “Drew touched everyone with whom he came into contact with his energy, his smile and his big heart,” said head coach Nate Leaman. “Drew was a thoughtful, soft-spoken teammate who would do anything for his team. Drew showed amazing courage in his battle with cancer. Our Friar family will miss him dearly. With the support of one another, we will find strength to honor Drew.” (Friars.com)

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.

Babcock: Devils skated Leafs ‘into the ground’

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In a battle of two unbeaten NHL teams, the New Jersey Devils prevailed on Wednesday, handing the Toronto Maple Leafs a 6-3 defeat. And Mike Babcock was not pleased.

After the game, Babcock said his team (now 3-1-0) was “skated into the ground” by the upstart Devils.

“Hockey’s fair, you get what you deserve,” Babcock said. “We got what we deserved tonight.”

Multiple Maple Leafs saw a serious difference in the speed of the 3-0-0 Devils, yet they also consistently admitted that they were out-played.

If that’s true, then Cory Schneider was far busier on paper than he was in reality.

The Devils goalie faced 50 shots on goal as the Maple Leafs went 2-for-8 on the power play (the Devils, meanwhile, fired 31 shots on Frederik Andersen and went 1-for-5). Some of that might boil down to “score effects.” Even so, you have to think that some puck luck and strong work from Schneider factored into some of that.

Fresh faces power Devils once again

Not every young Devils player who factored into this win qualifies as a rookie. Most of them count as inexperienced, though.

Take Miles Wood, for instance.

Yes, this marked the 63rd game of the 22-year-old’s career, but he’s still the sort of name that will make you do a double-take in seeing him score two goals in less than two minutes, as he did on Wednesday.

(Interestingly, he was a guy who could generate random offense in 2016-17. He managed two goals in one game against the Flyers, three points in four games in early January, and three goals in five games in December last season. That’s a big chunk of the 17 points he managed in 60 contests.)

Pavel Zacha is probably a more mainstream name as the sixth pick in 2015, but the 20-year-old is still finding his way. Wednesday was promising in that regard, as he scored two goals of his own.

Jesper Bratt continues to make (more than a funny) name for himself in adding an assist, while Will Butcher continues to live up to the early hype with two more assists.

History that will make Babcock especially mad

Brian Gibbons, 29, likely spiked Babcock’s blood pressure the most on Wednesday, scoring a rare shorthanded goal in a 5-on-3 situation.

How rare? The Devils tweeted that this was the first time it’s happened for them during the regular season:

***

Rare goals like those are something of a red flag, at least for Devils fans who are getting too ahead of themselves. (Don’t place any reckless bets just yet.)

Still, the Devils might be onto something if they choose to evoke the Penguins, an organization that once employed GM Ray Shero and head coach John Hynes.

On paper, New Jersey has one of the worst defense corps in the league. They’ve added a slew of promising forwards, especially if they have rookies beyond the obvious in Nico Hischier. After a tough 2016-17, many also believe that Schneider can bounce back to his top-10 form, maybe placing the Devils in a spot where their goalie can clean up some mistakes.

So, if some of the anger from the Maple Leafs revolves around their perception of their opponent, that might be unfair. And, really, they might be a little too harsh on their efforts, overall.

Then again, maybe Babcock’s merely wise in trying to keep his team’s rising ambitions in check?

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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Devils expecting more from Taylor Hall this season

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Taylor Hall‘s first season with the New Jersey Devils could probably be described as a solid season. In 72 games he scored 20 goals, added 33 assists and posted some pretty good possession numbers. On a per-game average, it was very similar to what he did in his previous two years with the Edmonton Oilers.

Heading into his second season with the team, the Devils are looking for more this time around.

“I expect more and he knows that,” said general manager Ray Shero when the team opened training camp this week, via NHL.com. “We met at the end of the year for a long time and wanted him to understand what it is to become the best player he can be. I think he’s been fantastic this summer and he’s capable of more, but it starts with a lot of different things than what’s happening on the ice in terms of training.”

The Devils acquired Hall last summer in a one-for-one swap involving defenseman Adam Larsson, giving the Devils what should be the type of top-line winger they have been missing since Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left the organization several years ago. Hall is still only 26 years old and under contract for three more seasons at a reasonable $6 million per year salary cap hit. Given his age and contract status, he can still be a part of the next competitive team in New Jersey as it continues on its rebuild under Shero and coach John Hynes.

They have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since reaching the Stanley Cup Final during the 2011-12 season and are coming off of a 2016-17 season that saw them finish with the fourth-worst record in the league and what was, by a pretty big margin, the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

The team made a lot of moves this summer to get Hall some additional help front. After getting some luck in the draft lottery the Devils selected Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick, then also added Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle and Drew Stafford. They are also looking for young players like Pavel Zacha and Blake Speers to take big steps forward.

Devils dealing: New Jersey’s cap situation after Severson signing

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The New Jersey Devils have a long way to go, but it looks like they’re in pretty good hands with GM Ray Shero.

For casual fans, handing defenseman Damon Severson a six-year, $25 million contract was an eyebrow-raiser on Monday. The 23-year-old isn’t a household name, so a $4,166,666 stands as a scary (though delightfully Devils-themed) cap hit.

That deal might indeed raise some eyebrows, but maybe down the line, as Severson’s shown some very nice promise, particularly in 2016-17. If anything, there’s serious evidence that the Devils haven’t been relying on him enough.

It remains to be seen if the Devils can combine nice strides and baby steps to a leap in competition with enough speed to take advantage of the stronger parts of their roster. With that in mind, let’s break down New Jersey’s salary structure after Severson’s deal.

Masters of their trades

Opposing GMs don’t need to hit the red “Ignore” button when Shero’s caller ID comes up, but they might want to approach dealings cautiously in the future. Simply put, the Devils have been dealing well over the years, especially since Shero took over.

Taylor Hall – $6M through 2019-20.

If you’re looking for anti-Hall rhetoric, you’ve come to the wrong place.

He’s a superb first-line winger, and despite somehow being a lottery ball magnet, is still just 25. Here’s hoping that Hall gets a chance to show how fantastic he really is in games that matter before too long.

The beauty of his deal is that it’s fairly easy to move if the Devils and/or Hall believe that his best chance to compete would be to go somewhere else … while netting New Jersey some assets.

Kyle Palmieri – The Ducks must kick themselves for choosing other interesting forwards over Palmieri, who’s scored 26 and 30 goals during his two seasons for the Devils. He comes at the low-low price of $4.65M through 2020-21.

Check out how convoluted the asset situation was involving Palmieri, via Hockey Reference:

June 27, 2015: Traded to New Jersey by Anaheim for Florida’s 2nd round pick (previously acquired, later traded to NY Rangers – NY Rangers selected Ryan Gropp) in 2015 NHL Draft and Minnesota’s 3rd round pick (previously acquired, later traded to Buffalo, later traded to Nashville – Nashville selected Rem Pitlick) in 2016 NHL Draft.

*scratches head*

Marcus Johansson – $4.5833M for two seasons.

The Devils took advantage of the Capitals’ cap woes to lift a quality forward who comes at a reasonable price. “MarJo” could really drive up his value if New Jersey gives him a more prominent role.

Some concerns

Cory Schneider ($6M for five more seasons) was another nice trade get, even as the Vancouver Canucks have been very happy with Bo Horvat. Shero wasn’t GM at the time of the deal, so that’s part of the reason Schneider is in a different section.

The other: there’s a bit of concern here. Schneider’s frequently been downright fantastic, but 2016-17 was rough, and one has to worry at least a little bit that he might struggle more as time goes on. At age 31, it’s possible his best days are behind him.

Age could also be a worry for banged-up center Travis Zajac ($5.75M through 2020-21) and Andy Green ($5M for three more years), a blueliner who is used in heavy defensive situations. Ben Lovejoy and Brian Boyle seem like short-term placeholders with two years remaining on their respective deals.

Of course, the biggest concern for the Devils is also an obvious one: their defense.

Even with Severson being sneaky-good, that unit has a lot of room for improvement. Considering how sought-after defense is in the current NHL, it might not be so easy to make drastic changes to this group.

(If anyone can pull off some clever trades, it might be Shero, though.)

Young guns

The plus side of the Devils’ suffering is that they’ve been able to add some intriguing young talent. That’s most obvious in the Devils nabbing Nico Hischier in a rare moment: the Devils getting the top pick of a draft.

The key, then, will be development. Hischier might not be as much of a challenge, but can the Devils get the most out of Pavel Zacha and prized college free agent Will Butcher?

***

The Devils’ forwards group has taken some remarkable steps forward, to the point that the franchise may flip its identity in the near future as an offensively potent, defensively shaky group.

Of course, that’s under the assumption that management won’t have much luck bolstering the blueline.

This isn’t a perfect situation in New Jersey, but credit Shero for putting some impressive building blocks down for a team whose past perennial status made a rebuild challenging.

Zacha should be ready for big step forward for Devils

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

Ever since Ray Shero took over as the team’s general manager the New Jersey Devils have tried to add a lot of offensive punch to their lineup. They have traded for Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson. They signed Brian Boyle this summer. They drafted Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick this summer and are hoping that 2015 third-round pick Blake Speers can make the leap to the NHL on a full-time basis this season.

But their top pick in that 2015 class might be one of the most important players on the roster this season when it comes to whether or not the Devils can show significant signs of improvement in their rebuild. That pick, of course, was No. 6 overall selection Pavel Zacha.

After spending all but one game of his draft year back in the Ontario Hockey League playing for the Sarnia Sting, Zacha got his first full-time look in the NHL during the 2016-17 season and it was a bit of a mixed bag, something that is to be expected for a 19-year-old, especially one that bounced around between two different position — seeing time at both center and wing — and started the season recovering from a hip injury.

With just seven points in his first 37 games it was looking like his rookie season was going to be a bit of a disappointment.

He was able to salvage it in the second half, however, with a strong finish that saw him record a very respectable 17 points over the final 33 games. He also seemed to fit in more comfortably on the wing and took more of a shoot-first mentality with the puck, getting more shots on net as the season progressed. All of that is a good indication that he was starting to figure it out at the NHL level and could be poised for a big step forward in year two. He spent the offseason training in New Jersey working firsthand with the team’s trainers and coaches to help get there.

The Devils are going to need him to for a couple of reasons.

Not only because he is a top draft pick from just two years ago, making him a central part of the team’s ongoing rebuild, but also because of the injury suffered by Travis Zajac that is going to sideline him for at least four-to-six months. That is a pretty massive blow to an already thin Devils lineup. It’s not yet known where the Devils see Zacha on a full-time basis, but the center position was kind of turned upside down over the past couple of months with the additions of Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle along with the injury to Zajac. He played his best hockey last season on the wing, but they might have a need down the middle. No matter where he fits in the lineup if the Devils are going to become a better offensive team both now and in the future players like Zacha are going to have to play a key role in it.