Samuel Girard

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Lightning’s Koekkoek, Predators’ Girard shine on night of firsts

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Maybe Thursday will see other patterns form, but one theme is young NHL defensemen scoring their first goals, and in many ways helping their teams secure wins.

Samuel Girard, 19, is already distinguishing himself with a Nashville Predators team suffering from some problematic injuries on defense. (That situation might get worse if Yannick Weber misses extended time thanks to this hit by Dallas Stars center Martin Hanzal.)

Girard already had an assist in his debut, but Thursday was a real treat as his family was on hand; Girard scored the game-tying goal and picked up a primary helper on the game-winner as the Predators beat the Dallas Stars 4-1.

P.K. Subban looked almost as excited as Girard on that goal:

Girard isn’t a slam-dunk for “best night for a defenseman who scored his first goal,” though.

Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Slater Koekkoek didn’t just score the first goal of his NHL career, he actually scored two. This was the second, which ended up being the game-winner as the Bolts edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4:

Koekkoek, 23, had gone 42 regular-season games (and 10 playoff contests) without scoring that first tally, so this burst stands as a positive sign for Tampa Bay.

Finally, Ian McCoshen factored into the Florida Panthers’ 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues with his first-ever NHL goal. McCoshen, 22, got to this spot in his sixth contest at the NHL level:

Yep, this has been a pretty good night of firsts for NHL blueliners. If there are any more of note, this post will be updated.

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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Video: Martin Hanzal gets major for hit to head of Yannick Weber

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The Nashville Predators were able to storm back and claim a win in their home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers, but generally speaking, it feels like the 2017 Stanley Cup finalists are sleepwalking early in 2017-18.

Naturally, it doesn’t help that Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi are missing time. Those two defensemen would surely help the Predators in the transition game.

They might have lost another guy with some offensive skill on Thursday, as Yannick Weber was shaken up by a hit to the head by mountainous Dallas Stars center Martin Hanzal. Hanzal was not ejected from the game, however.

You can watch that hit, which drew an interference major, in the video above. Here it is in GIF form, too:

There are number of factors here.

Weber was clearly hit in the head, but was also reaching and there’s a significant size disparity in play. Perhaps those factors helped Hanzal avoid a game misconduct?

Opinions on the hit are divided, with some wanting an ejection:

And others wondering if it was a clean hit:

Plenty fall somewhere in the middle:

Either way, the absence of valuable defensemen was felt on that five-minute power play, as the Predators had trouble getting set on the man advantage. One of the better chances came for Dallas shorthanded.

To turn the knife in a bit, Jamie Benn scored the first period’s only goal on the power play.

Seeing Weber shaken up didn’t provide a wakeup call for the Predators. Maybe Peter Laviolette yelling at them regarding a poor power play might get them back on track?

Update: Maybe another Predators defenseman will emerge in this time of need? Samuel Girard, 19, scored the first NHL goal of his career and added an assist as Nashville turned things around for a 4-1 win.

More on that here.

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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Sabres demote Alex Nylander; Kyle Connor can’t make Jets cut

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Teams need to get their rosters ready for the 2017-18 season, which means some key prospects will need to go to junior or the AHL.

Let’s address some of the bigger names that don’t qualify as players on waivers or worse.

Alex Nylander and Sean Malone were sent down to the AHL on Tuesday.

Nylander, 19, did fine in the AHL in 2016-17, but he didn’t exactly dominate. He managed a modest 10 goals and 28 points in 65 games. That points total ranked him seventh on the Rochester Americans last season. Simply put, it doesn’t seem like he’s on the same accelerated pace as his brother William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Looking to make the leap: Alex Nylander

And that’s OK. The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington points out that Nylander was injured during training camp, robbing him of a full opportunity to make an impression:

Nylander, in particular, lost out at a chance to make the club out of camp with the injury. Last year’s No. 1 pick looked strong at summer development camp but never got into competition for one of the open slots on the wing.

Opinion: in the long run, the Sabres and Nylander may be better off with this slow-and-steady approach.

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The bigger surprise might be that Kyle Connor was unable to make the Winnipeg Jets.

Looking to make the leap: Kyle Connor

Connor, 20, believed that he really made some progress late last season, progress he thought might carry over into NHL work this coming season. Connor believed that a demotion to the AHL would do him good, as he told NHL.com.

“You have to experience it,” Connor said back in August. “Once I moved down [to Manitoba], it was a bit upsetting, of course, and it took a couple of games more than I wanted to adjust. But once I did, I worked with the staff really well and the stuff they wanted me to implement into my game. I thought that made a huge difference, and you could see it toward the end of my season.”

Connor played in 20 games with Winnipeg last season, so they already burned a year off of his entry-level contract.

On one hand, the Jets have some serious firepower at the top of their order. If the belief is that he wouldn’t have much use unless placed in a prominent role, then that would make some sense.

Still, injuries happen, and the Jets could certainly use more pop down their order. The young forward has to feel pretty disappointed.

Connor and Nylander rank among the bigger surprises (or partial surprises), but there were other notable players who couldn’t make the cut on Tuesday. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, demoted Timothy Liljegren.

On the other hand, Nolan Patrick and others did make the leap, in some cases earlier than expected. Add Samuel Girard of the Nashville Predators to that group: