Sonny Milano

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PHT Morning Skate: The biggest surprises in the NHL so far

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–Vegas Golden Knights players knew they’d be in for a unique experience heading into this year, but they could have never imagined that they’d be helping a city heal from a significant tragedy. “It’s special to be here and to try to rebuild this city,” said forward Reilly Smith. “We’re trying to be a team that this city can stand behind.” (Miami Herald)

–Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek scored his first two career NHL goals in last week’s game against the Penguins. His mom, Karen, may have given him the nudge he needed to start producing. (Tampa Bay Times)

–ESPN hockey writers make their selections for the biggest surprise of the 2017-18 season so far. Hint: There’s plenty of Leafs and Blackhawks love to go around here. (ESPN)

–The rivalry between Montreal and Toronto is still very alive, but it’s changed quite a bit. As Don Cherry points out, the Habs used to have the skill, while the Leafs used to be the ones to crash and bang. That isn’t exactly the case anymore. (NHL.com)

–Predators defenseman P.K. Subban has started the “P.K.’s Blueline Buddies Program” in Nashville this season. At every home game, he’ll host a member of the police department, an underprivileged youth and a few others. “I think it’s important for athletes to set a tone in a way that we’re looking to build bridges,” Subban said. “That doesn’t take away from anybody’s right to do what they want to do or how they want to exercise their rights as an American citizen, but I think it’s really important for us to be role models in terms of building bridges and being a part of the solution to social issues and different things that go on in our community.” (NHL.com/Predators)

Connor McDavid is already one of the fastest players in the NHL, but his skating coach, Joe Quinn, believes he can get even faster in the future. That should keep a lot of defensemen up at night. (The Hockey News)

–Former NHL goalie Ken Dryden has been looking at ways to prevent concussions in hockey. He wrote a new book about how concussions affected Steve Montador’s life and he also wrote this essay for the Globe and Mail. “It begins with a simple ripple – no hits to the head. This ripple then runs backward, getting bigger, until it becomes a wave. In today’s NHL, a stick to an opponent’s face is a penalty – automatic – no excuses. A puck shot into the crowd in a team’s defensive zone is the same, a penalty – automatic – no excuses. No big deal. Players adapt. The game goes on.” (Globe and Mail)

–USA Today took offence to a series of tweets the Golden Knights Twitter account posted prior to last night’s game against the Boston Bruins. USA Today suggested the tweets were loaded with “sexism”. (USA Today)

–Former NHL enforcer Shawn Thornton’s grandmother dealt with Parkinson’s disease until the day she died in 2008. Now, Thornton is doing his part to raise money for people affected by this dreaded disease. (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Columbus Blue Jackets have been patient with top prospect Sonny Milano. Now, he’s rewarded them with some stellar production early on this season. It looks like he’s finally arrived. (jacketscannon.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.

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Panarin sets franchise record in Blue Jackets debut

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One day after his former team put 10 goals on the board versus Pittsburgh, Artemi Panarin had a memorable game of his own in his regular season debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It wasn’t a hat trick of goals like the one Brandon Saad recorded on Thursday. Instead, Panarin had three assists, his first a nifty set up on Cam Atkinson‘s first goal of the season. The Blue Jackets jumped out to a big lead over the New York Islanders and cruised from there to a 5-0 win.

The victory also included Sonny Milano and Pierre-Luc Dubois scoring their first career NHL goals.

The Blue Jackets already had a group of young players that took a step forward last season by contending for the Metropolitan Division against Pittsburgh and the Washington Capitals. They set a new standard for the organization, setting franchise records in wins and points. The play of Sergei Bobrovsky in net played a significant role, too.

They added to their group this summer by acquiring Panarin from Chicago in a blockbuster that sent Saad back to the Blackhawks. In acquiring Panarin, Columbus received a 25-year-old forward with two impressive NHL seasons under his belt, as he reached at least 30 goals in each of those years with the Blackhawks.

He did so playing alongside Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, who has been a dangerous offensive player throughout junior and throughout his NHL career. That said, there seems to be suggestions that Panarin’s production was boosted by the fact he played as Kane’s linemate.

It’s a point that he has expressed anger toward. Who can blame him? After all, he scored 102 points combined over two seasons in the KHL before joining the Blackhawks and continued to put up good numbers in the NHL.

His time in Columbus is off to a good start. He showed chemistry with Atkinson, a 35-goal scorer last season, on the second goal. Breaking into the zone with speed, Panarin put a beautiful pass across the ice for Atkinson, who re-directed the puck in off his skate.

We’ve seen four hat tricks through the first two days of the new season, marking NHL history in the process.

No hat trick tonight for Panarin, but his three assists in his debut were enough to make Blue Jackets history. On the third night of the new NHL season, no less.

Butchered: Brandon Dubinsky chirps college free agent sweepstakes in NHL

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During these dog days of the hockey summer, small flourishes such as the rush to sign Will Butcher stand as welcome distractions. At least for some of us.

It sounds like Columbus Blue Jackets forward (and occasional bane of Sidney Crosby‘s existence) Brandon Dubinsky is not quite a fan of this process, even if he didn’t name Butcher or, say, Jimmy Vesey by name.

Dubinsky didn’t provide a solution, necessarily, but his tweet will inspire some of us to watch his first encounter with Butcher more intently.

Interesting. Dubinsky followed that tweet up with “I bet teams that make the draft pick would agree with me as well!”

While the process can be tricky, it’s important to note that not every situation is the same.

For every Vesey situation – i.e. the team who drafted a player showing interest in signing him – there are ones closer to Butcher, where the Colorado Avalanche weren’t pretty lukewarm toward handing him a deal.

Things get even messier and more convoluted when you go deeper into why there might be some jealousy toward players enjoying a slice of free agent life before their rookie shifts, as the question of sports drafts can become quite the labor debate. There’s almost a “divide and conquer” feel to Dubinsky griping about the Butchers of the world, and that stuff can get a little nauseating if you really dive into the rabbit hole.

Beyond that more serious stuff, it reminds of a more jovial Twitter moment during Dubinsky’s own contract negotiations, as former teammate Ryan Johansen rattled his cage in a charming way:

One other thought: how might Dubinsky’s teammates feel? It would be especially interesting to find out Sonny Milano‘s reaction considering the development decisions from his own past.

Anyway, sign us up for whenever Butcher and Dubinsky first meet on the ice. Maybe we can even get microphones on both of them?

Blue Jackets expected to pay big price to limit expansion draft damage

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The trade freeze for teams adjusting to the upcoming Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft is coming at 3 p.m. ET today, prompting some fans to wake up early. Some might be feeling anxious by a “lack of” deals … but the smoke might not really clear even on Saturday.

Potential Golden Knights fans would be wise to wait and see what GM George McPhee is cooking, as it sounds like he could command quite the ransom from teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Blue Jackets could pay a serious price to keep Vegas from taking a key player who they won’t be able to protect:

The Jackets are believed to be trading this year’s first-round draft pick (No. 24 overall) and a prospect (not Pierre-Luc Dubois or Sonny Milano) to Vegas for assurances that the Golden Knights will select either left wing Matt Calvert, center William Karlsson or defenseman Ryan Murray.

Vegas’ acquisition of the contract of injured veteran forward David Clarkson ($5.25 million salary cap hit) may also be part of the deal.

Ouch.

Portzline reports that the Blue Jackets would pay such a premium to make sure that the Golden Knights look past either a young player (Josh Anderson or Joonas Korpisalo) or an experienced blueliner such as Jack Johnson or David Savard.

Too much or a justified expense?

Let’s take a step back for a second and ponder some of the names involved.

There’s no denying that Ryan Murray has experienced a bumpy climb to the NHL, one made exponentially tougher by a staggering array of early injuries. Still, if you’re the type of person who has even a passing interest in possession stats, it’s tough to digest the idea that Jack Johnson would cost the Blue Jackets Murray.

Granted, there are key notes. Getting rid of David Clarkson’s albatross contract in a potential trade certainly sounds refreshing. And, while there’s sticker shock involved with a first-rounder being thrown in a potential trade, at least it’s the 24th pick in a widely panned draft.

Ultimately, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen must ask himself an obvious-yet-difficult question: is it all really worth it?

We won’t need to wait long to learn his response.

Columbus, armed with No. 3 pick, has ‘at least a hundred reports’ on Laine, Puljujarvi

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Everybody was talking about the two big winners from Saturday’s draft lottery — Toronto, which won the No. 1 pick and Winnipeg, which made the biggest move up and finished with the second overall selection.

There was a third team that had itself a good draft lottery, too. Columbus came into the night holding the No. 4 spot, with the possibility of dropping as low as No. 7.

So it came as welcome news when the Blue Jackets moved up one spot — to No. 3.

“It’s a good draft, and we moved up one spot,” Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said, per the Dispatch. “That’s much better than it could have been. Much better. It’s really good. We’re happy to move up, period.”

Getting into the top three was crucial because, as draftniks have espoused over the last few weeks, there’s a definitive upper echelon of this draft comprised of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.

All three are predicted to be impact players and in the NHL next season.

For Kekalainen and the Jackets, this is welcome news. Though the club would ideally like to land a quality young center — remember, Columbus dealt away Ryan Johansen in the Seth Jones deal — it is more than happy to add a talented winger.

Puljujarvi and/or Laine would compliment the club’s existing stable of young talent on the wings — Brandon Saad, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano, Kerby Rychel — and, possibly allow Kekalainen to address the lack of depth at center by trading one of his veteran forwards.

(Right now, Columbus is looking at Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner and Alex Wenneberg down the middle.)

Whatever the case, though, this much is clear — Kekalainen is excited about the possibility of adding a fellow Finn to the organization. To say Columbus has done its homework on both Laine and Puljujarvi would be a big understatement, as Keklainen quipped Blue Jackets scouts have filed “at least a hundred reports on each of them.”

“They’ve been on the radar a long time,” he said.