Cam Tucker

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Hischier ‘played his way’ into top-six role with Devils

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First overall pick Nico Hischier has continued to impress through the preseason.

His offensive totals certainly stand out. Four goals in four games, including this “tenacious” goal in his debut. He has seven points during the preseason, as well.

It’s not the regular season, but it should provide the Devils and their fans with some optimism heading into next week and for the years ahead, especially given how difficult it’s been for New Jersey to score goals over the past few years.

Additions like Taylor Hall last summer and Marcus Johansson this summer should also help. At No. 1 overall in June, the Devils added another key piece to their future with the selection of Hischier. At age 18, his play this month has stood out to the coaching staff, so much so that, according to reports, he appears to be in line for a top-six role.

“I think he’s played his way and earned his way into that role,” said Devils coach John Hynes, per NorthJersey.com. “We didn’t start him there but he played his way into that. I think he’s done a nice job.”

Not only has Hischier been productive throughout the exhibition schedule, he’s been able to prove himself on special teams, too, while approaching almost 19 minutes of ice time in his second preseason clash last week against Montreal.

“You can just see it. Even at the start of training camp, you could see from practice to practice, he’s just feeling more comfortable and tonight was another great night for us,” Hall said of Hischier following Wednesday’s game, per NJ.com. “Just like our team, he’s got to carry some confidence into the regular season. That was a pretty close to an NHL lineup tonight, and he played very well. That’s huge for our team.”

Agent: Jaromir Jagr currently talking with three NHL teams

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Another interesting development in the Jaromir Jagr situation.

Among the options for the 45-year-old unrestricted free agent forward this season is playing in the Czech Republic, which could mean a chance to compete for his country in the 2018 Olympics.

However, with the beginning of the regular season just a few days away, it appears there is still interest from teams in the NHL.

From NHL.com:

He had said he would play Saturday for Rytiri Kladno, a second-tier team he owns. After practice Friday, he said he is waiting to see how discussions with NHL clubs turn out before he plays with the Czech club.

“I won’t play for Kladno because there are still some negotiations in the NHL. Those teams don’t want me to play here and I have to respect that,” Jagr said, according to iDNES.cz.

Of course, fans would love to see Jagr back in the NHL. Despite inching closer to 50 years of age, Jagr was still productive last season (16 goals, 46 points in 82 games) while playing during a time in which there is so much emphasis on youth and speed.

There were rumors this summer that the Calgary Flames may have had interest in him. More recently, the St. Louis Blues have “talked about” Jagr.

Stay tuned. . .

Welcome James van Riemsdyk to the trade rumor mill

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The Toronto Maple Leafs made it to the playoffs last season, which has increased expectations around this young core group heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

That said, they could have interesting decisions ahead of them when it comes to some of their veteran forwards on expiring contracts. James van Riemsdyk would sit atop that list.

The contributions of Toronto’s youthful players — Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner headline that list — was a major storyline all throughout last season, as the Maple Leafs qualified for the playoffs.

It isn’t forgotten, however, that the 28-year-old van Riemsdyk scored 29 goals and a career-best 62 points last season. Though Darren Dreger of TSN pointed out that he feels van Riemsdyk can still be better, especially when it comes to consistently using his speed and size to drive the net.

Van Riemsdyk now enters the final year of a six-year, $25.5 million contract and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Per CapFriendly, that contract includes a modified no-trade clause.

From Darren Dreger of TSN:

“I’m not predicting that JVR is the likely candidate to get traded, when you look at the potential three unrestricted free agents in (Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak) and JVR, but I think that there would be teams out there that would pay more for JVR based on exactly what we just said.

“Every coach is arrogant enough to think, and general managers fit into this as well — how many times have you seen the reclamation projects? Where a team will sign a player as a free agent and you’ll go, ‘Really? Like honestly? What do they see that we’re not seeing?’ Well, it’s exactly that. It’s the coach who thinks he can finally be the missing link to pull out something out of that player. There’s not a lot to have to do with JVR, but if you can push him up to that next level … man, you’ve got a horse. Because of that, maybe he is the obvious trade target as the season unwinds because people pay a premium for him.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time van Riemsdyk has been mentioned as a possible trade target. Even last season, there were rumors that he ultimately had to address.

He was doing the same thing before training camp earlier this month, too.

“That’s stuff you can’t worry about as a player,” van Riemsdyk told the Toronto Star. “It’s out of your control. I just want to go out there, play, and be a productive member of the team, and hopefully the rest of it figures itself out.”

Wild release Ryan Malone from PTO

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The Minnesota Wild made roster moves Friday, sending prospect defenseman Carson Soucy to the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild and releasing Ryan Malone from his PTO.

Now 37 years old, Malone hadn’t played an NHL regular season game since 2014-15, after off-ice issues in 2014 while a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even his time with the New York Rangers in 2014-15 was limited to just six games.

Getting a tryout from the Wild was counted among the surprise developments of the summer offseason, with the announcement coming at the end of August.

Malone will now continue with an AHL tryout in Iowa.

If he’s able to sign an AHL contract, that would make him eligible to play for the U.S. Olympic team at the 2018 Games in South Korea. According to a Michael Russo report at the beginning of this month, the veteran forward has had discussions with Team USA officials.

Luongo pushes through ‘mental, physical grind’ in comeback from hip injury

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Roberto Luongo is back, taking part in the preseason for the Florida Panthers, in preparation for when the games begin to count in the standings.

However, his latest comments suggest he didn’t know if that would indeed be the case, after suffering a hip injury that resulted in surgery following the 2015-16 season and then shut him down in March last season.

“For a good two- to three-month period it was a battle mentally to just figure out if I could be able to ever come back,” Luongo told NHL.com. “I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was constantly bothering me, so it was as much a mental grind as a physical grind from March until almost June if I could ever fully recover and feel good on the ice.”

Luongo is now 38 years old and the rigorous demands of playing that position for more than 960 career regular season games — not to mention playoffs or international duty — can surely take a toll on the body. The Panthers have a good tandem in net with Luongo and James Reimer, but what will be intriguing as the season progresses is how head coach Bob Boughner divvies up playing time between the two, with Luongo appearing to be healthier and as Florida looks to get back into the postseason.

The past several weeks, though, have been encouraging for Luongo. He returned to the ice well ahead of training camp and gave an optimistic report, saying there weren’t “any issues.” That was just over a month ago. He stopped all eight shots he faced during 31:26 of ice time in his preseason debut last week, which was a good start.