Cam Tucker

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

Benning: ‘In a perfect world,’ Canucks would like to take a D-man in first round

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The Vancouver Canucks are a curious case.

They’re in a playoff race, mostly because of a weakened Pacific Division, but it seems highly unlikely they could catch lightning in a bottle and make a run of any substance toward the Stanley Cup — if they get into the postseason at all.

Adding intrigue to their plight — trying to remain competitive while introducing younger players into the NHL roster — is the fact their blue line could use a significant upgrade.

Outside of their top three defensemen — Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and rookie Ben Hutton, who has been a pleasant surprise to this point in the season — there are question marks.

Matt Bartkowski, Alex Biega, Yannick Weber and Dan Hamhuis, currently on his way back from numerous facial fractures, are all pending unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.

Luca Sbisa was injured through December into January, and has the second lowest Corsi For percentage (42.2) on the team.

On the farm, they’ve got Jordan Subban — who has 23 points in 35 games — and Andrey Pedan and Ashton Sautner, who have all shown potential.

But there isn’t anyone on their team or in the system that stands out as that rare game-breaking defenseman, like an Aaron Ekblad, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban or Duncan Keith.

A higher pick at the 2016 draft could help that.

Not since 2005 have the Canucks taken a defenseman in the first round, according to their draft history on hockeydb.com. That year, they selected Luc Bourdon, whose life ended tragically at the age of 21.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning was a keen observer during Thursday’s Top Prospects Game in Vancouver, and as he told Sportsnet during the intermission, he had his eye on defensemen.

The event featured touted junior defensemen Jakob Chychrun, the second-ranked North American skater and a potential top-five pick, Olli Juolevi, who had nine assists in seven games for Finland at the world juniors, and Mikhail Sergachev, the 10th-ranked North American skater.

“I like our forward depth. I’m looking at defensemen tonight. I’ve got my eye on four or five D-men,” Benning told Sportsnet.

“We’re going to take the best player in the first round, but in a perfect world, we’d like to take a D-man.

“Our philosophy is we’re always going to take the best player in the first round. We’ll figure out the position, but having said that, the last little while we’ve taken a lot of forwards.

“We’ve got good forward depth. We’ve got to start building up our defensemen depth. But if it doesn’t happen in the first round, we’ll look to the other rounds to add D-men.”

Also of interest: He believes, as per his chat on Sportsnet, there will be a drop off right around the 15th pick, with the players going before that as those who could develop into top-six forwards or top-four defensemen.

Don Cherry: Wideman was ‘stunned’ before he hit linesman Don Henderson

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Don Cherry has weighed in on the Dennis Wideman controversy.

Wideman was suspended indefinitely after he knocked over linesman Don Henderson during a game between the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators on Wednesday.

The Flames’ veteran defenseman maintained afterward that the contact — what certainly looked like a cross checking motion — with Henderson wasn’t intentional. The incident occurred seconds after Wideman was hit hard into the boards, leaving him to struggle to his skates and make his way slowly to his bench.

“What happened was he was stunned,” Cherry told reporters in Vancouver after the CHL Top Prospects Game.

“That was a pretty good hit in the corner. He looked up and he saw somebody coming at him. He was just ticked off. I don’t think he thought it was the (linesman). He just saw a body coming at him.

“That’s too bad. He’ll probably get some games because you can’t touch an official. He’s never really done anything like that before.”

Crosby isn’t playing in Nashville this weekend, but he’s on a roll for the Penguins

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Sidney Crosby not taking part in an All-Star Game is really nothing new, and there are a variety of reasons — mainly injuries, Olympics — as to why.

Even if he was left off the 2016 All-Star Game roster for the Metropolitan Division, not being at this event is nothing out of the ordinary.

But what was out of the ordinary was the start to this season the 28-year-old Crosby endured.

He went five games without a point to begin this season. He also failed to produce a point in eight of the first nine games of the season. And yes, that was unusual for someone who when healthy is among the most dominant in the game and a five-time 100-plus point player.

But since Dec. 16, he’s been on a torrid pace.

“I think with the start I had, that was motivation enough,” Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I don’t really see (the All-Star game voting) as a big factor.”

In the last 17 games, Crosby has been held off the score sheet only three times. In this recent span, he’s also put up eight multi-point games.

And after all the Penguins and Crosby have been through this season — the firing of coach Mike Johnston and added levels of frustration among teammates — they’ve entered the All-Star break with a three-game winning streak and a Wild Card spot.

 

 

Leafs prospect Nylander set to return to Marlies lineup after concussion … and appendicitis

More than a month after his last American Hockey League game, Toronto Maple Leafs prospects William Nylander is set to make his return to the Marlies lineup versus the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday.

Nylander, selected eighth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, last suited up for the Marlies on Dec. 18.

He suffered a concussion while playing for Sweden at the world juniors. And, as he revealed to Marlies broadcaster Todd Crocker, Nylander also dealt with a bout of appendicitis after completing the concussion protocol.

“I’m really excited. Been a month off on vacation, so I mean I’m ready to get back at it,” Nylander told Marlies TV prior to Friday’s game in Grand Rapids.

“I went through concussion protocol and that went by pretty quickly. Once I started to get back on the ice, was on the ice for a week, I basically came back … and had appendicitis. Then I was out for a couple of days, they gave me antibiotics and stuff, so it’s been a little of a delay with the return.”

The Marlies also play Saturday at home against the Binghamton Senators.

In 27 games with the Marlies this season, Nylander has 14 goals and 34 points.

Patrick Kane is ‘disappointed’ Toews has to miss first game back from All-Star break

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The Chicago Blackhawks play the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 2, following the All-Star break, however they will be without captain Jonathan Toews.

And that doesn’t please Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who is in Nashville for the 2016 All-Star Game this weekend.

“It’s disappointing,” Kane told the Chicago Tribune.

“I’m not really sure the rules of it or why that happens. Hopefully he can get better as soon as possible and definitely be ready for that game after. You look at our lineup and he’s a huge piece. We’ll definitely miss him for that game so hopefully some players can step up and it’ll be an important game coming back off the trip.”

Toews is missing the event in Nashville due to illness, which forced him to miss the entire third period against Carolina on Tuesday in what was his team’s final game before the break.

As a result of Toews forgoing the All-Star weekend, he is required to sit out his team’s first game after the break, which is on the road versus the Avalanche.

It’s an important Central Division game for both teams, too.

The Blackhawks have a three-point lead over the Dallas Stars in that division, but the Stars have three games in hand.

The Avalanche hold the top Wild Card spot in the West, but are only a point up on the suddenly red-hot Nashville Predators, winners of four straight, and two up on the Minnesota Wild.

The Predators also have two games in hand on Colorado, while the Wild have three.

With 30 games remaining in its schedule, Colorado is seven points back of St. Louis for third in the Central.