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‘I’m not too stressed’ about contract situation, says RFA Wennberg

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The Columbus Blue Jackets reportedly started talking contract extension with Alexander Wennberg in late March. Almost five months later, Wennberg is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

A restricted free agent, the 22-year-old center completed his entry-level deal with an annual average value of $1.4 million at the end of the 2016-17 season. He enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Blue Jackets, setting single-season career highs in games played (80), goals (13), assists (46) and points (59).

With training camp approaching next month, Columbus still has two prominent RFAs to get under contract. In addition to Wennberg, the Blue Jackets also have to re-sign 23-year-old winger Josh Anderson.

Wennberg apparently doesn’t seem too worried about the situation right now, based on an interview with NHL.com.

“Eventually it’s going to work out,” he said. “Even though I have to wait a little longer than expected, that’s a part of it. But you can’t really let that get to your head. Right now, I’m focusing on training and focusing on [this] season and it’s going to work out. Time will tell. I’m not too stressed out about it either.”

Wennberg’s performance this past season, as Columbus looked to fill the void in the middle without Ryan Johansen, earned high praise from coach John Tortorella, who called his young center “probably one of our best play-makers.”

Given his production, Wennberg is due for a raise. The more intriguing detail will be the length — long term, or bridge deal — of the contract.

“There’s always different ways to discuss,” he said. “Long-term, short-term. But right now, we’re just trying to feel each other out a little bit and see what the other [side] wants. Obviously long-term is a good option, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Lundqvist back skating after knee injury at World Championships

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Good news for the New York Rangers on Thursday.

After suffering a knee injury playing for Sweden at the 2017 IIHF World Championships following the Rangers’ exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Henrik Lundqvist has revealed to NHL.com that he has returned to the ice ahead of training camp next month.

It was initially reported that the injury would come with a rehab period of four to six weeks.

“I’ve been skating a few times now and I feel good,” Lundqvist told NHL.com.

“Obviously, I have some work ahead of me, but it’s a similar feeling. … When you step on the ice, that’s the time for me when I really ramp it up and increase the workload, and I enjoy that.”

Lundqvist turned 35 years old in March and is coming off an up-and-down 2016-17 campaign with the Rangers. He played in 57 games and posted a save percentage of .910, which is down from his career average of .920.

He has four more years remaining on his seven-year, $59.5 million contract that has an annual cap hit of $8.5 million.

Oilers sign first-round pick Yamamoto to entry-level deal

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The Edmonton Oilers secured 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto to a three-year entry-level contract.

The team announced the deal Thursday.

Yamamoto may be considered undersized at 5-foot-8 and 153 pounds — a fact general manager Peter Chiarelli has acknowledged.

But the 18-year-0ld right winger has done nothing but light up the Western Hockey League as a member of the Spokane Chiefs these past three seasons.

Two years ago, he scored 23 goals and 57 points with the Chiefs. In his draft year, he increased those totals to 42 goals and 99 points. Those are impressive numbers in junior, and there have been a number of smaller-in-stature players (like Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary) that have not only shown they belong in the NHL, but they’ve dominated with their skill.

From Sportsnet:

He is small, but he’s strong and has tremendous heart and skill. We saw him a lot, and he didn’t disappoint,” said Chiarelli, who took Yamamoto to dinner with a few Oilers front office folks on Wednesday.

Chiarelli asked him, “Why should we draft you?” and loved the kid’s answer.

“That’s a standard question you ask, and I’ve never really heard this answer,” the GM laughed. “He said, ‘Because (if you don’t) I’m going to come back and haunt you.’ He’s a pretty confident kid, and he backs it up with his play.”

Yamamoto recently skated for Team USA at the World Junior Summer Showcase.

With the summer ticking away, Jagr remains hopeful he’ll sign in the NHL

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We’re approaching the middle of August, and Jaromir Jagr is still looking for work in the NHL.

The 45-year-old forward is an unrestricted free agent, on the market after the Florida Panthers decided not to re-sign him. In an interview with NHL.com, Jagr said a couple of NHL teams have shown interest but “nothing specific yet.”

He also suggested he could play in the Czech Republic this season.

“Most important for me is to see some serious interest from the team. Because the more serious it is, the bigger the chance to get a better role on the team,” said Jagr.

“And then it’s on me how I would use that chance. Right now, I need to be ready when the opportunity comes. That’s all I need to take care of now; taking care of anything else doesn’t make sense.”

Today’s NHL emphasizes youth and speed. Jagr will celebrate his 46th birthday in February. Yet, despite his age and the fact he’s played more than 1,700 NHL regular season games, he has remained a productive player with 16 goals and 46 points last season in Florida.

Read more: Should the Panthers have re-signed Jagr?

The speed may not be there. But 46 points is nothing to scoff at, especially for a player getting closer to 50 years of age than 40. It’s a good bet many hockey fans would love to see him return to the NHL for at least one more season. The big hurdle is, of course, finding a general manager willing to take on a player of that age with declining speed, especially if they have younger, quicker prospect wingers looking to make the jump to the NHL, or from a bottom-six role to a top-six role.

He may still be a good fit for a potential contender looking to add a productive forward for a playoff run.

The Vegas Golden Knights likely aren’t going to contend for a championship in 2018, but they have been discussed a few times as a potential fit for Jagr — at least in theory. Adding Jagr would be a great way to market the expansion team. Sell some seats. Bring fans out to see this seemingly ageless wonder that also happens to have the second most points (1,914) in NHL history behind only Wayne Gretzky. In addition to selling the team further in that market, he could still be a productive forward and the Golden Knights have about $5.6 million remaining in cap space.

There has been speculation about what kind of fit Jagr would be with Calgary Flames. Their moves this summer would suggest the Flames believe they’re entering a window to win now. They were in the middle of the pack in scoring goals last season, and perhaps Jagr could help in that area. With 11 forwards signed on their roster right now, they have about $7.1 million in cap space.

There was similar speculation maybe Montreal and New Jersey could be fits, too.

It seems fans would love to have Jagr back. The youth have taken over the NHL game, which is great because hockey has never been quicker. That’s what makes watching someone who is 45 years old and still productive so enjoyable.

But ultimately the decision lies with the general managers across the league.

Blackhawks need a push from young forwards Hartman, Schmaltz

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This post is part of Blackhawks Day on PHT…

The Chicago Blackhawks got an injection of youth into their group of forwards last season, with Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman cracking the roster out of training camp.

Having prospects challenging for and earning roster spots is critical for every team across the league, especially with the speed of today’s game.

The Blackhawks have three Stanley Cup championships since 2010, all won with a core group of players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

But that group, which hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2015, is getting older, which highlights Chicago’s need for its young players like Schmaltz and Hartman to further their offensive contributions this upcoming season and beyond, and for someone like Alex DeBrincat to show well at camp and perhaps earn a spot in the NHL.

There is added pressure on a player like Toews heading into next season, after the lowest goal total of his career. How will Patrick Sharp perform back with this group at age 35? The Blackhawks also won’t have Marian Hossa, which, despite his age, is a huge loss.

That should highlight the need for Hartman, 22, and Schmaltz, 21, to take another step forward in their development.

In 76 games, Hartman had a nice 19-goal, 31-point campaign, his first full season in the NHL. His production dried up in the playoffs, though in fairness to him, the Blackhawks as a team were ultimately outmatched as Pekka Rinne played sensational in goal for Nashville and the Predators completed the sweep.

The 20th overall pick in 2014, Schmaltz played in 61 games for Chicago. His season included a stint in Rockford, where he had a productive six goals and nine points in 12 games before getting recalled to the NHL.

From the time of his recall until the end of the regular season, Schmaltz was able to put together a couple of extended hot streaks, with 12 points in nine games during a stretch from Feb. 8 to March 1, and seven points in six games from March 19-29. Again, Chicago’s brief time in the playoffs was a struggle and Schmaltz wasn’t immune.

There was a point late in the season, however, when coach Joel Quenneville believed Schmaltz made the proper steps forward. Of note, Quenneville has the option of using Schmaltz either on the wing or up the middle, he said earlier this summer.

“There’s definitely a learning curve when you first come into the NHL. Expectations are higher for some guys than others. But him getting down and getting some games [in Rockford], getting more confident offensively and with the puck, he added a little pace and another dimension to his game, we like how he’s playing during this recent stretch,” Quenneville told CSN Chicago.

“We like how he’s handled himself in a situation where, as the season’s gone on here, he’s gone to a different level.”

It would be one less thing for the Blackhawks to worry about if Schmaltz and Hartman took their games to a different level beginning in October.