Cam Tucker

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Acquiring Johansen was a ‘turning point’ for Predators

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The Nashville Predators secured Ryan Johansen to a long-term deal Friday. But it was in January of 2016 that the franchise made a drastic change by parting ways with a talented defensive prospect to acquire a young, elite center.

Originally selected fourth overall by Nashville in 2013, Seth Jones enjoyed a breakout 2016-17 season with 12 goals and 42 points. He did so as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, having been the key piece leaving Nashville the year before when Predators general manager David Poile went after Johansen.

That move has benefited Columbus, which will look to build on a franchise record-setting season. But the Predators have emerged as a formidable yet still up-and-coming team in the Western Conference.

The play of their top four defensemen, especially during their run to the Stanley Cup Final, was widely praised. So, too, was the performance of goalie Pekka Rinne. Nashville also boasts a top line of Johansen, Filip Forsberg, who has back-to-back 30-goal seasons, and Viktor Arvidsson, who recently cashed in on his 31-goal breakout regular season.

That trio not only had great bottom line production last season, but they dominated possession, too, with Corsi For ratings all above 55 per cent together at five-on-five. Johansen is the oldest of the three, as he will celebrate his 25th birthday on Monday.

They are all locked into long-term deals, with age still on their side.

“A year and a half ago, we made a deal with Columbus to pick up Ryan, and I think everyone would agree that was somewhat of… a turning point in our franchise,” Poile told the Predators website.

“In [these contract] negotiations, his agent used a line that ‘Ryan’s a driver of our team,’ and I totally concur with that. I really feel in these next eight years, we’re going to do really well, and when we do really well, Ryan Johansen’s going to be a big, big factor in all of our winning.”

After making it to Game 7 of the second round in 2016, the Predators advanced to the Stanley Cup Final as a wild card team in 2017. Johansen was unable to play in the championship series due to postseason-ending surgery he had following an acute compartment syndrome diagnosis during the Western Conference Final.

Per Adam Vingan of The Tennessean, Johansen is expected to be ready to participate in full when training camp opens in September.

Johnson ‘chomping at the bit’ after Blue Jackets’ franchise-record regular season

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The accolades came rolling in for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.

Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie, after his sensational 2016-17 campaign that included a .931 save percentage in 63 starts, which was a big reason for his team’s overall success.

— John Tortorella went from being the coach favored to be fired first to the coach of the year.

Individual awards were the result of a franchise record-setting season with 50 wins and 108 points, as the Blue Jackets qualified for the playoffs in a hyper competitive Metropolitan Division. But a great regular season gave way to a quick postseason appearance as Columbus was dispatched by the Penguins in the opening round, which doesn’t sit well with veteran defenseman Jack Johnson.

“Success is a relative term too, because we had a great regular season, no question, but we still lost in game five of the first round, so it’s not enough,” Johnson said in a Q&A on the club’s website.

“I want to win. I just finished my 10th year, and my 11th year I want to win. I hope every guy is taking the summer seriously, training and getting ready because whether you finished first in the regular season or snuck into the playoffs, if you lose in game five of the first round that’s just not enough. So I’m definitely chomping at the bit, excited for next season because I’m excited every year.”

His comments echo a message from Tortorella earlier this summer. In the coach’s words, the Blue Jackets were able to set a foundation. Now, it’s about taking that next step in contending for the Eastern Conference.

Gone from the Blue Jackets lineup is Sam Gagner, who had a nice bounce-back season with 18 goals and 50 points — 18 of which were on the power play — while playing on a one-year deal at a very affordable $650,000. He then turned last season’s production into a three-year contract, worth a total of $9.45 million, with the Canucks.

The Blue Jackets also bid farewell to Brandon Saad, who was traded back to Chicago in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

Draft eligible in 2018, Brady Tkachuk ‘makes something happen on almost every shift’

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The World Junior Summer Showcase is underway. A number of names stand out on USA Hockey’s roster, including forward Brady Tkachuk.

The hockey lineage in his family is where it all starts. He’s the younger brother of Flames pesky rookie forward Matthew Tkachuk and the son of Keith Tkachuk, who played 1,201 NHL games with 1,065 points.

Brady, however, is only 17 years old. He’s draft eligible in 2018 and already listed as the No. 4-ranked prospect for next year’s class by HockeyProspect.com. Size on the wing is one thing that immediately stands out, with Tkachuk standing at 6-foot-2 tall and 194 pounds.

He also had 25 goals and 54 points in 61 games this past year with the U.S. National U-18 team, and seven points in seven games for Team USA’s gold-medal winning squad at this year’s IIHF U-18 Men’s World Championship.

“Makes something happen on almost every shift with an excellent compete level,” David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting told NHL.com. He has very good hockey sense and thinks steps ahead of the play, especially on the offensive attack. He is tough to play against and is willing to go to the tough areas to make a play.”

Tough to play against is one way to describe the style of his older brother in his first year with the Flames.

Matthew Tkachuk was certainly productive with 13 goals and 48 points in 76 regular season games after making the NHL as a teenager last fall, but he also got under the opposition’s skin and found himself in trouble with the league’s Department of Player Safety for an elbow on Drew Doughty, who then called Tkachuk “a pretty dirty” player following the incident.

A productive power forward with size and an edge would be tantalizing for many teams in the league when Brady Tkachuk becomes available at next year’s draft.

Next season, he will develop his game further at Boston University.

As for the Summer Showcase, Team USA White will play Finland today (1 p.m. ET). Team USA Blue will play Sweden immediately afterward.

Fleury celebrates Stanley Cup day as a Penguin, but admits he’s ready to move on

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Marc-Andre Fleury celebrated his day with the Stanley Cup on Saturday.

His time in Pittsburgh has already come to an official end, having been selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. He’s already said ‘thank-you’ to the fans of Pittsburgh, but the events of this weekend, in his mind it seems, close the chapter for good on this stage of his career.

“I think this was my last day as a Penguin, I would say,” Fleury told NHL.com.

“I have members of my family who had their Penguins hats who told me this was the last time those will come out. So I think after today, I can turn the page and get ready for Vegas.”

The former first overall pick captured three Stanley Cup rings with the Penguins. While he wasn’t the No. 1 goalie last year — or in the 2017 final, either — he played a significant role in Pittsburgh’s success through the first half of this year’s playoff before Matt Murray returned from injury.

He earned praise for how he handled the situation toward the end in Pittsburgh. After the final, reports surfaced he had agreed to waive his no-movement clause, which left him exposed in the expansion draft.

At age 32, he still has two more years left on his current contract, with an annual cap hit of $5.75 million. He’ll no doubt garner plenty of attention this upcoming season as the experienced starter on the Golden Knights’ roster.

But Saturday was for Fleury to enjoy one last championship won with the Penguins.

Hall urges Hischier to ‘develop at his own pace’

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The New Jersey Devils won the lottery and selected Nico Hischier first overall. With that comes even greater expectations on the player heading into their first training camp.

We’re less than two months away from the opening of training camps across the league.

But on a team that has worked this summer to bolster its offense, the addition of the 18-year-old Hischier could have an immediate impact in that department in October. Certainly, fans in New Jersey will hope so.

Taylor Hall knows all about the pressures of being taken first overall.

The Oilers selected him at that spot in 2010, but dealt him to New Jersey last summer, removing a very talented forward from their roster in order to gain something back defensively.

Devils coach John Hynes has already tried to lessen the burden on Hischier. Hall, it appears, has taken a similar approach.

“He’s just got to relax and develop at his own pace,” Hall told the Toronto Sun. “That’s not always the easiest thing to do with all the expectations people put on you for going No. 1, but I’ll help him any way I can.”

The Metropolitan Division featured four 100-plus point teams last season. New Jersey wasn’t one of them. Where the Devils need to make the most improvement in order to break back into the postseason conversation is with their offensive attack,finishing 28th in the league in total goals for last season.

Hischier should help — if not exactly next season then beyond 2017-18. The Devils also acquired Marcus Johansson from Washington and the signing of Brian Boyle should help solidify depth up the middle.

“It’s exciting times for us, bringing in the likes of Nico, Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson,” said Hall. “We’re certainly trending in the right direction.”