Cam Tucker

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 23:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the New York Rangers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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‘I’ll be ready to start the first game,’ says Kessel following offseason hand surgery

After winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career, proving a point to his critics at the same time, Phil Kessel underwent hand surgery this summer.

That certainly put any chance of his appearance at the World Cup of Hockey for Team USA on ice, after he was initially snubbed from their lineup. As for the beginning of the 2016-17 NHL regular season, Kessel is optimistic he’ll be good to go when it starts next month.

“I’ll obviously be out there skating in camp,” said Kessel, as per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I’ll progress as it goes. But I’ll be ready to start the first game of the year. … (The hand) feels a lot better now than it did last year.”

Yes, according to Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, Kessel had been dealing with that injured hand for the entire season.

But Kessel’s latest comments represent good news, obviously, for the Penguins. It could be bad news for opposing goalies once the scoring forward gets up to pace.

Kessel scored 26 goals last season — his first in Pittsburgh after he was traded there from Toronto last summer. He followed that up with a 10-goal, 22-point playoff performance that had him in the running for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

David Booth to attend Ducks camp on a PTO

ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 05:  David Booth #7 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on prior to the start of the game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on January 5, 2014 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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After spending last season in the KHL, David Booth is hoping to return to the National Hockey League.

He’ll attend Anaheim Ducks training camp on a professional tryout (PTO), agent Ray Petkau tweeted out Tuesday afternoon. The 31-year-old Booth scored six goals and 16 points in 23 games with Vladivostok Admiral last season.

Booth attended Florida Panthers camp last year on a PTO but was eventually released. His best season (31 goals and 60 points in 72 games in 2008-09) came with the Panthers, the team that drafted him in the second round in 2004.

Booth has played 502 NHL games, with the Panthers, Canucks and Maple Leafs. He has scored 120 goals and 231 points.

For the Ducks, it doesn’t hurt to bring the veteran forward into camp to see if he can earn a bottom-six forward spot under Randy Carlyle.


After getting cut by Florida, Booth says ‘I’m still a great player’

Sweden shuts out rival Finland in King Henrik’s return

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of Team Sweden makes a save while playing Team Finland in the second period during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 20, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The rivalry between Sweden and Finland was subdued at times when the two nations met Tuesday in the World Cup of Hockey.

There was the odd outburst here or there. But emotions were kept in check.

Speaking of being kept in check: Sweden held on to defeat Finland by a final score of 2-0, dealing a devastating blow to their neighbors’ hopes of a World Cup semifinal berth.

Through two round robin games, the Finns have been held to one goal. In their latest defeat, they ran into a healthier Henrik Lundqvist, who was sensational in a 36-save shutout effort after recovering from the flu.

Patrik Laine had five shots on goal for Finland, and couldn’t beat Lundqvist. Late in the game, with the goalie pulled, Laine whiffed on a one-timer attempt, as his stick busted apart.

Just one of those days for the talented forward.

More importantly, Finland is 0-2. Sweden moves to 2-0. Team North America and Team Russia are 1-1. All four teams each have one game remaining in their respective schedules before the next round begins.

Sweden didn’t need much scoring. Not this time, anyway.

The big goal came from defenseman Anton Stralman, as he pinched down from the blue line and eventually tapped in a perfect pass from Henrik Sedin after he and twin brother Daniel went to work with the puck, as they typically do, down below Finland’s goal line.

Sweden now faces Team North America on Wednesday with a chance to go a perfect 3-0 in the round robin. Finland plays Russia on Thursday.

As Murray deals with ‘pretty minor’ thumb issue, McLellan seems confident with goalie options

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 19: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of Team Russia scores a second period goal past Matthew Murray #30 of Team North America during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Team North America has become appointment viewing in the World Cup of Hockey.

But a loss to Russia on Monday means a spot for the youngsters in the semifinal round is far from a guarantee.

And the loss — a 4-3 decision in which Matt Murray gave up four goals on 19 shots before getting pulled in the second period — could mean that coach Todd McLellan has a decision ahead of him for his squad’s pivotal game against Sweden on Wednesday. Does he go back to Murray, or will he opt to go with someone else?

John Gibson replaced Murray and stopped all six shots he faced. The North Americans tried, but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Murray also hurt his thumb during the contest, saying that he jammed it during the second period, according to The Canadian Press. The Pittsburgh Penguins puck stopper has downplayed the ailment, calling it “pretty minor.”

“The good thing is, when John went in, he played well. I thought he had to make a couple early saves. We have real good options. If it’s Matt Murray then great, if it’s John Gibson, we feel comfortable and if it’s Connor (Hellebuyck) we feel good,” said McLellan.

If Murray’s thumb doesn’t present any further problems, it would make sense for McLellan to go back to Murray, especially given his performance and experience from the Stanley Cup playoffs only a few months ago.

With its impressive combination of youth, speed and skill, Team North America scored victories over Team Europe in the pre-tournament portion of the competition, and a 4-1 win in its opener against Finland in Group B action.

But the loss to Russia has tightened the standings in that group, with Sweden facing Finland as of the writing of this post. A win for Sweden would give them four points, putting them at the top of the group.

Report: Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin’s agent talking contract extension

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates after scoring an empty-net goal on an assist from Patrick Kane against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 3-1. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
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After bursting onto the NHL scene last season, Artemi Panarin faces a critical 2016-17 campaign, which will mark the second and final year of his two-year, entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

As per General Fanager, the 24-year-old forward will make $925,000 in NHL salary this upcoming season, with the potential for $2.575 million once again in bonuses. For now, the Blackhawks are getting a very good deal.

Panarin finished second in Chicago last season with 77 points in 80 games played, spending time on a line with the skilled Patrick Kane.

He also scored 30 goals. Not bad for his first year in the league. He earned rookie-of-the-year honors when it was over.

But another productive season in the final year of his contract would mean a significant raise for Panarin, who will be a pending restricted free agent.

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, the Blackhawks and Panarin’s agent Tom Lynn are in talks about a possible contract extension.

“I came to play on the NHL level not because of money and contracts,” said Panarin through an interpreter, according to the Chicago Tribune. “My agent will deal with the rest.

“As of right now, I like everything and … I’m very content.”

The task for general manager Stan Bowman — and this is nothing new in Chicago — will be getting a deal done that works for the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation.

As per General Fanager, the team has 11 players on its NHL roster under contract for the 2017-18 season, with almost $58 million already committed to those players.

From Scott Powers of The Athletic:

One NHL executive said Monday he was skeptical whether Panarin would be with the Blackhawks next season due to their salary-cap constraints, especially if he didn’t re-sign early and continued to put up big numbers. The Blackhawks already have $46,596,795 committed to eight players (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marcus Kruger) for the 2017-2018 season.