James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Rangers want Kreider to become a ‘nightmare for defensemen’ again

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If Chris Kreider is penciled in to finish with about 20 goals and 45 points each season, the New York Rangers got a solid deal for the 25-year-old.

That nice $4.625 million cap hit could become a steal if Kreider blossoms into the 30-goal force the Rangers were hoping for, however.

NHL.com details how the Rangers hope he returns to the form that, to quote assistant Scott Arniel,* made him “a nightmare for defensemen.”

“I remember we had a conversation asking him about what kind of player did he think he was, and he didn’t say I’m a toe-dragging, stick-handling guy who can beat guys 1-on-1,” Arniel said. “He knew what he was. He said it. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and it was five things that a true power forward needs to do every game. Then he got away from those things [last season].”

As New York Newsday notes, Kreider shares that viewpoint, aiming to be “big, strong, fast, mean, imposing” and to play a “power forward game.”

(If you’re playing Power Forward Buzzword Bingo … yes, Kreider also talks about his north-south game.)

How much room is there to grow?

The biggest question circles back to the beginning; how much higher is Kreider’s ceiling than what we’ve already seen?

Kreider indicates that a strong finish to 2015-16 salvaged his numbers, but the end result is near-identical production compared to 2014-15. He spoke of pucks not going in early in the year, yet his shooting percentage was a career-high 13.5.

About the only difference that really stands out does possibly denote a dip in physicality, as his 58 PIM were low in comparison to 2014-15 (88) and 2013-14 (72). The Rangers probably don’t want him off the ice and in the box more often though, right?

Earning opportunities

Really, the big thing for Kreider might just come down to opportunities.

Despite becoming more experienced, he’s still averaging just under 16 minutes of ice time per game.

The key, then, might be for Kreider to convince Alain Vigneault to deploy him more frequently, which might come down to bring that physical edge more often.

* – That story is an interesting little peek into how the Rangers handle and develop players like Kreider. Arniel almost seems quaint at times in the piece, bringing to mind Dan D’Antoni’s inspirational notes to Leondaro Barbosa.

Get to know Nolan Patrick, early favorite to go first in 2017 NHL Draft

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The NHL’s Central Scouting staff put out a full list of 2017 NHL Draft “futures” on Saturday, supporting the notion that it’s never too early to hype up the next wave of prospects.

At the moment, the top pick speculation revolves around Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings, including in NHL.com’s breakdown of the biggest names among those futures.

In vague terms, his size and willingness to go to high-danger areas distinguishes Patrick. Scoring 102 points in 72 games in the WHL with the Wheat Kings doesn’t hurt his cause, either.

It’s only natural to seek comparables, of course, and there are plenty streaming out already.

Craig Button compares Nolan to Jonathan Toews in this introduction for TSN:

Nolan’s style of play is similar to that of fellow Manitoban Jonathan Toews. He’s skilled, smart and capable of playing and making a difference in all situations of the game. Like Toews, he does it without much flash, but brings significant determination and reliability every time he steps on the ice. 

Meanwhile, his coach compared his style to that of Brayden Schenn, as Buzzing the Net noted in February.

There’s hockey in his blood, too, as his father Steve Patrick was an NHL forward.

Maybe that explains the notable lack of fawning from his dad in this Sportsnet article.

“Nolan was a funny little player at eight. I certainly didn’t look at him and think he’s gonna be a special player,” Steve Patrick said in May. “But he always saw the ice well and even when he was little he could pass the puck. He was a smaller kid and he sometimes played up a year, so I thought he had to be little sneakier to hold on to the puck.

“Plus, he had an older sister who could throw him in a snowbank, so he had to figure a way to keep the puck from her.”

Now that is a scouting report.

Speaking of scouting reports, NHL.com and Sportsnet both discuss other players who will jockey for top draft position with Patrick.

Of course, plenty can change in the season, so Patrick must dodge hurdles as if they were siblings readying to “throw him in a snowbank.”

Related: Nolan Patrick, potential No. 1 overall pick in 2017, undergoes sports hernia surgery

There is a report about Islanders eyeing a new arena in Nassau, too

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The New York Islanders’ new owners claim that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is “our home,” yet there are all kinds of rumors going around about where they may settle.

Things really heated up with talks of moving next to the New York Mets with a new arena in Queens, but apparently that’s not all.

New York Newsday reports that the Islanders have met “several times” with the New York Racing Association to build a new arena in Belmont. This would mean that the Islanders would (wait for it) bring the team back to the Nassau area.

It was emphasized that such talks were in early stages and that the ownership group is “weighing multiple options, including remaining in Brooklyn.”

When it came to the rumors about Queens, more than a few people believed that it may have come down to leveraging Barclays for a better situation in Brooklyn. The Isles’ ownership group hasn’t discussed these rumors, so it’s difficult to gauge how seriously the team would consider moving again.

In the grand scheme of things, it feels far too early to get too excited or bent out of shape about these murmurs. Even if something significant happens – and there have been plenty of gripes about Barclays – it sounds like it would take some time for plans to formulate.

Coyotes’ defensive makeover continues with Luke Schenn signing

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While Brayden Schenn hopes to hammer out a favorable deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, his brother Luke Schenn inked a two-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.

Arizona didn’t confirm these details, but the cap hit looks to be $1.25 million, according to reporters including Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“We are very pleased to sign Luke to a two-year contract,” New Coyotes GM John Chayka said. “He’s a good, young defenseman and we feel we can optimize his performance here. He will be a solid addition to our blue line.”

Chayka is making some significant changes to the Coyotes’ blueline, even if Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still the star of that group.

The Coyotes traded for and then signed Alex Goligoski. They possibly grabbed a falling star in the draft, too, as they selected Jacob Chychrun. Adding Schenn might not be the last move, either.

Schenn isn’t necessarily an analytics darling, but a two-year, $2.5 million deal is reasonable even with some flaws. This contract seems even more reasonable when you consider the five-year, $18 million deal that just expired.

Report: Maple Leafs, Holland are about $1M apart

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Peter Holland‘s submitted salary request for arbitration is reportedly more than double what the Toronto Maple Leafs proposed.

With that in mind, Monday’s pending hearing serves as a challenging deadline.

Holland’s asking for $2.1 million in 2016-17 while Toronto is offering $900K, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

This comes a day after the Maple Leafs placed Holland on waivers, advancing the argument that he’d be worthy of a two-way deal. He cleared waivers today.

Granted, the Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle wonders if Holland would clear waivers under normal circumstances:

Holland is a solid player, generating 27 points in 65 games with Toronto last season. He’s a nice enough piece, but with the Maple Leafs in rebuild mode, they’re not exactly anxious to pay supporting cast members more than necessary.

With such a context in mind, it should be intriguing to see how much either side will budge.

At the moment, the Maple Leafs seem to hold the advantage.