James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Buckle up, Crosby vs. McDavid Part 1 on Tuesday

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The comparisons are inevitable. Connor McDavid understands it. So does Sidney Crosby.

Franchise centers don’t come along very often. Particularly ones with the skill set McDavid seems to share with the player he grew up idolizing. The footwork. The soft hands. The relentless energy. The ability to see something before it happens and the talent to make it so.

A decade ago, it was Crosby who took the NHL by storm. Now it’s McDavid’s turn. A year removed from an injury-marred rookie season in Edmonton, the 19-year-old will get a chance to face Crosby for the first time on Tuesday when the Oilers visit the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both players, as is their habit, are trying to downplay the meeting. Still, Crosby has a keen sense of where McDavid is at in his blossoming career and the weight placed on his shoulders. Back in 2006, Crosby was trying to do for the Penguins what McDavid is trying to do for the Oilers: lift a once proud team back to relevance, one highlight-reel play at a time.

Listen to Crosby rattle off the things that impress him about McDavid, and the two-time Hart Trophy winner might as well be describing himself.

“I just think his speed stands out the most,” Crosby said. “It allows him to do so many other things. He sees the ice really well. He’s so strong on the puck. His hockey sense and his speed are the things that stand out the most.”

They’ve been on display with regularity so far for Edmonton, which sits atop the Pacific Division, a solid start for a team trying to end a playoff drought that stretches back to when McDavid was still in elementary school. McDavid is tied for fourth in the NHL in points (14) and seventh in assists (nine), including a patient, heady dish to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the power play on Sunday that turned into the winning goal in a 2-1 victory in Detroit.

“He’s obviously one of the bright young players in the league,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I’m sure that team has taken another step and he’s a big reason why.”

Just don’t expect Sullivan do his part to make sure Crosby’s No. 87 ends up in the faceoff circle with McDavid’s No. 97. (Oh, there’s another similarity: both players using the year of their birth as their respective jersey numbers).

“I don’t really think too much about drama,” Sullivan said.

Besides, Crosby’s return to the lineup after a concussion that sidelined him for a few weeks last month has made the environment in Pittsburgh decidedly drama-free. The Penguins haven’t lost in regulation since Crosby came back (5-0-1), and the player who loves nothing more than to set up a teammate has suddenly become a little selfish, in a good way.

Crosby has eight goals in six games, including two each in the final two games of a road swing through California.

“Nothing surprises us,” Sullivan said. “He’s just a great player. I don’t know how else to say it. I think we’ve grown to expect it out of him and he’s done it each and every night. I really admire his consistency of play.”

And that more than anything else may be what McDavid wants to emulate about Crosby above all else.

“He’s the best player in the world and if you can take anything from his game, obviously that’ll help,” McDavid said.

Though they’ve run into each other occasionally in random places, Crosby hasn’t gone out of his way to reach out and give McDavid advice. Crosby doesn’t want to overstep, pointing out the Oilers have veterans to help guide McDavid as he navigates his first full season after a broken collarbone limited him to 45 games as a rookie.

Still, if there was one piece of advice Crosby will impart, it’s this: tune out the hype and just do what you do.

“The biggest thing is learning on the fly, see what works for you,” Crosby said. “Just remember what got you to this point and try to continue that success.”

AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.

Will Trouba get traded? Jets GM plays coy

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Jacob Trouba is a Winnipeg Jet” is about the most the media could get out of Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff regarding the team finally signing the defenseman to a bargain deal on Monday.

It didn’t take long for people to speculate about the Jets flipping Trouba and his two-year, $6 million contract in a trade, but that’s what we’re stuck with at the moment: mere speculation.

As far as Cheveldayoff goes, he could even see Trouba suiting up for the Jets as early as their Tuesday home game against the Dallas Stars.

That’s not really what people are wondering about, though. Even if Trouba does play a bit for Winnipeg, some wonder if it’s just a matter of time before the Jets make a move.

There’s some history with a stalemate being broken only for a talented player to be moved later, after all.

Trouba is still a restricted free agent, so the bottom line is that the ball was and is in the Jets’ court.

This “bridge” deal really only postpones drama even if the blueliner goes back to becoming a regular contributor without much fuss. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston notes that Trouba could sign another contract as early as July 1.

Overall, it’s a great situation for the Jets, whether they trade Trouba or find a compromise that works for everyone.

Here’s the full Cheveldayoff press conference, if you’d like to get an idea about how the Jets GM was mostly – understandably – dodging questions:

No Filppula for Lightning tonight

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Both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will be down at least a couple notable forwards in their Florida fight tonight.

The Lightning just announced that Valtteri Filppula won’t play on Monday, as he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury. With that, Filppula joins Jonathan Drouin on the sidelines.

Even with Jaromir Jagr back in commission, the Panthers aren’t at full-strength, either. They’ll face the Bolts without Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad.

Despite these issues, this game should serve as an interesting barometer for both teams.

Ty Rattie’s bumpy Blues path continues with conditioning stint

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At 23, Ty Rattie has time to work things out, but so far, he hasn’t been able to convert big junior numbers to success with the St. Louis Blues.

Monday represented the latest bump in his developmental road, as the Blues sent him to the AHL for a conditioning stint. It’s sensible enough with Rattie only appearing in one game so far in 2016-17, yet it’s still not the greatest sign for the 32nd pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.

He’s been quiet in his 27 NHL games and respectable during his AHL appearances, but it’s his work in the WHL that still makes some hopeful for an eventual breakthrough. He scored 121 points in 2011-12 and 110 in 2012-13 with the Portland Winterhawks.

Along with sending Rattie to the AHL, the Blues also made a defensive shift, placing Joel Edmundson on injured reserve while calling up Petteri Lindbohm.

The team announced that Edmundson would be re-evaluated in three weeks, so they could be without a depth defenseman who was averaging about 15 minutes per night for some time.

Video: Saturday was an angry night for goalies

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Many hockey fans find it tougher to enjoy a fight these days once you consider the post-career struggles of enforcers.

It’s a little harder not to grin at a video of a goalie losing though, isn’t it? Something about seeing all that rage mixed with the clumsiness of fighting with all that bulky equipment just makes for entertainment. It’s not short of those weird fake sumo fights.

Saturday presented two eyebrow-raising bits of netminder anger, though these instances mainly involved a goalie going after a skater. Most obviously, Ryan Miller and Frederik Andersen were involved in this fracas, especially Miller:

More on that ugly loss for the Canucks and how they hope to turn it around, maybe in part due to all of that violence.

That wasn’t the only outburst involving a goalie, however, as Devan Dubnyk got into it with Gabriel Landeskog:

Landeskog seemed pretty chill about the situation, although he does seem a little jealous that Dubnyk got to fight with a goalie mask and blocker to his advantage.

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So, entertaining stuff, right?

The tougher question regarding Saturday is what makes you smile wider: goalie fights or players singing Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen?