James O'Brien

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

Bruins sign Zboril, first of their three 2015 first-rounders

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A few weeks ago, the Boston Bruins became the first team in 47 years to make three straight picks in the first round of a draft. They began signing those picks on Wednesday, handing Jakub Zboril an entry-level contract.

Zboril, 18, was also the first of those three picks, as he went 13th while the Bruins took Jake DeBrusk with pick 14 and Zachary Senyshyn with selection 15.

The Czech-born blueliner seems all-around solid according to what Central Scouting’s Dan Marr told NHL.com a month ago.

“We think he’s a solid two-way player,” Marr said. “His game with the puck, without the puck, I don’t know there’s too many holes in his game. … He’s a solid two-way guy that these are the type of guys you see playing in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs.”

Considering that description, it sounds like Zboril is a player who could eventually fit in quite well with the Bruins.

Pens sign Simon for three years, Bennett for one

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers - Game One
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The Pittsburgh Penguins took care of some business on Wednesday, signing Beau Bennett to a one-year deal and Dominik Simon to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Financial terms for Simon’s pact weren’t revealed, but the team shared the fact that Bennett’s contract is worth $800K in 2015-16.

Bennett (pictured) has dealt with a slew of injuries so far in his career. The 23-year-old set a career-high for games played with just 49 regular season contests in 2014-15, yet he was limited to 12 points. The Penguins are likely banking on better future results for the 20th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft.

Simon, 20, was selected 137th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. The Penguins singled out his work at the 2015 World Championships:

Simon, the youngest player on the Czech team at the 2015 World Championships, was paired on a line with the team’s most senior member, former Penguin Jaromir Jagr. Simon finished that tournament with six points (1G-5A) in 10 games.

That’s not the only blast from the Penguins’ past, as he played for HC Plzen last season, a team owned by former Pen Martin Straka.

RFAs out of the way: Rangers sign Fast, Miller

J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast
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The New York Rangers crossed two more items off their to-do list on Wednesday, signing RFAs J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast.

The team only officially acknowledged that the two deals are done, but the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that Fast’s contract is for two years, $1.9 million (a cap hit of $950K per season) while Miller accepted a qualifying offer of about $874K.

It sounds like Miller might be eyeing the future in compromising his 2015-16 payday:

Of course, there’s still the elephant in the room in Derek Stepan’s negotiations, but the Rangers’ other worries are largely taken care of. Taking those two contracts into consideration, that leaves New York with about $6 million in cap space for Stepan; Brooks reported that $6.5 million would just be a starting point, so there could still be some work to do there.

The Rangers have developed a pattern of saving with RFAs, for the most part, and these two deals stick with that trend.

Fast, 23, generated modest point totals (14 in 58 regular season games, six points in 19 postseason contests), yet he showed flashes of brilliance here and there. Miller, 22, managed slightly better totals and could very well blossom in the near future.

It’s been a busy day with the signing of Dylan McIlrath also in mind, but the team’s executives can’t quite take a vacation just yet.

Ducks confirm Chris Stewart signing

Ottawa Senators v Minnesota Wild
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The Anaheim Ducks finally confirmed that they signed Chris Stewart to a one-year contract on Sunday, one day after word surfaced regarding a deal.

They didn’t provide the financial details, so we’ll assume that it’s indeed a $1.7 million salary and cap hit as multiple reports suggest.

Beleskey replacement?

Most obviously, the Ducks are likely hoping that Stewart, 27, can help fill the void left behind by Matt Beleskey’s free agent departure. Stewart’s a power forward who can mix scoring and snarl, especially during his best moments.

It’s wise not to expect too much, as Stewart’s disappointed often enough that he even commented on the theme of offseason storylines revolving around possible rebounds last summer.

It’s fair to say that he has some scoring touch, but expecting him to approach his peak form (particularly back-to-back 28-goal seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11) could really increase the chances of a letdown.

Not much of a risk

Pessimists might see parallels between the Ducks picking up Dany Heatley off the scrap heap last summer.

Then again, in a way, that wouldn’t really be a disaster for anyone but Stewart. Heatley’s weak offering obviously didn’t do much to hurt Anaheim’s chances in 2014-15, and the Ducks aren’t taking a huge gamble in handing Stewart a one-year deal.

Instead, it’s a great opportunity for Stewart.

He can bolster his chances of getting a much better contract next time around, particularly if he can convince the Ducks to buck the growing trend of teams packaging Stewart in various trades. He’s still in his prime years, so it’s reasonable to ponder a strong year for the feisty forward, particularly if he gets lucky enough to skate with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry every now and then. Even if his linemates are weaker, Stewart gets to play in an aggressive system on a contending team. For all we know, this could be a sneaky bargain for GM Bob Murray.

(Uh oh, Stewart is roping us in again, isn’t he?)

Would Kessel work better with Crosby or Malkin?

150712-Crosby-Malkin
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Phil Kessel joining the Pittsburgh Penguins inspires some intriguing questions, and one of the most enjoyable ones is: should he line up with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?

If you’ve followed how the modern NHL works, the most accurate answer is probably the evasive one: “both.”

Head coaches love to juggle combinations, especially early on in a season, so the high-scoring sniper will likely get multiple looks with the two dynamic pivots. Heck, the Penguins could terrify opposing defenses (and penalty kill units) by sending all three out, especially when they need a goal or two.

All of those disclaimers aside, it’s still a pretty fun thing to debate, particularly during the hockey-starved summer.

Interestingly, it seems like quite a few people argue that Kessel might click with Malkin more than Crosby, and the theme of such arguments comes down to meshing styles.

Note this stance from NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:

With Kessel and Malkin on the ice together, there would be constant movement and interplay between two threats able to score on virtually any possession in the attacking zone.

Crosby plays more of a north-south game of direct lines and quick puck movement. Crosby’s linemates have to think the game quickly, react quickly, and be ready in a hurry. He wants his wings to be predictable.

The Hockey Writers’ Mike Colligan floated a similar theory:

Malkin and Kessel also play an instinctual style as opposed to the precise, tactical approach of Crosby. Much like Mario Lemieux, Malkin and Kessel know exactly when to take off up the ice before hockey fans (and most opponents) even realize there’s a breakaway opportunity. They react to the game as it unfolds, which can be a nightmare for linemates who don’t have the same mindset.

Naturally, Kessel could just easily find chemistry with Crosby. In simplified terms, the American winger is a natural sniper while Crosby ranks as one of the NHL’s most gifted passers. Actually, let’s go even simpler: that duo could work simply because of their sheer skill.

Pensburgh brings up an interesting idea, too: Malkin may very well prosper with Kessel in town even if the former Maple Leaf isn’t his winger. “Geno” had to deal with makeshift wingers while Crosby skated alongside David Perron and Patric Hornqvist in 2014-15, yet Kessel arguably allows other Penguins forwards to fall in more comfortable spots.

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It’s obviously way too early to predict how this will shake out, especially since the Penguins could conceivably shake up their roster a bit more before the 2015-16 campaign kicks into gear. Either way, it should be fun to find out how Kessel fits in Pittsburgh, though.

Related: Crosby thinks that Kessel is excited to join the Penguins.