James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

How to pry the eighth pick from the Sabres


Stockpiling high-end draft picks isn’t just about nabbing prospects. Sometimes you can gain more immediate boosts by converting certain picks into roster players with a well-timed trade or two.

The Buffalo Sabres have already done a little of both. Sure, they drafted Jack Eichel with the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, yet they also spent excess picks to nab the likes of Robin Lehner, Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane.

GM Tim Murray seems open-minded about doing similar things with the eighth overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft.

He detailed what kind of deal might work to the Buffalo News:

“If we can trade a couple picks and improve our team, we’ll continue to do that,” Murray said Tuesday. “If somebody offers us a top-end, young, left-shot” defenseman “and they demand our eighth overall pick and we feel it makes us better, we’ll do the trade.”

“Top-end” is a subjective matter, but someone like Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler fits at least some of that criteria.

(Someone like Kevin Shattenkirk would be interesting, although he shoots right.)

Now, sending out feelers for a roster defenseman doesn’t mean Murray sees no value in the pick itself. Buffalo is apparently eyeing three different players who could fall to the eighth spot, with two being blueliners. (He believes at least two of them will make it that far.)

As we saw in Murray trading for Jimmy Vesey’s rights, the Sabres’ GM isn’t afraid to make bold moves. It doesn’t sound like he’s resting on his laurels this summer after such a busy 2015 off-season, either.

This could shape up to be a very busy draft night even off the boards, and don’t be surprised if Buffalo is in the thick of things.

Johansson’s price might push Capitals to make a trade


Contending teams must often make a difficult distinction between a good player and a “core player.”

The Washington Capitals could very well feel that sting if they decide that pending RFA Marcus Johansson‘s asking price is simply too steep.

GM Brian MacLellan dropped some hints that the Swedish forward might not fit into the Capitals’ budget when addressing the media on Tuesday.

Johansson’s a nice piece, no doubt, but he’s been bumped down the pecking order thanks to a combination of added veterans (Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie) along with rising young forwards (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky).

Even if a trade isn’t happening, it sounds like Johansson’s deal might be the first domino to fall.

If teams are looking to make a move, perhaps quality depth players would be involved in the exchange:

Hip surgery sidelines Callahan; Kessel for Team USA after all?


The Tampa Bay Lightning announced that Ryan Callahan will need five months to recovery from hip surgery.

In case you’re wondering, they’ve already said that Callahan won’t be able to play for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey.

At least one report indicates that Callahan was struggling with that “lower-body injury” late in the season and into the playoffs:

If five months is accurate – hockey players are known for returning early, as you likely know – then Callahan would miss the first month or two of the 2016-17 season.

There’s not much positive spin from Callahan’s side, yet a few are wondering if this wrong might help correct a perceived wrong: leaving Phil Kessel off Team USA.

Well, if they want Kessel to play, they better send a decent-sized plane.

No, the Flyers won’t try to copy the Penguins


The Pittsburgh Penguins won the 2016 Stanley Cup by leveraging their considerable speed and skill.

While the Philadelphia Flyers possess certain qualities that might allow them to go more pedal-to-the-metal, they’re clearly going to do things their own way.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall explained the pitfalls of trying to follow someone else’s blueprint to CSNPhilly.com.

“The one thing I’ve learned over the years is you have to be very careful being a copycat,” Hextall said on Thursday. “When you start chasing everybody, you go away from your foundation and the very next year a team that plays a totally different style wins a Cup.”

Hextall insists that there’s “no real blueprint where you can say this is the only way to win.” The once-fiery netminder believes in building “through the middle” and focusing on “goaltending, defense, centers.”

Pretty simple stuff, yet signs of progress definitely seem to surface, starting with this past surprise playoff run.

When asked if the Flyers are in better shape now, he evokes Walter White.

“Are we better than we were last year? As a team, as an organization, our depth chart, damn right we’re a lot better,” Hextall said.

Don’t be surprised if Hextall soaks in some summer sun and makes the Flyers’ outlook even brighter during the off-season. The team seems like it’s in very capable hands.

Teuvo two? Blackhawks reportedly sign Nick Schmaltz (Update)


The Chicago Blackhawks signed North Dakota standout Nick Schmaltz, according to reporters including AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine reports that it is a three-year, entry-level contract.

Schmaltz, 20, finished up an impressive sophomore season at the University of North Dakota, helping them win their eighth national championship. The Blackhawks selected him 20th overall in 2014.

Some might view it as asking for too much, but there’s some thought that Schmaltz could serve as a replacement for Teuvo Teravainen.


The Hawks made the signing official on Sunday afternoon.

GM Stan Bowman said as much after Teuvo was traded, describing him as a “dynamic player,” as CSNChicago.com notes.

Now, that doesn’t mean Schmaltz can jump right in and play at a comparable level to No. 86, although the Blackhawks keep reeling off nice support players (often more rapidly than expected).

Schmaltz isn’t the only North Dakota prospect for Chicago, who recently signed Luke Johnson. You may feel like the name is familiar for good reason; his brother Jordan Schmaltz was the 25th pick in 2012 by the St. Louis Blues.

Again, people are pretty excited about Nick Schmaltz.