James O'Brien

Connor McDavid
AP

Connor McDavid absorbs his first big-league hit

26 Comments

Connor McDavid hasn’t even been in a full-fledged preseason game, yet he already received his welcome-to-the-NHL moment.

That came in the form of a hard (but by all accounts clean) hit by Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen, as you can see via this clip from Friday’s Young Stars skirmish:

McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers prospects won 8-2, yet that check was the big story of that contest.

In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t sound like McDavid was being targeted by a player who suited up with him during the world juniors:

For what it’s worth, it doesn’t sound like hockey’s next big thing is making a big thing about the check Virtanen delivered:

Clean hit or not … McDavid being fair game or not … it’s probably fair to say that Virtanen will need to stay alert whenever he faces Oilers players (possibly at multiple levels).

Much like any budding superstar, McDavid will find himself “tested” by opponents from time to time. Last night was a reminder that, for all the hype that surrounds him, nothing’s a given.

Columbus prospect Werenski on return to Michigan

Zach Werenski, Travis Boyd
AP
1 Comment

The Columbus Blue Jackets gave their 2015 first-round pick Zach Werenski a choice regarding how to handle his next season of development.

Ultimately, Werenski opted to return to NCAA hockey rather than signing an entry-level deal back in August. He told the Columbus Dispatch why on Friday.

“I was 50-50 for a while,” Werenski said. “It’s a great position to be in — signing with Columbus or going to the University of Michigan are great options — but it’s a really tough call. Some of the teams I met with at the combine … they made it really clear: If we draft you, you’re going to do what we tell you to do and play where we say you’re going to play. Columbus didn’t do that, and I really appreciate it.”

He’s mere months removed from Columbus selecting him eighth overall, so the situation must have left his head spinning a bit. He excelled as a freshman defenseman at Michigan, yet he just turned 18 in July.

Werenski cited his young age – not to mention an urge to get his school back into the NCAA tournament – in explaining his return to Michigan.

One gets the impression that Blue Jackets management is giddy about him, even if they’re also trying to respect the patient approach.

“It’s all there for him to be a great defenseman in all facets,” NHL defenseman turned Michigan assistant Mike Komisarek said. “You talk to him, and you’d swear he was 25 years old. That’s how he plays, too. He’s in control of everything. I’m so excited about where this kid is going to go.”

First thing’s first, he’s going back to school.

For more, check out the full article at the Columbus Dispatch. For even more than that, read up on Werenski in this PHT profile.

Yandle’s healthy, ready for Rangers

Keith Yandle, Alex Killorn
AP
13 Comments

Many would agree that Keith Yandle wasn’t the catalyst the New York Rangers were hoping for after sending a considerable bounty to the Arizona Coyotes in 2014-15.

That said, a shoulder injury and the confusion of learning a new system may have slowed the offensive defenseman a bit at times, and the 29-year-old provided a cheery outlook to the Bergen Record.

“I was so used to playing a certain system with certain guys,” Yandle said. “You have the freedom to play here and play with guys who are higher skilled and highly competitive. It’s a lot of fun to come to the rink every day. It probably took me a little bit, maybe a couple of weeks before the playoffs, before I felt really comfortable with myself.”

That shoulder issue – an AC separation, according to Yandle – probably made things less comfortable as well, but Yandle avoided off-season surgery.

His first, abbreviated run with the Rangers was pretty bumpy, and that “freedom to play” might open up moments where Yandle draws the ire of fans with flubs.

On the other hand, New York has enjoyed some big bursts from mid-level players in contract years before, so Yandle could be a prime candidate for a significant rebound.

For better or worse, Yandle can be an adventure on the ice. Rangers fans might just enjoy those experiences a little more in 2015-16.

Canadiens move Galchenyuk to center

Alex Galchenyuk
AP
5 Comments

The Montreal Canadiens could take a big step forward if Alex Galchenyuk does the same, so perhaps that will happen as he moves to his natural position.

That good news surfaced on Thursday, as the team discussed his transition from left wing to center heading into 2015-16.

It doesn’t sound like it was the easiest decision.

“Centerman is a hard position to learn,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said. “There’s a lot of responsibility as a centerman, offensively and defensively. There’s signs that hockey people, our staff, look for, and we felt that he wasn’t ready at the time. Now we feel that he is getting really close, and it’s time for us to know and for him to know if he can really fill that role.”

Galchenyuk isn’t just sliding into a more defensively taxing position; he’s doing so for a defensive-minded head coach in Michel Therrien.

It sounds like Therrien is taking a supportive approach, or at least he’s continuing to portray himself as a kinder and gentler bench boss.

“I don’t want Alex to lose any confidence,” Therrien said. “I think that’s a big part of having success as a player. But we’re at a time in his career where we have to go to the next level. This is what I shared with Alex and he embraced the challenge. He’s looking forward to it and I can’t wait for training camp to start.”

Therrien won’t be forced to stick with Galchenyuk if he flops down the middle, especially when you consider how rapidly coaches tweak line combinations.

Even so, it sounds like the team hopes to take a step forward along with the talented 21-year-old.

Bettman: overwhelmingly players do the right thing

Gary Bettman
AP
4 Comments

This off-season presents a slew of bad headlines for the NHL, something its players and commissioner both notice.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun caught up with some of the league’s biggest movers and shakers to find out how they feel about these situations.

In the case of the players, stars like Tyler Seguin and Sidney Crosby said that you must learn to be careful.

The league itself may try to do something a little more concrete to prevent or least limit future issues, including what Bill Daly describes as “an additional educational program.”

Even so, Gary Bettman seems confident that most players conduct themselves properly. He also argues that the NHL is doing its part, too.

“… We’ve had a variety of programs in place, we’re constantly looking at what we can do to make sure that the programs are touching the right bases and are effective, but we focus on what we think is best for our players and our game,” Bettman said. “As I’ve said, overwhelmingly our players do the right things.”

It’s been a week of updates regarding legal situations for the likes of Slava Voynov, Patrick Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Mike Richards, yet closure has been tough to come by. With proceedings getting postponed, these negative headlines continue to reverberate.

Going forward, the league can only do so much, but officials would indeed be wise to consider every avenue.

For more thoughts from Bettman, Crosby, Seguin and others on this subject, check out LeBrun’s full article.