James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Looks like Tkachuk will start season with Flames

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Generally speaking, top picks make the immediate jump to the NHL, but the dilemmas get more interesting as you go down the ranks.

The Calgary Flames nabbed quite the nice find by selecting Matthew Tkachuk sixth overall in 2016, and apparently they want to keep him around for a while.

Management didn’t outright guarantee that the rookie would begin the 2016-17 season with the big team, but in coach-speak terms, it sounded highly likely.

“I don’t think it’s out of the realm to say he’s going to be here for Game 1 if things are status quo,” head coach Glen Gulutzan said, according to Aaron Vickers of the team site.

Gulutzan used more words to give Tkachuk a thumbs up while also leaving room to wiggle out of the situation, if you’re a fan of slightly amusing coaching phrasing.

As nice as it would be for the 18-year-old to get some NHL experience, playing the first game isn’t the true test. Tkachuk would burn a year off of his entry-level contract if he reaches the 10-game threshold, so that would be another situation to watch if he makes a strong impression.

The Flames are in an interesting spot as far as their outlook goes.

Despite missing the postseason, the team is spending quite a bit on its roster, especially if you pencil Johnny Gaudreau in for a significant chunk of the Flames’ remaining cap space. Troy Brouwer‘s contract, in particular, points to at least a partial win-now mentality.

If Tkachuk seems like a legitimate NHL player right away, Calgary might be willing to push him closer to his second contract in order to chase a playoff berth.

Keith’s talented son should make the Flames that much more fun to watch, whether it’s from one to nine regular season games or for the entire season.

MORE: Looking to make the leap

Video: Derek Dorsett bloodied in brawl

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With some players vying for roster spots or trying to earn more ice time in 2016-17, it’s no surprise that some heavy-hitters engaged in fights on Sunday.

The stakes were there, even if these games didn’t “count.”

Hockey Fights features a full listing of last night’s bouts, but here are a few standouts from Sunday evening.

Alex Gallant vs. Derek Dorsett became a bloody affair:

The Vancouver Province captured one of the more violent moments:

Kurtis MacDermid and Jared Boll dropped the gloves in a heated fight as well on Sunday:

Finally, a heavyweight fight between Chris Thorburn and Brandon Bollig:

Matthews, Babcock on his Leafs preseason debut

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Auston Matthews didn’t really experience many jitters as he played in his first preseason game with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He credited his World Cup experience in part for getting over nervousness.

While he failed to generate a point in Toronto’s 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens, he got his bearings and made some moves.

He certainly seemed to make an impression on TSN’s Jonas Siegel, who raved about “speed, power, and skill all wrapped up in one.”

You could see flashes of that top-pick-brilliance in moments like these:

It’s early, but perhaps Mike Babcock will play the role of Bill Parcells insisting on people “putting away the anointing oil.” NHL.com notes this bit of criticism that seems to boil down to style vs. substance.

“They tried passing a lot at the net. What I saw tonight is we have a different skillset than we had last year, but we don’t know how to play yet,” Babcock said. “We were perimeter and light at times and we didn’t want to attack the net. It felt like we were handing out points for stickhandling and not shooting and not getting on the inside.”

Hey, just because Matthews already looks comfortable out there at times doesn’t mean that this won’t be a work in progress.

Tanner Pearson ejected for hit on Brandon Davidson

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Los Angeles Kings forward Tanner Pearson received a game misconduct for an illegal check to the head of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson on Sunday.

Reactions range from describing the check as “high and a touch late” to far more critical stances.

It’s too early to know for sure if Davidson is injured, but the Oilers are taking a look at him, according to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson. He was unable to return to the game.

Here are GIF replays of the check, via Stephanie “My Regular Face.”

Pearson hasn’t been suspended during his NHL career.

Saros is willing to be patient for Predators

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It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Juuse Saros gets a real shot at making an impact with the Nashville Predators, but he seems comfortable with the patient approach.

To be more specific, getting more seasoning in the AHL doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to him, as he told NHL.com.

“I think that would be the best thing to go there and get games there,” Saros. “Of course, the competition is tough every place, but for my development it would be good to play a lot there.”

That’s sensible enough, as the ideal scenario for Nashville would be Pekka Rinne playing the part of a $7 million workhorse.

After all, as promising as Saros’ first season in the AHL was – 29 wins and a strong .920 save percentage in 38 games – he’s still a little “green” in North America.

Back in July, Predators GM David Poile indicated to the Tennessean that Marek Mazanec would get the first look as Rinne’s backup in 2016-17.

That also makes sense; you don’t want a budding prospect sitting on the bench behind Rinne, right?

On the other hand, it’s not that hard to envision a scenario where Saros plays the role of Matt Murray while Rinne suffers a fate similar to Marc-Andre Fleury.

For one thing, Mazanec doesn’t exactly have the greatest job security considering his two-way contract.

Let’s face it … Rinne hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire lately, either. Saros told NHL.com that Rinne is his “idol,” yet there may come a time when he surpasses his fellow Finn. Rinne’s numbers have been shaky-to-bad in three of the last four seasons, with only 2014-15’s output providing some solace.

So, kudos to Saros for showing maturity in accepting the idea of spending more time in the AHL than the NHL next season. For all we know, the Predators may not enjoy the luxury of such a patient approach, and that might not be such a bad thing.