Jason Brough

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 19: Michal Kempny #6 of Czech Republic skates against USA at Ice Palace on May 19, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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The Blackhawks are ‘very high’ on Czech defender Michal Kempny

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Brian Campbell may have been the biggest addition the Blackhawks made to their defense, but don’t sleep on the other one. Chicago GM Stan Bowman is expecting big things from Michal Kempny, the 25-year-old blueliner the ‘Hawks signed in May.

“We wanted to upgrade our defense, and certainly Brian is a big part of that,” Bowman said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re very high on Michal Kempny as well. Everything’s new to him over here now. He has one year in the KHL and he did great his first year there, and we’re hoping he has a great transition to the NHL, as well.”

Kempny played 59 games for Omsk Avangard last season, scoring five goals with 16 assists. In a couple of months, he’ll compete for the Czech Republic at the World Cup.

Defensive depth was an issue for the ‘Hawks last season. In the end, they never adequately replaced Johnny Oduya, who played such a big role for them in the 2015 playoffs.

Next season, they’ll have four — not just three — proven top-4 d-men in Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Campbell, with Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Rozsival, Kempny, and a few others competing for the rest of the minutes.

“You put all that together, and our defense is looking very, very strong,” said Bowman. “It’s a strong point of our team right now.”

Related: Forsling could return to Sweden next season

Doug Jarvis named assistant coach in Vancouver

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 14:  Associate coach Doug Jarvis of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the New Jersey Devils at Continental Airlines Arena on February 14, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Devils won 5-2. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After six seasons on Claude Julien’s staff in Boston, Doug Jarvis has joined the Vancouver Canucks as an assistant coach.

Jarvis will replace Glen Gulutzan on Willie Desjardins’ staff. Gulutzan was named Calgary’s new head coach in June.

“Doug Jarvis is an accomplished coach with multiple Stanley Cup championships and NHL Finals experience,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning in a release. “He has a teaching mentality and draws from his knowledge as a former player and coach spanning almost 40 years.”

A former Selke Trophy winner as a player, Jarvis has been an assistant coach on two Stanley Cup-winning teams: the 1999 Stars and 2011 Bruins.

If he has any ideas on how to improve a power play, the Canucks will be all ears.

The Canucks would like to add a winger with ‘grit and size’

Vancouver Canucks' Jake Virtanen, left, checks Ottawa Senators' Dion Phaneuf during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The Vancouver Canucks nabbed one of the NHL’s top free agents when they signed Loui Eriksson to a $36 million deal on Friday, but GM Jim Benning still wants more.

“If I had a crystal ball, I would say we’d try to add a winger who had some grit and size to him, who can score,” Benning said, per The Province newspaper.

At the moment, the Canucks only have one big, tough winger with goal-scoring ability, and that’s 19-year-old Jake Virtanen. Considering Virtanen’s not even a sure thing to start next season in the NHL, it’s understandable that Benning wants what he wants.

The challenge now is to find it.

It probably can’t be found in free agency anymore. Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd and David Backes have all been locked up, and for big money. Perhaps if Shane Doan can’t get something done in Arizona? But that’s a long shot.

It won’t be easy to find in a trade either, mostly because Vancouver doesn’t have all that much to offer in return. Rumor has it that the Canucks have been shopping defenseman Luca Sbisa. Not surprisingly, they’ve yet to find a taker. Sbisa, 26, has a $3.6 million cap hit through 2017-18, and that’s not going to interest many, if any, teams.

 

Five remaining free agents who could be good bargains

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 25:  Radim Vrbata #17 of the Vancouver Canucks and Team Foligno scores a first period goal past Roberto Luongo #1 of the Florida Panthers and Team Toews during the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Nationwide Arena on January 25, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Radim Vrbata — He had a forgettable 2015-16, scoring just 13 goals in 63 games for the Canucks. This after a great 2014-15, when he had 31 goals and an All-Star Game appearance. The big difference was linemates. Vrbata played most of his first season in Vancouver with Henrik Sedin or Nick Bonino as his center, and it went well. His second one was mostly with Bo Horvat or Jared McCann, and there just wasn’t chemistry with the youngsters. In the “right situation,” he could put up 20 goals again and nobody would be too surprised.

Jiri Hudler — Like Vrbata, he had a great 2014-15 (31 goals) and a less great 2015-16 (16 goals). But Hudler still put up 46 points in 72 games last season, and that’s not too shabby. Granted, he didn’t have a very productive postseason for the Panthers, finishing with just one assist in six games, and that probably didn’t help him on July 1. But Hudler is still only 32, three years younger than Vrbata. He’s got some hockey left in him.

Brandon Pirri — He’s only 25 and he has 49 goals in 166 NHL games. That’s the good part. The major red flag is the fact he’s already been traded twice, first in 2014 from Chicago to Florida, then in February from Florida to Anaheim. Pirri may never be great defensively. In fact, he may never be good defensively. But perhaps on a deeper team where he could be sheltered a bit, he’d be a worthwhile gamble (for a cap hit that could be buried in the minors if it doesn’t work out.)

James Wisniewski — With Jason Demers off the market, Wisniewski might be the best available right-shot defenseman. (Other options include Justin Schultz, Luke Schenn, and Eric Gryba.) The risk is that Wisniewski barely played last season (and we mean barely), but don’t forget that he put up 51 points for Columbus in 2013-14. If he’s healthy — and that’s obviously the big if in his case — he could be a nice comeback story.

Jhonas Enroth — It’s hard to blame the 28-year-old for being upset with how little he played last season for the Kings, considering he finished with a solid .922 save percentage in 16 appearances. But he wasn’t one of the many goalies who found new teams on July 1, and now his options are limited. On the bright side, the two other California teams, Anaheim and San Jose, still need a backup, so maybe he won’t have to move far.

Vesey will get the Sabres’ best pitch next week, but he still intends to go to free agency on Aug. 15

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Jimmy Vesey #19 of the Harvard Crimson skates against the Boston College Eagles during the second period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament consolation game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Jimmy Vesey hasn’t been sold on Buffalo.

Not yet anyway.

“I’m still going to go to free agency and explore all my options,” Vesey told Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe late last week.

But the 23-year-old forward can’t explore all his options until Aug. 15. Until then, he’s exclusively Sabres property. Because of that, he’ll get GM Tim Murray’s sales pitch before anyone else’s.

“The next step is next week go and meet with him and extol the virtues of the organization and the city of Buffalo and tell him how much we like him and we need him,” Murray told reporters yesterday.

Perhaps Murray can convince him to forego his options. The Sabres are an up-and-coming team, and the opportunity to play with Jack Eichel could be tempting.

On the other hand, Vesey didn’t bow to the considerable pressure to sign in Nashville. It’s tough to see him changing his mind now that he’s so close to free agency. He could still sign with the Sabres in the end, but why not hear what the Bruins, Maple Leafs and others have to say first?

Update: Click here for the full Boston Globe story.

Related: ‘The Bruins will definitely be on my list’