Jason Brough


Lightning eager to see if Point can handle ‘rigors’ of playing center

The Tampa Bay Lightning could have some tough decisions to make soon.

And this time, we’re not talking about Ben Bishop.

We’re talking now about the center position. The Bolts have already committed to keeping Steven Stamkos. But Tyler Johnson is a pending restricted free agent, and veteran Valtteri Filppula can become unrestricted in the summer of 2018.

No wonder the head coach is eager to see how rookie Brayden Point can handle the middle. The 20-year-old started the season on the wing, but then Stamkos got hurt.

“Now we’re checking him out at center to see, can he handle some of the rigors of playing center in this league? So far, so good,” said Jon Cooper. “He’s been able to adapt to every situation. Does he make the odd mistake here and there? He does. But he does it trying his a** off. And you like to see that in guys. … To see him at center a little bit more is something we want to see.”

Point is a natural center. A third-round draft pick in 2014, he captained Team Canada at last year’s World Juniors in Finland. In 29 games this season, he has two goals and nine assists.

The Lightning kick off a three-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary, where Point is expected to center the third line between Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov. Johnson is likely to center Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov on the top line, with Filppula between Brian Boyle and Jonathan Drouin on the second line.

A popular preseason Stanley Cup pick, the Lightning (14-13-2) really need to start stringing some wins together. If the playoffs started today, they’d miss them by four points.

Tampa Bay also plays Friday in Vancouver and Saturday in Edmonton.

Related: These are tough times for the Lightning, from Yzerman right on down

Baertschi unfazed after healthy scratching, will be back in Vancouver’s lineup tonight


A healthy scratch in Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Washington, Sven Baertschi will be back in the Canucks’ lineup tonight in Carolina.

Baertschi was a minus-3 in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Florida. Hence, the spot in the press box against the Capitals. The 24-year-old winger has just four goals in 26 games, and that’s not enough on a team that badly needs his offense.

“It’s part of developing,” he said of the healthy scratching. “It’s just one game. Honestly, it didn’t really faze me. I’m a confident player. I’m just happy to be back.”

Not only will Baertschi be back in the lineup, he’ll be manning one of the points on the first-unit power play. Vancouver went 0-for-5 with the man advantage in D.C. — which, again, is not something the Canucks can afford.

Baertschi will be an interesting player to watch going forward, because it’s no guarantee that the Canucks will choose to protect him in the expansion draft. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Loui Eriksson all must be protected due to their no-movement clauses, and there’s no way Bo Horvat will be available for Vegas to pick. That only leaves three spots for Jannik Hansen, Brandon Sutter, Markus Granlund, Baertschi and any others.

Puljujarvi could see time in the AHL, says Chiarelli

Jesse Puljujarvi has been a healthy scratch the last two games for the Edmonton Oilers. The right winger may play tonight against Columbus, but an assignment to Bakersfield is not out of the question down the line.

“He’s shown he can play at this level. He hasn’t played lately,” Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters this morning. “It’s not ideal to have an 18-year-old not playing every game. He may see some time in the [AHL]. We’ll see how it goes.”

Chiarelli added that Puljujarvi would not be loaned to Finland for the upcoming World Juniors.

The fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft, Puljujarvi has one goal and seven assists in 22 games. His possession numbers are solid, and he’s a plus-5. But head coach Todd McLellan has been loath to hand him much ice time lately, if he’s been in the lineup at all.

“This is an age-old dilemma,” said Chiarelli. “You have to balance the development at playing eight minutes (in the NHL) versus 15 minutes or 20 minutes somewhere else. So I’ve had extensive discussions with the coaching staff. We’re all on the same page on this. … But I’m happy with his development. It would be ideal if he was playing every game, but he’s not.”

The Coyotes are worth watching… for potential trades


The Arizona Coyotes (9-14-5) have just one win in their last eight games. They are 29th in goals for, and 29th in goals against. Last night, they got embarrassed, 7-0, in Pittsburgh.

In other words, it’s only December, but there’s little hope of a playoff berth for the Desert Dogs, even in a Western Conference that’s lost some of its strength. Heading into tonight’s game in Detroit, the Coyotes sit seven points back of a wild-card spot, and they’d have to leapfrog six teams to get in.

For the rest of the league, barring a miracle, about the only thing worth monitoring in Arizona is how the Coyotes will approach the trade deadline. GM John Chayka has not been afraid to make moves early in his tenure, and there are a number of pending free agents who could garner interest, including captain Shane Doan.

Doan would have to want a trade, as the 40-year-old winger has a no-movement clause. Though he only has three goals through 28 games, his 61 shots suggest he’s still getting chances. And he did score 28 times last season.

Forwards Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata are also pending UFAs. The former is a big center who’s already heard his name in trade rumors; the latter leads the Coyotes with eight goals.

Then there’s Anthony Duclair, who’s also had his name come up in speculation. The Coyotes do not lack young forward talent, so trading Duclair for help elsewhere could be something that Chayka would consider. The 21-year-old winger has just one goal in 25 games, but he did score 20 last season. He’s been scratched the past two games, after logging just 8:21 Thursday against Calgary.

Now, all that being said, it seems unlikely that the Coyotes would start any fire sale today. They still have to play out the schedule, and trading veterans like Doan, Hanzal and Vrbata would put their youngsters in a very tough spot.

Moreover, Stanley Cup contenders are better able to fit trade acquisitions under the salary cap later in the season, and the Coyotes will want as many bidders as possible to maximize their returns. Unless Chayka gets an offer he can’t refuse, he may be better off waiting.

In the meantime, Dave Tippett will try to coax a more competitive effort out of his charges. The head coach was left fuming after getting throttled by the Penguins.

“There is a standard you have to play to in the NHL, whether you are a young guy or a veteran, and we did not play or compete at an NHL level tonight and we ended up that is the score you get,” he said.

“That is where we are at today.”

Krug will not be disciplined for hit on Shaw


There will be no discipline for Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, who caught Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw with a big hit last night in Montreal.

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the league felt that Shaw made head contact unavoidable by putting himself in a vulnerable position prior to the hit.

Not surprisingly, the Bruins thought it was a good hit, and the Canadiens didn’t like it so much.

Shaw was able to return to the game and finished with 16:37 of ice time in the 2-1 overtime victory for Boston.

Related: Of course, the Bruins and Habs have differing opinions of Krug’s hit on Shaw