Jason Brough

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Avs hire two new coaches

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The Colorado Avalanche have hired Ray Bennett as an assistant coach and Jussi Parkkila as goaltending coach.

“Ray brings a tremendous amount of NHL experience and hockey knowledge to our team, and Jussi has a proven track record of working with goaltenders,” said Avs GM Joe Sakic. “They’re a great complement to our current coaching staff, and we’re excited to have them join our organization.”

A noteworthy tidbit from the press release:

Parkkila began his pro coaching career with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in 2007-08, where he tutored current Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov.

As for Bennett, he’s been an assistant for the St. Louis Blues the last 10 seasons, his tenure dating all the way back to the Andy Murray years. But Bennett was let go in May, along with three others.

Bennett and Parkkila will join head coach Jared Bednar’s staff, which already included assistant Nolan Pratt.

After finishing dead last in 2016-17, the Avs fired assistants Tim Army and Dave Farrish, and also relieved goalie coach Francois Allaire of his duties.

Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense

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Last summer, we wrote about the New York Rangers’ defense and how it was the biggest worry for the team.

Well, a heck of a lot has changed since then.

Gone are Kevin Klein (retirement), Dan Girardi, Dylan McIlrath, and Adam Clendening.

In are Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith, and Anthony DeAngelo. Those three join the remaining foursome of Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Brady Skjei, and Nick Holden.

Shattenkirk was the big addition, considered the best player available in unrestricted free agency. Not only that, GM Jeff Gorton was able to get the 28-year-old for less than market value. The cap hit’s a reasonable $6.65 million, and it’s only a four-year commitment.

For Shattenkirk, a New Rochelle native, it’s always been a dream to play for the Blueshirts. That’s why he left money on the table elsewhere.

“Obviously there were some sacrifices, but in my mind those sacrifices are what you leave on the table to live out a dream like this,” Shattenkirk said, per NHL.com. “As much as it is a dream for me, it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to joining a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup and that’s also a lifelong dream for me.”

Next season, one could picture a top four of McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Smith and Skjei. The latter, just 23 years old, took a big step last season, racking up 39 points in 80 games as a rookie. In the playoffs, he had four goals in 12 games.

But Skjei will need to keep progressing, and Smith will need to keep playing with an edge. That’s because Staal, the 30-year-old veteran, is aiming for a top-four role himself.

“Regardless of your role, you want to put your best hockey on the ice and I was able to do that at times this year, but not as consistently as I wanted to,” Staal told TBNewsWatch“That’s what I’ll be looking to do next year and getting back to playing elite hockey all year long.”

All in all, there are still questions that this new-look Rangers defense will have to answer. But there is more optimism now than pessimism, and that’s a big change from a year ago.

Now, about the centers…

Flames prospect Poirier admits issues with alcohol

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Emile Poirier was a first-round draft pick in 2013, going 22nd overall to the Calgary Flames after leading the Gatineau Olympiques in scoring.

With the next selection in that draft, the Washington Capitals took Andre Burakovsky.

Alas, four years later, Burakovsky is an NHL regular, and Poirier still isn’t. On Wednesday at Flames development camp, the latter opened up about his issues with alcohol that have kept him from realizing his potential.

“I want to thank the organization, especially (Flames GM) Brad Treliving for his support,” Poirier said, per Postmedia. “He helped me. I had some issues regarding drinking off the ice, and I called him for support. It wasn’t easy for me at that time. The whole organization has been supportive, my teammates … Now, I’m looking forwards, and I’m fully healthy and here for the summer.”

The 22-year-old is fortunate to have an understanding teammate in Micheal Ferland, who’s also had issues with alcohol.

In addition, Poirier speaks often with former Flames tough guy Brian McGrattan, who’s had his own battles with addiction.

Poirier has a long way to go to realize his NHL dreams. Last season in the AHL, he scored just six goals in 43 games.

But at least he’s getting help now, if only for the betterment of his life.

“I just saw my life and where it was going,” Poirier said. “I needed a change, and I had seen signs over the last two years. Finally, I admitted it to myself.”

Pens sign undrafted forward Adam Johnson out of Minnesota-Duluth

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed undrafted free-agent forward Adam Johnson to a two-year, entry-level contract.

Johnson, who just turned 23, attended the Pens’ prospect camp last week, and he must have impressed.

From the release:

He is coming off an impressive sophomore season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he scored 18 goals and tallied 37 points in 42 games. He finished second on the club in both goals and points.

A 6-foot, 174-pound product of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Johnson clinched Minnesota-Duluth’s berth in the 2017 Frozen Four when he scored an overtime, power-play goal to defeat Boston University, 3-2.

The Pens have had success with undrafted college players. Conor Sheary spent four years at UMass-Amherst before turning pro and going to the AHL. The 25-year-old winger has since won a couple of Stanley Cups.

Nesterov to sign in KHL

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Nikita Nesterov is off to the KHL.

The agent for the Russian defenseman tweeted the news this morning.

“Nikita Nesterov has decided to continue his hockey career back home,” wrote Dan Milstein. “Will sign with one of the clubs in the KHL.”

Nesterov split last season between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The Canadiens then chose not to qualify him, making him an unrestricted free agent.

At 24, Nesterov was the youngest of the remaining UFAs that played regularly in the NHL last season.