Jason Brough

2015 IIHF World Junior Championship - Quarterfinal - United States v Russia
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NHL Central Scouting releases midterm rankings

The 2016 NHL draft is shaping up to be one of the more unique drafts in NHL history.

Auston Matthews, an American that opted to play pro hockey in Switzerland this season, will almost certainly go first overall. After Matthews, a pair of Finnish phenoms — forwards Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine — could go next. At the very least, they’re widely expected to go in the top four or five.

“Matthews is the best prospect available for the 2016 draft,” said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting, which today released its midterm prospect rankings.

Matthews, Puljujarvi, and Laine were ranked the top three “International Skaters.”

Typically, the majority of top picks are “North American Skaters.” Like last year, when Connor McDavid went first overall out of the CHL and Jack Eichel went second out of the NCAA. In fact, an “International Skater” wasn’t taken until Colorado called Mikko Rantanen’s name with the 10th pick. The other Europeans taken before him — Pavel Zacha, Ivan Provorov, and Timo Meier — all played in the CHL. 

To be sure, there are some excellent “North American Skaters” this season. Like forward Matthew Tkachuk, an American who plays for OHL London.

“It was unanimous that Tkachuk was first overall on the North American list,” said Marr. “He has met and exceeded expectations and continues to excel with London after having a solid World Junior tournament.”

OHL defenseman Jakob Chychrun was the highest-ranked Canadian, coming in at No. 2 on the “North American Skaters” list.

Boston University forward Charles McAvoy was the highest-ranked NCAA player, coming in at No. 9 on the “North American Skaters” list.

Related: Central Scouting releases list of ‘players to watch’

‘The Rangers are done,’ says the New York Post

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The New York Rangers got some serious bulletin-board material today.

“The Rangers are done,” read the headline above a column written by the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

At the very least, you have to appreciate its simplicity.

An excerpt from that column:

The Rangers look slow. They look unsettled. They don’t look like a well-coached team. They look like a playoff-bubble team that will need Henrik Lundqvist to be at the height of his powers every night in order to have a chance to qualify for the playoffs.

Much of the column’s criticism focused on head coach Alain Vigneault, whom Brooks believes should be getting the Rangers “onto the ice for hard practices where they could work on their deficiencies,” as opposed to giving them time off for “rest and recuperation.”

The Rangers lost, 5-2, Saturday in Washington. Since starting the season 16-3-2, they’re 8-13-3. Their playoff cushion has decreased to just three points.

Not helping matters? Derrick Brassard is sick and unlikely to play tonight against the Canucks.

Related: All of a sudden the Rangers are a ‘disaster in the making’

Rinne can’t narrow struggles down to ‘one thing’

When the Nashville Predators beat the Wild, 3-0, on Saturday, it wasn’t their big-money goalie who got the shutout. It was the backup, Carter Hutton.

A good number of Preds fans would like to see Hutton get a second straight start tonight against streaking Chicago.

Yes, it’s been a tough season for Pekka Rinne. The 33-year-old is 16-14-7 with a .902 save percentage. Among NHL goalies with at least 20 starts, only Jonathan Bernier (.899) and Mike Smith (.901) have a lower save percentage than Rinne’s.

Predictably, there’s been considerable debate over whether it’s all on Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2014-15, or if the players in front of him bear some responsibility.

Rinne can’t say for sure.

“Obviously it would be probably easier to fix too if it were based on one thing,” he told The Tennessean. “Obviously, overall play is one thing, consistency is one thing. But at the same time, it goes also hand in hand with the team play. As a team and for me personally, haven’t been able to kind of find that really high level of play consistently and I think that’s been missing.”

Preds coach Peter Laviolette has yet to announce his starter for tonight’s game. Hutton is 4-2-1 with a .910 save percentage — not great, either — but he does have the hot hand, which has been a rare commodity for goalies in Nashville this year.

Etem on time with Rangers: ‘Sometimes you go in there and you just don’t fit in’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 22: Emerson Etem #96 of the New York Rangers and Cam Fowler #4 of the Anaheim Ducks pursue the puck during the second period at Madison Square Garden on December 22, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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When the Anaheim Ducks traded Emerson Etem to the New York Rangers last summer, the young man from Long Beach with the “LB” tattooed behind his ear embraced his new challenge.

But it wasn’t a good fit, and Etem found himself on the move yet again.

He struggled in training camp with the Rangers and was in and out of coach Alain Vigneault’s lineup. Earlier this month the Rangers traded Etem back to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Conference for forward Nicklas Jensen and a 2017 sixth-round pick.

At just 23, Etem is adjusting to his third NHL team, but coach Willie Desjardins isn’t worried about him quickly getting on track.

“It’s pretty easy because I think when you’ve been traded twice in six months, you know you’d better get your career going and you’d better be real focused,” Desjardins said last week. “I think coming in here, he knows he’s got to have a good stop here and he’s got to make this one last, so he’d better be focused and I think he’s come in with that attitude.”

Etem will play his fifth game with the Canucks on Tuesday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It won’t be a celebrated return for a player who dressed for just 19 games and registered three assists for New York, but it’s an opportunity to show his old team what he can do.

Etem realized early on it would be difficult to get a big opportunity with the Rangers.

“They’ve been in the playoffs the past few years, and they got the guys that they stick with,” Etem said. “Sometimes you go in there and you just don’t fit in. I think that’s the case. I felt like I brought speed. But (they had) a couple guys with speed, it was almost like, ‘Where do I kind of fit in?’ And I think they felt the same way. They couldn’t really put me in a position where I really fit in.”

He didn’t fit in like speedy winger Carl Hagelin, whom the Rangers dealt to Anaheim, in part, because his new contract would’ve been difficult to fit under the salary cap. Hagelin scored 17 goals last season but similarly wasn’t a good fit with the Ducks, who traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins over the weekend.

Like Hagelin in the East, the Canucks hope the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Etem’s game translates better in the West. He’s big but also can skate well, and the Canucks can use more speed and youth.

“He’s shown so far that he’s very, very speedy,” captain Henrik Sedin said. “I think for him to get the confidence back and knowing he’s going to play here and get regular shifts. Him and (linemate) Linden Vey have really looked good together. They played with each other before, so they have that chemistry that’s going to help both of them.”

Familiarity should help Etem.

Desjardins coached him in junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, and Vey played with him there. He also knew goaltender Ryan Miller from informal summer skates in California and defenseman Luca Sbisa from Anaheim.

“All that kind of makes it easier when you get here, and it definitely translates on the ice, too,” Etem said.

At this point it has to.

Etem was a first-round pick in 2010 and has had high expectations, but now the pressure is on to show why Vancouver should stick with him.

“It’s about coming in here, not waiting to take up the opportunity,” Etem said. “I’ve just got to run with it. This league gets better and better each year, and you only get so many chances to make an impression.”

Krejci practices, could be back soon

He’s not officially back yet, but David Krejci is getting closer to returning to the Bruins’ lineup.

The 29-year-old center resumed skating recently, and he practiced with teammates today. He hasn’t played a game since Dec. 27 when he suffered an upper-body injury against Ottawa.

“At this point, where I’m at right now, it’s going to be days,” Krejci told the Boston Globe. “We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. Hopefully better. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow in warmups.”

The Bruins play in Montreal tomorrow. If he’s not ready for the Habs — and it seems unlikely that he will be — Boston hosts Vancouver Thursday and Columbus Saturday.

The B’s have gone 4-4-1 in the nine games that Krejci has missed.