Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: What will David Pastrnak’s next contract look like?

— Up top, a reminder that Connor McDavid is the fastest kid alive.

David Pastrnak has 13 goals in his first 18 games of the season. He’s also a pending restricted free agent, which begs the question — what kind of deal should he get from the Boston Bruins? The Globe argues for a long-term pact, and that may indeed be the best course of action, depending on the final cap hit. But the B’s already have a bunch of big contracts on the books, so you have to wonder if they might push for a bridge. That’s what Brad Marchand did in 2011, before cashing in on his next two contracts. (Boston Globe)

— Could Marian Hossa become the next Jaromir Jagr? It’s a good question — in fact, we’ve asked it before. The answer will become even more important next season when Hossa’s salary falls to just $1 million for the remaining four years of his contract. Hossa, 37, said prior to the current season that he was going to take things “year-by-year.” The way he’s played so far, it sure doesn’t look like he needs to retire. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Devan Dubnyk has been practically unbeatable in Minnesota’s crease. Among NHL starters, only Carey Price‘s .947 save percentage is higher than his .946 mark. But Dubnyk doesn’t want to get too hung up on his numbers. “Obviously you can look at them all you want between games, but if you’re so worried about what they’re going to be it’s going to affect how you feel, and how you react to getting scored on during a game, because it’s going to bother you if you give up two on seven shots early in the game and you’re worried about improving your stats instead of just the next save, that could have an effect on what you’re doing.” (NHL.com)

— Did you know Mike Richter was once a member of the Nashville Predators? Find out how that ever happened by reading this list of five NHLers you didn’t know got picked in expansion drafts. (The Hockey News)

— The Arizona Coyotes don’t intend to lend winger Lawson Crouse or defensemen Jakob Chychrun to Canada’s World Juniors entry. Arizona prospect Dylan Strome was named yesterday to Canada’s selection camp, but he’s not on the Coyotes’ NHL roster anymore after being returned to his junior team earlier this month. (Arizona Republic)

D-to-D now a no-no under Torts

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The word “dinosaur” is often used to describe John Tortorella.

That’s just what happens when you call it “the Corsi and the Fenwick” while railing against hockey’s new statistics.

But the way things are developing this season in Columbus, “dinosaur” might be an unfair label, because Tortorella has clearly learned a few things from his failures.

Take his new approach to moving the puck:

Unless the Blue Jackets are making a line change, Tortorella wants his defensemen to minimize their passes back and forth. Instead, he wants them to get the puck up to the forwards as quickly as possible. Don’t wait for the other team to get set defensively. Attack. Now.

“To me, it’s the process of the past couple of years and where the league has gone,” Tortorella said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “We need (the defensemen) to be part of our quickness. I’ll say it again, I think we’ve added leg speed, but I think we have added mental quickness, too, and (reducing the D-to-D pass) is part of the mental quickness.”

As long-time PHT readers will know, this blog was an ardent critic of Tortorella’s during his one disastrous year as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

In fact, we once wrote specifically about all the D-to-D passes that the Canucks defensemen were making:

Under Tortorella, getting the puck up to the forwards as soon as possible doesn’t seem to be a priority.

The result is defensemen holding on to the puck for what seems like forever — often being forced to circle back, or pass it back and forth with their partner — and no chance of a dangerous transition.

The result is an offense that ranks 28th in the NHL.

The Blue Jackets’ offense currently ranks second in the NHL, averaging 3.19 goals per game.

Of course, Tortorella only had to watch the way his old colleague, Mike Sullivan, had the Pittsburgh Penguins moving the puck last season to see how effective it can be.

In the Stanley Cup Final, the San Jose Sharks never managed to get their forecheck going against the Penguins, mostly because the puck was gone before they got there.

In today’s NHL, speed kills more than ever.

And the fastest moving object on the ice is the puck.

Read more: Alexander Wennberg is becoming a star for Columbus

Strome returns to Isles lineup, says team needs ‘wake-up call’

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Ryan Strome will be back in the Islanders’ tonight against Pittsburgh.

The 23-year-old forward wasn’t very happy about being a healthy scratch the past two games, and it sounds like his frustrations have been heard by head coach Jack Capuano.

“We’ve had some good talks over the last few days,” Capuano said, per the New York Post. “He’s been real good. He knows where his game needs to be. He’s one of those guys, for me, he cares so much. He wants to play better. He knows that he can. Just want to continue to have communication with him. What can we do better to continue to try to help him?”

Strome is a key player for the Isles. He has the talent to contribute on offense, and his 50-point season in 2014-15 proved he can do it at the NHL level. But with just two goals and four assists in 19 games this season, he knows he need to kick it up a notch.

In fact, per the Post, Strome believes the “whole team needs a wake-up call.”

He’s not wrong.

The Isles (7-10-4) enter tonight’s action seven points back of a wild-card spot, and that’s a huge hole at this point in the schedule. If they don’t start making up some ground, their playoff hopes could be all but over come Christmas time.

These next two weeks could be tough, however…

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Yikes

It’s pretty tight in the Pacific Division

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The Vancouver Canucks lost nine straight games from Oct. 22 to Nov. 7, including eight straight losses in regulation.

Yet the Canucks — who haven’t exactly caught fire since that losing streak, going a respectable 6-3-1 in 10 games — woke up this morning just five points out of first place in the Pacific Division.

In any other division, they’d be at least 11 points back of first.

Here’s how things look after last night’s action, which included victories for the Canucks, Ducks, and Sharks:

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The Edmonton Oilers were the division leaders 24 hours ago, but their 4-2 loss to Toronto cost them two spots in the standings.

Based on goal-differential, it would appear to be a four-team race for the three automatic playoff spots. And that may, indeed, be how it goes. The Sharks are the defending conference champs; the Kings are getting healthier and starting to roll; the Ducks have no shortage of talent; and the Oilers, well, the Oilers have Connor McDavid.

But as long as the Canucks and Flames — and okay fine, the Coyotes too — can stay within striking distance of third place, there remains the possibility that one of them goes on a run and makes things interesting down the stretch.

We saw in 2014-15 what happened when the Kings let the Flames stick around. Most believed the Kings would find a way in the end, but they didn’t, becoming the first defending Stanley Cup champion to miss the playoffs since the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes.

Alexander Wennberg is becoming a star for Columbus

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It’s been almost a year since the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Ryan Johansen.

At the time, the trade seemed to open a huge hole at center ice, one that Jackets fans hoped might be filled by Auston Matthews.

But, of course, the Jackets didn’t get Matthews. They ended up with the third overall draft pick, using it to select Pierre-Luc Dubois, a player who believes he can be a “first-line center in the NHL,” but was sent back to junior at the start of the current season.

And so many felt it would be another year of struggles for the Jackets. Until they had a legitimate No. 1 center, it was going to be tough. Sure, the young defense would develop, and perhaps Sergei Bobrovsky could keep them in most of their games. But as a whole, hopes for 2016-17 were pretty low.

Enter Alexander Wennberg, the Jackets’ first-round draft pick in 2013. The 22-year-old is surpassing all expectations in 2016-17. Playing on a line with Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno, Wennberg has piled up 20 points in 21 games, including 15 assists.

“He has the vision, he can make plays,” Saad told the Columbus Dispatch recently. “Once he has the puck on his stick, he’s deadly with it.”

Last Friday against Tampa Bay, Wennberg won a puck battle in the corner, then fed Saad in front for the game-winning goal:

Wennberg’s play-making has also helped the Blue Jackets become the NHL’s most deadly team with the man advantage. While rookie defenseman Zach Werenski has deservedly earned much of the credit for the Jackets’ power play, it’s Wennberg’s nine PP assists that lead the team.

       Read more: Werenski learning the rigors of an NHL schedule

Where did all this come from?

Well, head coach John Tortorella started giving Wennberg more ice time about a year ago, not too long after he took over from Todd Richards.

“He’s been probably one of our best play-makers,” Tortorella said in January, per NHL.com. “When you talk play-makers, everyone thinks offense, but coming out of our end zone, too, he makes plays. He’s not an off-the-glass guy. He wants to try to make a play so we keep possession. For such a young man, I just love his poise, and that’s what you need. You can’t be afraid to make a play and he has shown that.”

It remains to be seen if Wennberg can maintain his points pace. He may cool off a touch, or maybe even more than a touch. But as of today, he’s keeping some pretty impressive company among NHL centers:

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Wennberg scored his fifth goal of the season last night; it turned out to be the game-winner in a 5-1 domination of the Lightning.

The Jackets now have just one regulation loss in their last nine. In their last five games (2-1-2), they’ve outshot their opponents by a combined margin of 189 to 125.

Their next game is Thursday in Colorado, where the Avalanche better bring a lot more intensity, because this Columbus team might be for real.

Related: Don’t tell Torts, but the Jackets’ Corsi has been really good lately