Jason Brough

Rodin making a good second impression with Canucks


Anton Rodin‘s second stint in North America is off to a promising start. The 25-year-old winger scored his second goal of the preseason last night for the Vancouver Canucks. Both goals have been one-timers, the first off a pass from Troy Stecher, the second from Bo Horvat.

It’s the kind of finishing the Canucks have been looking for, after they finished with the second-fewest goals in the NHL last season.

Rodin was originally drafted by Vancouver, all the way back in 2009. In 2013, after two disappointing seasons in the AHL, he returned to Sweden and found his game with SHL club Brynäs IF.

In January, Rodin suffered a freak, season-ending knee injury during practice, but with 37 points (16G, 21A) in 33 games up to then, he’d already done enough to be named the MVP of the league. The Canucks signed him in March.

“The knee gets sore after games and some practices, but I think I just have to get used to all the work I have to do – the icing and stretching a lot,” Rodin said recently, per The Province.

“I have to live with it for a while. But I’m stronger and more confident than the last time I was in the NHL and it’s easier for me now. But I still have to bust my ass every day and that’s how I play my best. If I’m a hard worker, I’m a better player and if I’m not, I won’t be.”

There is plenty of competition for a roster spot among the Canucks forwards. Rodin has made a good impression. So have youngsters Brendan Gaunce and Joseph Labate. Ditto for veterans on PTOs Tuomo Ruutu and Jack Skille.

It could mean that 20-year-old Jake Virtanen, currently out with a shoulder injury, starts the season in the AHL. But there are still three preseason games to go, so for now, everything is up in the air.

Barret Jackman to announce retirement tomorrow in St. Louis

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Barret Jackman #5 of the St. Louis Blues have words during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 24, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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He finished his career in Nashville, but Barret Jackman will always be remembered for his hundreds of games in a St. Louis Blues uniform.

That’s why Jackman will officially retire from the NHL tomorrow afternoon during a press conference at Scottrade Center, the home of the Blues. The 35-year-old defenseman played 803 games for St. Louis, before signing with the Predators last summer. He was bought out by Nashville in June.

Jackman was the Blues’ first-round draft pick (17th overall) in 1999. A tough, stay-at-home defenseman, he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2003 and went on to finish with 186 points (29G, 157A) in 876 career games.

Jackman’s press conference will be attended by Blues owner Tom Stillman and GM Doug Armstrong, as well as two former Blues defensemen who are now in Hall of Fame, Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis.

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).

Schwartz injury increases focus on Blues who could step up

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24:  Ty Rattie #18 of the St. Louis Blues passes around Trevor van Riemsdyk #57 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 2-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It was already going to be interesting to watch the St. Louis Blues without David Backes and Troy Brouwer.

Then came today’s news that they’ll be without Jaden Schwartz for at least the first two weeks of the regular season.

Now the focus really turns to players like Ty Rattie, the 23-year-old winger who’s piled up the points in the AHL but still has to establish himself as a regular NHLer.

Can he help fill the void?

“It’s him, it’s (Kenny) Agostino, it’s (Samuel) Blais, it’s (Magnus) Paajarvi,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, per In The Slot. “These are guys that, man, they can make our team be a little bit different here, quite a bit different and really be one of those teams where we’re dangerous right throughout our lineup if they can make the grade.”

Backes had 21 goals last season, while Brouwer chipped in 18. The Blues did partially answer their departures with the David Perron signing, but they’ll need others to step up as well. That includes veteran Alex Steen, whose goal totals have fallen from 33 to 24 to 17 in three consecutive seasons, and 20-year-old Robby Fabbri, who had 18 goals last season as a rookie, but has the talent to score more. Paul Stastny only had 10 goals last season. He can do better.

Schwartz, too, will need to stay healthy when he returns. He only played 33 games last season after fracturing his ankle in October. He has to be doubly frustrated after sustaining yet another injury in practice.

And, of course, Vladimir Tarasenko will need to keep scoring. He had 40 goals last season, the fourth most in the NHL. Any falloff there would hurt.

The Blues finished 2015-16 with 107 points, then made it all the way to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. They still consider themselves Stanley Cup contenders.

But first things first, they have to get back into the playoffs.

“This is my sixth season in the Central Division and this looks like the most challenging year yet,” Hitchcock told The Associated Press yesterday. “The crunching between the top and bottom started last year, and it’s going to be closer this year.”

The playoff race in the West could be ‘tighter than ever’

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 9:  Goalie Kari Lehtonen #32 of the Dallas Stars makes a save against Kyle Brodziak #28 of the St. Louis Blues in Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on May 9, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The NHL’s Western Conference should be wild all season, perhaps as much as ever as parity reigns and points are tough to come by on any given night.

A slew of teams have a shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

The defending Conference champion San Jose Sharks, who had five players in the World Cup of Hockey finals , certainly appear to have a chance to be among the final two still skating in mid-June. That alone would be a feat because no team from the conference has pulled it off since the Detroit Red Wings, now an Eastern Conference team, won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and came within a win of repeating.

Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis will likely be among the contenders. Dallas, too.

The Blackhawks and Kings, who alternated as champions from 2012 to 2015 and won five Cups in a six-season span, failed to even make it out of the first round last in 2016.

Both teams certainly have a chance to bounce back this season.

“This is my sixth season in the Central Division and this looks like the most challenging year yet,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “The crunching between the top and bottom started last year, and it’s going to be closer this year.”

Hitchcock and Stars general manager Jim Nill both believe the teams that were at the bottom of the conference last season on moving up.

“The Winnipegs and the Colorados are going to be better teams,” Nill told the AP. “I think it’s going to be tighter than ever.”

How tight?

“Everyone has a shot,” San Jose’s Logan Couture said.

Related: There’s only one ‘vision’ in Vancouver this season, and that’s winning