The Toronto Maple Leafs made it official today, announcing the signing of Russian defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year entry-level contract.
It was reported all the way back in January that the Leafs were expected to do just that.
From the press release:
Zaitsev, 24, collected 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) and 20 penalty minutes in 46 regular season games with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this past season, before adding 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 20 playoff games. His 13 points in the post-season were tied for the most among KHL defenceman. Zaitsev was twice selected to play in the KHL All-Star Game and was named a KHL first-team all-star in 2014-15.
Safe to say that the undrafted Zaitsev will have a good chance to crack a Leafs defense that’s short on overall quality, and especially short on right shots.
Since entering the league in 1970, the Vancouver Canucks have never had a true No. 1 defenseman.
That’s not to say they haven’t had some decent defensemen, because they have.
But they’ve never had one who could win the Norris Trophy or play 30 minutes a night in the playoffs, a la Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty.
And according to GM Jim Benning, even if the Canucks use their fifth overall pick to draft the best defenseman in this year’s draft — say, somebody like Olli Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun, or Mikhail Sergachev — they may still not have a true No. 1.
“I don’t know if there’s a true No. 1 defenseman (in the draft),” Benning told TSN 1040 radio. “If you look through the league right now, there’s maybe eight or ten No. 1 defensemen in the whole league.”
And so the Canucks may choose a winger like Matthew Tkachuk or, perhaps more likely, a center like Logan Brown. If Pierre-Luc Dubois doesn’t get picked at No. 4, he’d certainly be an option, too.
“If we felt there was a true No. 1 defenseman….then that’s where our focus would be,” said Benning. “But having said that, with Henrik Sedin getting older now, we have to look to the future, too.”
Related: A ‘real legitimate chance’ Oilers trade fourth overall pick
Antti Raanta will return to back up Henrik Lundqvist next season. The New York Rangers announced today that Raanta has agreed to terms on a new contract.
It’s reportedly a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1 million.
Raanta — who joined the Rangers in the wake of Cam Talbot’s departure — went 11-6-2 with a .919 save percentage during the regular season. He could’ve become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
After making 18 starts in 2015-16, there’s reason to wonder if Raanta’s workload will increase next season. Lundqvist turned 34 in March and struggled down the stretch and in the playoffs. Assuming Raanta can keep providing quality netminding, it may be in the Rangers’ best interests to give their franchise goalie a bit more rest during the 82-game schedule.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan opted not to name Olli Maatta‘s replacement tonight, but there’s reason to believe it will be Derrick Pouliot.
According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Justin Schultz — the other option to take Maatta’s spot on Pittsburgh’s blue line — stayed out for a long skate this morning, typically a sign that a player won’t play that night.
Whether it’s Pouliot or Schultz, we won’t know for sure until this evening. Sullivan would only say that Maatta, the victim of a suspension-worthy Brooks Orpik hit on Saturday, would miss Game 3 against the Capitals.
“Maatta will not play tonight,” the coach said. “He is out with an upper-body injury. The rest of the lineup will be a game-time decision.”
Pouliot, 22, has not yet played in the postseason. His last appearance was on April 9 in Pittsburgh’s last game of the regular season.
Related: Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta
The Edmonton Oilers need to start winning, and they need to start winning soon.
They also need to improve their defense, and they need to do it badly.
Take those two needs and it’s no surprise to hear that GM Peter Chiarelli is considering trading the fourth overall pick in this summer’s draft.
“There’s a real legitimate chance to look to move this pick, to improve our team — to get bigger or to get a D and get something else,” he told CHED radio, per the Edmonton Journal.
“We’re going to look at a lot of different things.”
The Oilers can dangle more than just the fourth overall pick to get what they need. After yet another missed playoffs, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have all heard their names come up in speculation.
The challenge for Chiarelli will be targeting the right player, and getting something done without dramatically overpaying. There are plenty of teams that will be looking for a top-4 defenseman this offseason, but none that will be giving one away for cheap.
Related: Changes are coming in Edmonton