Jason Brough

EDMONTON, AB - NOVEMBER 29:  Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers faces off against Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 29, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Draisaitl’s growth raises questions for Oilers

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It’s easy to forget about Leon Draisaitl.

Mostly because he’s not Connor McDavid, and that’s who everyone thinks of when they think of the present-day Edmonton Oilers.

They also think about the other first overall draft picks: Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, only the latter of whom is still with the team.

But back to Draisaitl — imagine if (insert your favorite team) had a 21-year-old forward with 11 goals and 11 assists in 28 games. You’d be pretty excited about that guy, right?

That’s the season Draisaitl’s currently enjoying. The third overall draft pick in 2014 (yeah, it’s about time the Oilers started to win), he’s scored four goals in his last four games — and no, he doesn’t always get to play with McDavid.

But the two youngsters have looked good together on special teams, and there have been times when coach Todd McLellan has decided to load up the top line.

“Leon has no trouble playing the wing. He’s done it before,” McLellan said, per the Edmonton Journal. “Sometimes you have a little security there too because Connor and Leon both understand how to play low in the D-zone and the first guy back can assume that position. You also have two centers who can take face-offs as long as you’re not exposed on other lines.”

Long term, the Oilers would probably like Draisaitl to center his own line. Where he ends up may depend on what they do with Nugent-Hopkins, the 23-year-old center who heard his name plenty in trade rumors as the Oilers tried to shore up their blue line over the summer.

Though scoring isn’t a huge problem for the Oilers, they could still use an offensive defenseman to help the power play. So far this season, they’ve been making do with Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, but adding a real specialist could take their power play from good to great.

The Oilers may also need to shed some salary at some point. It’s nothing urgent right now, but Draisaitl is a pending restricted free agent and McDavid’s entry-level deal ends after the 2017-18 season. You can imagine what the captain’s second contract might look like.

Remember that Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli has never shied away from making trades, and that June’s expansion draft could be preceded by a number of deals.

Yes, Chiarelli would have to think long and hard about trading an all-situations player like Nugent-Hopkins, but depending on the return, it might be something he’d consider.

Related: With McDavid and RNH, where does Draisaitl fit for Oilers?

Not getting any easier: Slumping Avs take on the Bruins in Boston

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Head Coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche (C) looks on from the bench during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Losers of six straight, five of them in regulation, the Colorado Avalanche will be in tough again tonight.

The Avs will be missing captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Erik Johnson when they take on the Bruins in Boston. Landeskog (lower body) is getting closer to a return, but he’s not ready yet. Johnson (broken leg) is going to be out a while longer.

Meanwhile, the Avs’ season has been slipping away. They’re already 10 points back of a wild-card spot, and it’ll be hard to make up ground against a Boston team that’s gone six straight without losing in regulation.

The Bruins fought back from a 3-0 deficit last night in Washington, where the Capitals eventually won, 4-3, in overtime.

The Avs, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-3 loss in Nashville. They played the Preds close, and had a strong push late, but ultimately couldn’t beat Pekka Rinne on any of their 13 third-period shots.

“For me, that was the hardest we played — that was the best game we played in a couple weeks,” coach Jared Bednar told reporters. “We had some chances to square that game up.”

Bednar, of course, was a late replacement for Patrick Roy, who abruptly resigned in August. The Avs started the season with three wins in their first four, but have gone 6-13-1 since, at times admitting they’ve been “awful.” 

     Read more: Deadline target? Iginla will ‘cross that bridge when it comes’

The Avs play Saturday in Montreal then finish their road trip Sunday in Toronto. For Colorado’s sake, at least those two opponents have their own issues. The Canadiens are suddenly down two centers, while the young Maple Leafs are still learning how to win.

Tonight at TD Garden, the Bruins will be significant favorites, even though they played last night on the road. Boston (15-10-2) has one of the best lines in all of hockey with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

That’s the challenge facing the Avs, who better figure it out soon; otherwise, they’ll need a Christmas miracle to get back into the playoff race.

The Lightning are getting healthier and ‘starting to figure things out’

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle (11) celebrates his shootout goal against the Washington Capitals during an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t played since Sunday, so they should be well-rested for tonight’s encounter with the Vancouver Canucks at Amalie Arena.

This is another important game for the Bolts, who’ve won just once in their last six. A Stanley Cup contender in the eyes of many, Tampa Bay (14-11-2) is currently two points out of a playoff spot.

While Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan remain out with injuries, the Lightning are expected to get a couple of key players back when defenseman Jason Garrison and forward Jonathan Drouin return against Vancouver.

The Bolts already feel like they’ve turned the corner, after beating Washington in a shootout Saturday and earning a point Sunday in Carolina.

“When you go through those streaks, it’s kind of like you’re going into games just waiting for something bad to happen,” forward Alex Killorn told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think we’ve kind of gotten over that. You’ve got to be the instigator, got to be the aggressor and take over games.”

There’s definitely the potential for the Lightning to take over tonight’s game. The banged-up Canucks will enter without their two top defenseman, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, and one of their best forwards, Jannik Hansen, among other injuries.

Saturday brings a much tougher test when the Pittsburgh Penguins pay a visit.

But tonight’s focus is the Canucks. The Lightning could really use the two points. They should get them. They just need to play like they can.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to get back on track,” Killorn said. “We’re starting to figure things out.”

The Canucks are injured, on the road, and desperate for wins

A shot by New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, not pictured, is seen before entering the net of Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom (25), of Sweden, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Newark, N.J. Also seen are Devils' John Moore (2) and Canucks' Ben Hutton (27). (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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The Vancouver Canucks are in a tough spot.

Again.

After Tuesday’s loss in New Jersey, they sit five points back of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

They also have four games left on a very tough road trip.

Oh, and they’re down three defensemen — Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, and Philip Larsen — and three forwards — Jannik Hansen, Derek Dorsett and Anton Rodin.

But other than that, everything’s going great.

Tonight, the Canucks will take on the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Three more games at Florida, Washington, and Carolina await.

There is good news, though, as Larsen does not seem to be seriously injured after taking that devastating hit from Taylor Hall. The 27-year-old defenseman was medically cleared to return to Vancouver. He’ll be replaced tonight by little-used Alex Biega.

But the Canucks (11-13-2) need to find a way to stay in the playoff race, because it doesn’t get any easier once they got home, with visits from Tampa Bay, Columbus, and Winnipeg (twice). By the Christmas break, they could easily be in an even bigger hole, and that would make things very interesting indeed.

That’s because, earlier this week, GM Jim Benning told The Province newspaper that he will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, a pending unrestricted free agent who’s been among the Canucks’ best this season. A versatile forward with playoff experience, Burrows could theoretically bring a decent return at the deadline.

“Now that Jim said that, well, for me, I love my teammates, I love my team and I love this organization,” Burrows said, per the Vancouver Sun. “But at the same time, things can change quickly in this business. I’ve learned that before. I learned that last year, last summer. So for me, it’s take it one day at a time.”

Things could certainly change if the team falls short, especially after ownership committed $36 million to Loui Eriksson in free agency. The Canucks are right up against the salary cap. So far, they have refused to tear it down and rebuild, a la Toronto and Buffalo.

Which is to say, if the Canucks are out of the playoff race by the deadline, management (and ownership) may have to reconsider their stances. Because after last season’s deadline disaster, they really can’t afford another.

The best way to avoid such a scenario would be to stay in the race and play the “meaningful games in March” that they’re still aiming to play. That starts tonight in Tampa, against a team with some desperation of its own. The Lightning have just one win in their last six, so they won’t be taking their opponents lightly.

And that could be more bad news for the Canucks.

Two late goals allow Ducks to beat ‘Canes in shootout

Anaheim Ducks' Nick Ritchie, left, celebrates his goal as he skates past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, right, and Jay McClement during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. The Ducks won 6-5 in shootout. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Former Anaheim Ducks great Teemu Selanne had a philosophy about scoring goals. The Ducks are hoping his “ketchup bottle theory” applies to star winger Corey Perry.

Perry and Nick Ritchie scored late in the third period to tie it and rookie Ondrej Kase got the deciding goal in a shootout, lifting the Ducks over the Carolina Hurricanes 6-5 on Wednesday night.

After Ritchie deflected in Cam Fowler‘s shot with 3:59 left in the third, Perry got his fifth goal of the season with 2:28 remaining to tie it at 5.

“It’s nice to see it hit the back of the net for once, and not the goalie,” Perry said.

Perry, who scored 34 goals last year and won the Hart Trophy with 50 in 2010-11, hadn’t scored since Oct. 25, but said he’s hoping this goal leads to more.

“There was a player that I coached before and his name was Teemu Selanne,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “He used to say that goal scoring was like pouring ketchup out of the ketchup bottle. Once it starts to flow, then it comes readily.”

It was the first non-regulation win for the Ducks this season and it was aided by Anaheim’s young core. Kase slickly deked to his backhand before lifting his shootout attempt over Cam Ward. Stefan Noesen, recalled from San Diego of the American Hockey League earlier in the day, got his first NHL goal, and Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Kesler also scored for Anaheim. John Gibson made 29 saves.

“The light went on and I threw my hands up,” Noesen said. “It was all of the emotions from two long years coming through at once.”

Teuvo Teravainen scored twice for the Hurricanes, and Jay McClement, Sebastian Aho and Brett Pesce also had goals. Ward made 33 saves while Carolina matched a season high with five goals.

“There were a couple breakdowns,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said. “At times, I thought we did a real good job at controlling the tempo of the game. We had the puck lots. But we need to do a better job defensively and have a better awareness away from the puck.”

Pesce scored on a slap shot 4:46 into the third period to give the Hurricanes a 4-2 lead. Kesler scored about four minutes later to cut the deficit, but Teravainen’s second goal a minute later made it 5-3.

Noesen scored at 13:52 in the second period to make it 3-2. Joseph Cramarossa and Kase, Noesen’s former San Diego Gulls teammates and roommate, were credited with the assists.

“They’re both two of my pretty good friends,” Noesen said. “I think no matter what happens, it was special. Seeing Cram’ being the first one to come hug me and get the puck, that was awesome.”

     Read more: The Ducks have a youth movement of their own

Less than two minutes after McClement broke a 1-1 tie with a backhand around Gibson at 10:10 in the second period, Aho broke away, faked a shot and backhanded it over Gibson to make it 3-1.

With 38 seconds left in the first period, Teravainen tied it at 1 with a power-play goal. Jaccob Slavin couldn’t get a stick on a pass and instead used his skate to get it over to the right circle, where Teravainen found it and ripped a slap shot past Gibson.

Cogliano put the Ducks on the board with just over three minutes left in the first, when he went five-hole on Ward with his own rebound, his seventh of the season.