Jason Brough

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 05:  Alexander Wennberg #41 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during their game at the Wells Fargo Center on March 5, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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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

Rangers remain NHL’s most valuable team, according to Forbes

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: The New York Rangers salute the crowd following their 2-1 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on March 18, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Rangers have widened the gap atop the annual list of the NHL’s most valuable teams.

According to Forbes, the Rangers’ franchise value has risen four percent in the last year to $1.25 billion. Meanwhile, the NHL’s second-most valuable team, the Montreal Canadiens, fell five percent to $1.12 billion, and the third-most valuable, the Toronto Maple Leafs, fell four percent to $1.1 billion. The Chicago Blackhawks ($925M) and Boston Bruins ($800M) rounded out the top five.

In terms of percentage gains, the Florida Panthers made the biggest jump; their franchise value rose 25 percent to $235 million, thanks in large part to help from Broward County.

The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, fell the most — six percent, to $700 million — as they missed the playoffs for the second time in three years and attendance declined.

The NHL’s least valuable team is the Carolina Hurricanes, at an estimated $230 million.

Last year’s rankings: Rangers surpass the Leafs, become NHL’s most valuable franchise

Boudreau left fuming after Wild blow 2-0 lead in Vancouver

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild looks on during the game against Winnipeg Jets on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Wild were playing well, and they had a 2-0 lead in the second period.

But all it took was a careless interference penalty by Matt Dumba and the Vancouver Canucks had life again. The Canucks would score on the power play, then tie the game after another Wild penalty. Minnesota would go on to lose, 5-4, not even getting a point out of a game it once led by two goals.

Per the StarTribune, an irritated head coach, Bruce Boudreau, told reporters that the Wild “don’t have any right to play like that. We’re not leading the league by 20 points or anything like that.”

He’s right. The Wild finished the month of November with a record of 5-6-2, and an overall record of 11-8-3. They’re still in a playoff spot, but Nashville is on their heels for third place in the Central Division, and they wouldn’t have far to fall out of a wild-card spot.

Darcy Kuemper made a rare start against the Canucks and fell victim to some tough bounces, shoddy defending and adept tips. Vancouver’s winning goal was a crazy one, with Troy Stecher‘s point shot going way wide, before it hit Sven Baertschi‘s skate and ricocheted in.

Expect Devan Dubnyk to start Friday in Calgary and Sunday in Edmonton. The Wild finish their road trip Wednesday in Toronto. Dubnyk will probably start that one too, barring anything unexpected.

But whenever Kuemper (2-2-1, .897) gets the nod again, a bounce-back would be reassuring, from both him and his teammates. Dubnyk can’t win them all for the Wild, and he can’t play them all either.

Pre-game reading: The guy who benched Gretzky has a new job

1988:  Head coach Robbie Ftorek of the Los Angeles Kings during a Kings game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell  /Allsport
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— Robbie Ftorek is back behind a bench. The former coach of the Kings, Devils and Bruins has been named the new coach of the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals, replacing Rod Aldoff, who was fired. Ftorek may still be best known as the guy who benched Wayne Gretzky, to which the Great One responded: “Robbie, if you want to teach, go back to New Haven. We’re here to win the Stanley Cup.”  (The Virginia-Pilot)

— In Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” column, he notes that the Sabres have been watching a lot of Vancouver’s AHL team, the Utica Comets. Friedman assumes the Sabres are watching Jake Virtanen, whose relationship with the Canucks is maybe not so great right now. And Friedman is probably correct about that. But we also wonder about Jordan Subban, the undersized defenseman who’s unlikely to have a future in Vancouver with Troy Stecher already there. Subban (yes, he’s P.K.’s younger brother) has five goals and nine assists in 17 games this season. He might not be a fit for the Sabres, who already have Rasmus Ristolainen to run their power play, but some team in need of goals might be willing to give Subban a chance. (Sportsnet)

— The coach of the Saskatoon Blades has banned his players from using their phones at the rink. The Blades, in case you had to be told, are off to a tough start under their new bench boss, Dean Brockman. The new policy, according to Brockman, was implemented to see if it “helped our focus on the ice and in the dressing room.”  No word if the players had to be texted the new policy first. (CBC)

Alex Ovechkin scores lots of nice goals off the rush and on the power play. But he’d like to score more greasy ones. “Sometimes you just have to find different ways to score. Obviously in front of the net, there’s lots of rebounds. Especially with teams who play right now, the goalies give up lots of rebounds. You have to go out there and try to find it.” (NHL.com)

Dylan Larkin burst onto the scene last season, drawing comparisons to Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman in the process. But this season hasn’t gone so well. The 20-year-old forward has a respectable six goals, but only one assist. Said GM Ken Holland: “Dylan got off to a great start to his NHL career and then the league kicked in. Whenever you see a young player start to play good you’ll see the league start to make adjustments and it gets harder to produce offense.” (CBC)

Brian Campbell was ‘pretty surprised’ that his old coach, Gerard Gallant, got fired

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01:  Brian Campbell #51 of the Chicago Blackhawks participates in warm-ups before a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues at United Center on October 1, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Count Brian Campbell among those shocked to learn of Gerard Gallant’s firing in Florida.

“Surprise. Probably a lot like everyone else, it seems, was pretty surprised at what happened,” the former Florida defenseman told reporters Monday in Chicago, where his Blackhawks will host the Panthers tonight.

“Gerard’s a great guy. I liked him. I thought he did a good job there. So yeah, I was surprised, shocked. I don’t know what else to say.”

Campbell played two seasons under Gallant, including last season when the Panthers finished with 103 points and Gallant was a finalist for coach of the year.

But as we’ve come to learn, Gallant did not see eye-to-eye with management on certain fundamental issues. On Monday, interim coach Tom Rowe spoke of a “philosophical divide” that existed between Gallant and the front office.

“We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, that moved the puck quickly, attack the offensive net and pressure the puck in all three zones,” said Rowe, who will relinquish his duties as general manager to focus on coaching. “Gerard and I talked about it, he said he wanted to get a little more size. And we decided to go in a different direction.”

Rowe, 60, played 357 NHL games as a forward. He’s also been a head coach in the AHL and KHL, and an assistant coach for three seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. So it’s not like he lacks experience.

But it remains to be seen how the Panthers will respond to the coaching change. Based on Campbell’s remarks, Gallant was a popular figure among his former players. Can Rowe get better results? He’s well aware that he needs to deliver.

“At the end of the day we’ve got to get this team on track. We think we have a very good team,” Rowe said, per the Sun-Sentinel. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity. We got great hockey players and I think anybody would be excited about the opportunity. I know what’s at stake. I know the money that’s been spent on this team; I know the commitment from ownership to the front office, the coaches and the players.”

Welcome to the pressure of coaching in the NHL.

Related: The plan in Florida is “multiple Stanley Cups”