Jason Brough

Kyle Connor, center, puts on a Winnipeg Jets sweater after being chosen 17th overall during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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Michigan star Kyle Connor turns pro

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Freshman phenom Kyle Connor is going pro. The 19-year-old Hokey Baker finalist tweeted the news this morning, with a picture of him signing his first pro contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Connor was drafted 17th overall by the Jets last summer. He then proceeded to rack up 71 points in 38 games for the University of Michigan.

Connor becomes just the latest Wolverine to leave school early, after Zach Werenski, Michael Downing, and Tyler Motte made the same decision.

It remains to be seen where Connor will start next season. He’s eligible to go to the AHL.

Related: Harvard product Jimmy Vesey claims 2016 Hobey Baker Award

‘Mr. Game 7’ Justin Williams approaches 1,000th game

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Justin Williams tore ligaments in his left knee (twice), tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg and broke his right ankle – all before he turned 28. Even though he had won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, it’s no wonder the Los Angeles Kings wondered if Williams was damaged goods.

“He was battling those injuries so we never really knew how he was going to pan out,” former Kings teammate Drew Doughty said. “Then he starts getting healthy and playing more and more and we saw the reason why he’s a Stanley Cup champion and why he’s such an effective player.”

Two more Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP later, Williams is no longer the injury-prone risk he feared he’d become. He hasn’t missed a game in his first season with the Washington Capitals and on Sunday is set to play his 1,000th regular-season contest.

That milestone is a testament to Williams’ longevity, especially considering he has made a name for himself as “Mr. Game 7” and a playoff performer. His time to shine comes next week, but not before the 34-year-old got a chance to reflect on the career he fashioned for himself.

“You figure out what you can do and what you can’t do on the ice with regards to hitting, with regards to evading checks, with regards to making plays,” said Williams, whose major injuries occurred in 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2009. “Throughout my career I’ve learned about the body, learned about what you need to do on the ice and I’ve been able to stay healthy because of it.”

Since returning from a dislocated shoulder in 2011, Williams has only missed one game – Nov. 6, 2014, with an upper-body injury. Most hockey players go through more injury woes after 30, but not Williams, who credits smarts and good athletic training.

“You go as hard as you can on the ice when you’re on there,” Williams said. “Pacing yourself is listening to your body and knowing when you need rest, knowing when to take an optional, knowing that you need a good stretch here and there – just little things like that that elongate your career. People say, `Stretch your legs, stretch your career.”‘

Williams hasn’t just been healthy, he’s been more effective in playoffs than the regular season. He has averaged 0.68 points a game in the playoffs, including seven goals and seven assists in seven Game 7s – and his team is 7-0.

Mike Richards, who won the Cup alongside Williams with the Kings in 2012 and 2014, said the veteran winger’s contributions aren’t limited to one situation.

“It’s not just Game 7, it’s any big game any time that we need them – even throughout the season any time we need a big game,” Richards said. “He might like the spotlight. He likes being that guy. It’s good for him and it’s well-deserved.”

Williams also has had a solid regular season. His 22 goals are the most he’s put up since 2006-07 and his 52 points are the most since 2011-12.

Williams has been a fixture on the Capitals’ second line and provided a valuable net-front presence.

“The people around him know he’s a tremendous work-ethic guy out there, he tries to win every battle, in front of the net he’s outstanding and you can see how many goals he’s scored in front of the net,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “I think he’s a perfect fit for our team, perfect guy in the locker room. He’s the kind of guy who knows exactly what he has to do.”

Williams has game No. 999 left Saturday at the St. Louis Blues before 1,000 can happen Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks. So the Cobourg, Ontario, native has been around the game long enough that he’s not taking reaching Sunday healthy for granted.

“What I’ve kind of tried to do throughout my career is set goals for myself and when I meet that goal try and get another one,” Williams said. “A thousand games is certainly on that list and something that hopefully I can get to here … and think about playoffs after that.”

 

Blues announce contract extension for Edmundson

St. Louis Blues' Joel Edmundson celebrates after scoring during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks Friday, March 25, 2016, in St. Louis. The Blues won 4-0. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The St. Louis Blues have agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension for defenseman Joel Edmundson, whose new deal comes with a reported cap hit of $1.05 million.

The 22-year-old rookie has played 66 games for the Blues this season, scoring once with eight assists while logging an average of 14:54 in ice time.

St. Louis now has all eight of its defensemen signed through at least next season.

But that doesn’t mean GM Doug Armstrong can sit back and relax. Kevin Shattenkirk is a pending unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017, and it remains to be seen if the Blues will be able to re-sign him.

Related: Shattenkirk’s agent downplays trade rumors

Demers’ condition ‘improving’ after stroke

MONTREAL- NOVEMBER 22:   Former Canadiens head coach Jacques Demers speaks during the Patrick Roy retirement ceremony before the game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 22, 2008 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Bruins defeated the Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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Former NHL coach Jacques Demers is in stable condition after suffering a stroke on Wednesday evening.

His “overall medical condition is improving to the point where physicians are planning his transfer to the inpatient stroke unit for the continuance of his care,” according to a statement by the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, per CJAD radio.

Demers has his family at his bedside and is able to interact with them.

The 71-year-old Canadian senator is a two-time recipient of the Jack Adams Award. He also coached the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup in 1993.

Red Wings to face Raanta, not Lundqvist, on Saturday

Antti Raanta
AP
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The Detroit Red Wings will face Antti Raanta, not Henrik Lundqvist, Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

It’s a noteworthy decision by Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, for a couple of reasons:

1. The Wings will clinch a playoff spot with a win, regardless of how the Bruins or Flyers fare.
2. The Rangers still have a shot to catch the Islanders for third in the Metropolitan Division.

Of course, the problem with finishing third in the Metropolitan is that it comes with a first-round match-up with the red-hot Penguins. The first wild-card spot, on the other hand, garners a series with the Florida Panthers.

“Our focus has never been on trying to avoid a team or trying to pick a matchup,” Rangers forward Rick Nash insisted to the New York Post.

“You start thinking that way and it would be horrible hockey karma,” defenseman Marc Staal added.

It’s also worth noting that Raanta has been pretty solid this season (10-6-2, .918), while Lundqvist has struggled a bit lately.

Still, the Red Wings have to like their chances against a Rangers side that will also be without regulars Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Mats Zuccarello and Viktor Stalberg.

Related: To rest, or not to rest, healthy players in meaningless games