Mike Halford

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 13: Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Florida Panthers celebrates a goal during Opening Night of the 2016-2017 NHL Season against New Jersey Devils at BB&T Center on October 13, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Marchessault, Pirri providing great bang for buck


This summer’s free agent class was highlighted by a number of big-money deals.

Yet through the first month of the season, the real highlight has been the guys that came on the cheap.

Nowhere is this more true than in Florida, where Jonathan Marchessault — signed to a two-year, $1.5 million deal with a $750,000 cap hit — has been a revelation. The undrafted free agent, who spent time with the Rangers, Blue Jackets and Lightning, has five goals and 10 points through seven games with the Panthers.

Marchessault is playing on the club’s top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, and leads the Panthers in scoring.

“It’s been a wonderful find for us,” team president Dale Tallon told Sportsnet. “He’s real tricky and good down low. Sees the ice well. He’s not the biggest guy. Some guys slip through the cracks. Some guys are late bloomers.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing to not get drafted.”

In New York, one of Tallon’s ex-players is providing equally good value.

Brandon Pirri, who went most of the summer without a contract before signing with the Rangers in August, is off to a terrific start. Inked to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, Pirri has four goals and six points in seven games, and leads the team in power-play markers.

“I’m glad we’re the ones who got him,” Derek Stepan said, per the Associated Press. “He’s got a knack for the net. It’s not easy to score goals in this league and he seems to be in those areas to score.

“That’s a difficult thing and, to me, that’s a skill. If you have it, it’s special and it’s rare.”

Some other under-the-radar signings that have stood out:

— The backup goalie position in Montreal was a disaster last season, so full credit to GM Marc Bergevin for solving it on the cheap. Al Montoya was brought aboard for $950,000, and all he’s done is go 3-0-1 with a .955 save percentage and 1.47 GAA. He also provided crucial stability at the start of the year, too, when Carey Price was sidelined with the flu.

— In Dallas, Adam Cracknell has capitalized on the opportunity provided by all the club’s injuries at forward. Signed to a two-way deal with a $600,000 cap hit, 31-year-old has two goals and three points through seven games, appearing in every contest for the Stars this season while averaging over 10 minutes per.

Patrick Wiercioch, who didn’t even get a qualifying offer from Ottawa, signed with Colorado for $800,000. The 26-year-old d-man has been great offensively, with five points through five games, leading all Avs blueliners in scoring.

— Speaking of Ottawa, GM Pierre Dorion did well to sign Tom Pyatt out of the Swiss League. Inked to a one-year, two-way deal worth $800,000, Pyatt returned to the NHL after two years abroad and “has been really good for us on both sides of the ice,” according to head coach Guy Boucher. Pyatt has three points through six games and is one of the club’s top penalty killers.

Rantanen to debut on Colorado’s ‘kid line’ with Grigorenko, MacKinnon

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Mikko Rantanen #96 of the Colorado Avalanche warms up prior to facing the Carolina Hurricanes at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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It’s not often a 22-year-old is the elder statesmen on his line, but that’s exactly what Mikhail Grigorenko will be on Friday night.

Grigorenko’s the resident greybeard on Colorado’s “Kid Line,” one that features 21-year-old Nathan MacKinnon and, for the first time this season, 19-year-old Mikko Rantanen.

Rantanen, taken 10th overall by Colorado in 2015, will make his season debut tonight against Winnipeg, after missing time with an ankle injury and fulfilling a rehab stint in AHL San Antonio.

Needless to say, the Avs are glad to have him back.

Rantanen had a terrific ’15-16 campaign. He split AHL Rookie of the Year honors with Providence’s Frank Vatrano, and helped Finland capture gold at the World Juniors. Rantanen also became the second-youngest player (18 years old) to participate in an AHL All-Star Game and earned a late-season recall to Colorado, where he made his NHL debut and appeared in nine games.

At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Rantanen has the size and physique to be a real force alongside Grigorenko and MacKinnon.

And he’s hoping he can be a force at the NHL level for a long time.

“I want to do what I do best, bring my strengths to our team,” he said, per the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I want to do everything I can to stay here. I would like to stay here for a while.”

It’s fair to suggest head coach Jared Bednar made this move in the hopes of providing a spark. The Avs are 3-2-0 to start the year, but have lost two of three and haven’t played since last Saturday.

MacKinnon is tied for the team scoring lead with five points through five games, while Grigorenko sits tied for second in assists, with three.

Pastrnak suspended two games for ‘unnecessarily’ launching into Girardi headshot


The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has come down on B’s forward David Pastrnak, suspending him a pair of games for his headshot on Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.

“Rather than staying low and hitting through his opponent’s body, Pastrnak unnecessarily extends up and into this hit, picking the head and making it the main point of contact,” the DoPS explained.

Pastrnak was whistled for a minor penalty on the play, which occurred in the second period of Boston’s 5-2 loss at MSG on Wednesday night.

Girardi left the contest momentarily, but was able to return and finished with 16:15 TOI.

“I don’t really know it makes contact with my face at first, but it is what it is, I’m kind of vulnerable,” Girardi said of the hit, per the New York Post. “He’s going to try to make a hit. He just hit me in the front of the face, so it wasn’t like it was the side-of-the-head hit or something.

“As soon as I got up, I was fine.”

Pastrnak, who previously had no history of supplemental discipline, will now miss Saturday’s game in Detroit and Tuesday’s game in Florida. He’s eligible to return on Nov. 3, when the B’s take on the Bolts in Tampa Bay.

The 20-year-old will also forfeit $10,277.78 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Minnesota waives Pulkkinen, just 17 days after claiming him

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23:  Teemu Pulkkinen #17 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on October 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Wild 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Teemu Pulkkinen era in Minnesota could soon be over.

Before it ever got started, really.

After scoring just once for the Wild since being claimed off waivers, Pulkkinen was placed back on the wire on Friday, per TVA.

The 24-year-old, originally a fourth-round pick by Detroit in 2010, bounced around the Wild lineup during his brief stint with the club, averaging just over nine minutes per night.

His productivity was minimal, to put it mildly — widely regarded for his cannon of a shot, which saw him post two 30-goal seasons with AHL Grand Rapids, Pulkkinen only mustered four shots on goal in eight games with Minnesota, who acquired him on Oct. 11 from Detroit.

He’ll be an interesting figure to watch moving forward.

Though some of his luster has undoubtedly worn off after getting waived twice in a month, he’s still a reasonably young player with a proven goalscoring record (in the minors, granted) on a reasonably cheap contract — one year, at $812,500.

Here’s wondering if Detroit would be interested in re-acquiring his services.

“I have an unreal amount of respect for him as a player and as a person,” head coach Jeff Blashill said of Pulkkinen earlier this month, per MLive. “Teemu has to score goals. You hate to be results-orientated, but when you’re not big and you’re not fast and your weapon is your shot you have to score goals.

“That’s what made him a difference-maker at the American League level and I still think he can be a difference-maker at this level. That time isn’t right now.”

‘It’s outstanding to be at home’ — ‘Canes to play their opener, finally

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 22:  Fans welcome the players to the ice before a game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes during play at PNC Arena on January 22, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes will get to do what every other NHL team has already done this season — play a game at home.

And they’re pretty stoked about it.

“Outstanding,” head coach Bill Peters said about finally getting to their home opener, per the Raleigh News & Obsever. “It’s outstanding to be at home.”

The ‘Canes opened the year with a six-game road trip, in which they went 1-3-2 (culminating with Tuesday’s 4-2 loss in Detroit.) At first glance, that might seem like a disappointment — securing just four of a possible 12 points — but there were some positives.

For one, Carolina knows it could’ve, and should’ve, snagged a few more points. The club had 3-0 leads on Winnipeg and Vancouver to start the trip but blew both, and ended up losing in overtime.

In Philly on Saturday, the ‘Canes had a 2-0 lead early in the second period before the Flyers scored four unanswered goals, and went on to a 6-3 win.

Offensively, the club has looked good, paced by the trio of Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak. Those three often played on the club’s top line during the trip, and Rask emerged as the club’s leader with seven points through the first six games.

Of course, the club does have its issues. The ‘Canes currently sit 29th in the NHL in goals against, with neither netminder — Cam Ward or Eddie Lack — having shown consistent form early in the year.

The hope for Peters and company is that the return to PNC Arena will change the negatives around. Tonight’s game against the Rangers is the first in a stretch where Carolina will play eight of 11 at home.