Mike Halford

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  (L-R) Number three over all Jonathan Drouin of Tampa Bay Lightning, number one over all Nathan Mackinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and number two over all Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers pose during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Less than three years later, ’13 draft having major implications on NHL

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The second-guessing came immediately after the Colorado Avalanche picked center Nathan MacKinnon first and the Florida Panthers selected center Aleksander Barkov second in the 2013 draft. Blue-chip defenseman Seth Jones was considered the top prospect by many scouts, and winger Jonathan Drouin was coming off a 100-point season in juniors.

Less than three years later, those decisions are still reverberating around the NHL.

MacKinnon is in line for a big contract like the $35.4 million, six-year deal Barkov signed with the Panthers on Tuesday. The Nashville Predators traded Jones earlier this month. And Drouin? He was suspended by the Tampa Bay Lightning after failing to show up for a minor-league game and he has demanded a trade from the defending Eastern Conference champion.

“The draft, as we all know, is an imperfect process, science whatever you want to call it,” Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “Let’s see how this plays out.”

So far, things have played out well for the Avalanche and Panthers with MacKinnon and Barkov. MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2013-14 as Colorado made the playoffs, and his 140 career points are the most in the talented draft class that also included Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan and Carolina Hurricanes center Elias Lindholm.

MacKinnon has turned into the kind of player Avalanche executives Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy expected. He said in November that he’d like a long-term contract – and the Avalanche have shown a tendency to lock up their cornerstone players with those kinds of deals.

So have the Panthers, who are betting that the 20-year-old Barkov keeps improving. Barkov will count $5.9 million against their salary cap through 2022.

“When you put a commitment like this on a young man like this, there are only a few people that can handle this, and Sasha’s unbelievable on and off the ice,” general manager Dale Tallon said. “I’ve never seen a young man at his age be so committed on and off the ice. He’s first on the ice, last off the ice. First in the gym, last out of the gym. Everything that we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it tenfold.”

The Panthers’ gamble to take Barkov over Drouin and Jones has paid off, and they lead the Atlantic Division going into the All-Star break. Still, Tallon didn’t want to proclaim that the Panthers won the 2013 draft.

“There’s a lot of great players in that draft,” Tallon said. “We got the player we needed at that time. So no, I don’t look at it like that. I’m just very happy that he was there and we got him.”

The Predators would’ve been happy to get him, too. In search of a No. 1 center, they targeted MacKinnon or Barkov and never expected Jones to fall to the fourth pick for them.

“We were elated that day that he fell in our lap,” Nashville GM David Poile said earlier this month after trading Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center Ryan Johansen. “The goal for us, the hope for us was that we were going to get Barkov or MacKinnon, which would’ve been great and would’ve taken us in a different direction.”

All four teams at the top of the 2013 draft went in drastically different directions. The Lightning have enjoyed the most team success since, going to the Stanley Cup final last year with Drouin in and out of the lineup.

When Drouin was not a regular early this season, he asked Tampa Bay for a trade and that request became public Jan. 3 when he was sent to the American Hockey League. Last week, the Lightning suspended Drouin for failing to report to an AHL game and the situation seems irreconcilable.

“It is clearly in both sides best interest that the Tampa Bay Lightning trade Jonathan as there is no reason for Jonathan to continue with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization in any capacity,” agent Allan Walsh said in a statement.

Yzerman said last week he would trade Drouin only when it was right for the Lightning. And the stalemate aside, Yzerman doesn’t suddenly believe Drouin was a bust as a No. 3 pick.

“There is not an exact progression for every single player,” Yzerman said. “If he becomes a very good hockey player, all will be forgotten, I assume.”

AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers at Caps

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers
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Tonight, the Philadelphia Flyers will take on the Washington Capitals at Verizon, in what will be the final game for both prior to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville.

You can catch the game on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET, or online using NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Some relevant linkage for tonight’s affair:

Goalie nods: Mason hurt, Neuvirth to face ex-Caps ‘mates

After 12-game absence, Carlson expected back for Caps tonight

Richards’ possession trial adjourned until late February

Red-hot Sharks playing so well, they ‘don’t want a break’

SAN JOSE, Calif. — After an up-and-down start to the season, the San Jose Sharks head into the All-Star break on quite the roll.

Led by a rejuvenated Joe Thornton, All-Stars Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns and newcomer goalie Martin Jones, the Sharks have earned at least a point in 10 straight games heading into the break for their longest point streak in five years – when they made their last trip to the conference finals.

“When you’re playing this good you don’t want a break,” Thornton said. “You just want to play every other day like we’ve been doing because you feel so good. We’ve been playing a lot of minutes. If the guys use the rest the right way we’ll be fine coming out of the break.”

The Sharks will enjoy six days off before starting a four-game road trip in Anaheim next Tuesday. They will come back in second place in the Pacific Division, thanks to an 8-0-2 stretch that vaulted them up from sixth place and is the best run for the team since going 9-0-1 from Jan. 15, 2011, to Feb. 9, 2011.

After missing the playoffs last year for the first time since 2003, the Sharks are once again a contender in the Western Conference.

“We put ourselves in a decent spot, have some momentum,” forward Tommy Wingels said. “Obviously can climb in our division a bit, but go to the break feeling good about yourselves. Then you go from there.”

It was an odd start to the first season under coach Peter DeBoer as the Sharks struggled to generate any consistent play at home but were outstanding on the road. San Jose lost 12 of the first 17 games at the usually imposing Shark Tank but offset that with a perfect six-game road trip in November and other good stretches away from home.

Injuries to center Logan Couture, who missed 30 games with two lower-body ailments, and shorter stints that forced the team to play without one of its top defensemen for eight games hindered the Sharks.

“I think the personnel setbacks played a role in that,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think it was the guys getting the hang of the system. That came pretty quickly. I think not having a full roster but also how key the pieces were that were missing played a role in that.”

But with the team mostly healthy in January, DeBoer made a key lineup change that has helped spark this recent run. He moved the inconsistent Tomas Hertl to the top line with Thornton and Pavelski, where he has shined with six goals and five assists during the 10-game streak.

Thornton has scored in all 10 of those games, recording two goals and 12 assists, and has 25 points over the past 19 games to become the 33rd player in NHL history to reach 1,300 career points.

“We’ve got some confidence, he definitely has some confidence and he’s making some great plays and it’s typical Jumbo,” Pavelski said. “It’s what he does. Since Hertl’s come on and found his stride here, it’s been definitely a fun line to be on.”

DeBoer also separated Couture and Patrick Marleau, giving the team strong centers on three lines. That depth has helped lead to the success of the past few weeks.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that that kind of slotted everybody in the right places,” DeBoer said. “All of a sudden our depth scoring is increasing, which is huge. The reality of this league is it’s a one-goal-a-night league. And certain players are one-goal-a-night players on the positive and either defending or creating. We’re just on the right side of that now.”

Goalie nods: Mason hurt, Neuvirth to face ex-Caps ‘mates

Michal Neuvirth
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Michal Neuvirth will make his second straight start — and first against his former team — when Philly takes on Washington at Verizon tonight.

Neuvirth is getting the nod ahead of Steve Mason, who was held out of the contest due to a lower-body ailment. The injury was severe enough to keep Mason from backing up, as the Flyers recalled veteran Jason LaBarbera from AHL Lehigh Valley to serve as the No. 2.

“I just have great memories,” Neuvirth said of his six years in Washington, per NHL.com. “Really liked it here, but it’s the past and now I’m playing for the Flyers. I’m going to do my best tonight for the Flyers.”

Neuvirth, 27, is enjoying a really solid campaign in Philly, posting a 10-6-2 record with a .934 save percentage and 2.10 GAA. He’s coming off a 3-2 loss to Boston in which he made 28 saves.

For the Caps, Braden Holtby will be in goal.

Elsewhere…

— One night after James Reimer was torched by the Panthers, Jonathan Bernier goes for the Leafs. He’ll be up against Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will give Ben Bishop the night off in Tampa Bay.

Karri Ramo will start for Calgary when the Flames host the Preds. No word yet on who Nashville will start, but it could be a Carter Hutton game after Pekka Rinne played extremely well in the Preds’ 2-1 win over Vancouver on Tuesday.

— No definitive starters from either the Kings or Avs as the two prep to do battle in L.A. Calvin Pickard got the hook last night against the Sharks, so the team could go with AHLer Roman Will tonight. L.A. is likely to start Jonathan Quick.

‘Hawks want to extend Panarin this summer

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The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t messing around with keeping Artemi Panarin in the fold.

Per the Sun-Times, ‘Hawks GM Stan Bowman said the plan is to work on a contract extension with Panarin this summer — even though the Russian rookie’s entry-level deal has one more year on it, and won’t expire until July 2017.

Patrick Kane would be pretty upset if we didn’t,” Bowman said.

Bowman’s remarks are in reference to the Panarin-Kane-Artem Anisimov line, which has been virtually unstoppable for most of this season. Kane leads the NHL in points, with 73, while Panarin leads all rookie skaters with 46.

(In both instances, Kane and Panarin are way out in front — Jamie Benn sits second in NHL scoring with 58 points, while Jack Eichel is second among rookies with 34).

It’ll be really interesting to see the financials on Panarin’s next deal.

His current ELC is a complex one, laden with performance bonuses (see here for more). The important thing for Chicago is that it only carries a $812,500 cap hit — but that’s unlikely to be the case with his second deal.

Panarin will be 25 next season and will probably be looking to cash in — he got a late start to his NHL career, after spending his first seven professional seasons in the KHL.

That said, he’s still an RFA at the expiration of his current deal, meaning Bowman and the ‘Hawks have some control over the situation.