Mike Halford

Video: Kucherov’s sharpshooting on display

Last year, Nikita Kucherov finished second on the Lightning with an impressive 10 playoff goals.

This year, he’s scoring at an even better clip.

Kucherov has nine markers through 13 games thus far, a major reason why the Bolts are playing in their second straight Eastern Conference Final. The Russian sniper is tied with San Jose’s Joe Pavelski for the playoff scoring lead, and has been one of the most active shooters in the postseason (43 shots on goal in 13 games).

Widely regarded as one of the most accurate and lethal shooters in the NHL, Kucherov’s marksmanship has won him accolades from a number of people — including his assistant coach, Steve Thomas.

“His ability to get pucks on and off his stick is amazing,” Thomas told the Tampa Bay Times. “That’s 80 percent (of) shooting the puck, the art of deception.

“He just has an unbelievable hockey IQ. That allows him to see the ice the way he does and anticipate plays.”

The issue now, of course, is that Kucherov has yet to find the back of the net through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final. It’s his longest scoring slump of this postseason, and a big reason why the Bolts trail the Penguins two games to one.

But given how Kucherov can shoot the puck, don’t expect that slump to go on much longer.

Stars sign towering d-man prospect Martenet

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  Chris Martenet reacts after being selected 103rd overall by the Dallas Stars during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Remember yesterday, when we discussed how much Dallas loved its young blueline prospects?

Well, you can add another one to the pile.

On Wednesday, the Stars inked OHL London d-man Chris Martenet to a three-year, entry-level deal. Martenet, listed at 6-foot-7, 200 pounds, was Dallas’ fourth-round pick in 2015 and is coming off a campaign in which he racked up 12 points, 85 PIM and a plus-44 rating with the Knights.

Martenet’s frame will remind some of another Dallas blueliner: Jamie Oleksiak, the 6-foot-7, 260-pounder that’s appeared in 78 games for the Stars over the last four years.

Now, it’s feasible Martenet could actually replace Oleksiak as resident skyscraper — Oleksiak, a restricted free agent, has been mentioned in trade rumors for a while now, largely because the Stars have so many defensive prospects in the system.

It’s worth noting size is something that GM Jim Nill values on the blueline. The Stars aren’t exceptionally big, and Nill alluded to this upon inking 6-foot-3, 215-pound Steven Johns to an extension during the season.

“Stephen did a tremendous job leading in Cedar Park for Texas all season long,” Nill said in a release. “He brings size, physicality and skating to our group of defensemen, and we fully expect him to contribute at the NHL level for years to come.”

NHL loses bid to dismiss concussion suit

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, speaks at a news conference before the NHL Awards show Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Las Vegas. At left is Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. The NHL is officially exploring expansion. The league is opening a formal expansion review process to consider adding new franchises to its 30-team league, Bettman announced Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Las Vegas, Seattle and Quebec City are the markets that have expressed the most serious interest. (AP Photo/John Locher)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) A federal judge in Minnesota has denied the NHL’s latest attempt to throw out a class-action lawsuit by former players filed over head injuries.

The league had argued that the suit should be tossed because the issues raised by the former players were covered under the collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson wrote in a 47-page opinion that the CBA does not pre-empt legal action, in part because the players are retired and no longer subject to the CBA.

Dan LaCouture, Michael Peluso, Gary Leeman, Bernie Nicholls, David Christian and Reed Larson represent former players who say the NHL did not sufficiently protect or inform the players of the dangers when it comes to head injuries they suffered when they played.

Preds to part ways with Nystrom, Gaustad

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A pair of veteran forwards won’t be back in Nashville next season.

Center Paul Gaustad, a pending UFA, and winger Eric Nystrom — who has one year left on his deal at $2.5 million — are going to move along… or be moved along, per NHL.com’s Robby Stanley.

Gaustad, 34, has spent the last four-plus seasons in Nashville, having been acquired at the ’12 trade deadline. A serviceable-yet-unspectacular contributor, Gaustad had a solid 10-goal, 21-point effort during the ’13-14 campaign but was less of a factor this season, averaging a career-low 11:15 TOI per night.

Nystrom, 33, is a trickier proposition.

As mentioned above, he still has term left on his contract, and it’ll be interesting to see if Preds GM David Poile can orchestrate a trade. Nystrom was a press box regular during the playoffs — sitting up there for 13 of Nashville’s 14 games — though he did manage to score seven goals in just 46 regular-season appearances.

It’s very possible Nystrom could be bought out, which would free up a roster spot for prospects like Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev or Pontus Aberg.

Wild sign Hungarian goalie who turned heads at worlds


Interesting move out of Minnesota on Wednesday — the Wild announced they inked goalie Adam Vay to a two-year, entry-level deal.

Vay, 22, just wrapped a compelling world hockey championship appearance in which he and Team Hungary make some significant waves. Hungary won its first tournament game in 77 years against Belarus last week, and Vay performed admirably in a few group stage games.

He made 48 saves in a 3-0 loss to Finland back on May 11, and impressed onlookers with a solid first period in an eventual 5-1 loss to the Americans, making 15 saves, many on high-quality scoring chances.

“In the first period, we dominated.” USA forward Auston Matthews said, per the IIHF website. “We had a ton of shots and we limited them to one. We were producing a lot of scoring chances, but their goalie played extremely well.”

The Wild are taking something of a gamble on Vay, given his playing background. He spent last season playing in the MOL Liga — a small, nine-team circuit comprised of clubs in Hungary and Romania — and spent a couple years playing for El Paso in the WSHL (a U.S-based Tier II junior league).

Of course, Vay does have good size — he stands 6-foot-5 — and could really blossom under Wild goalie gurus Bob Mason and Frederic Chabot.