Mike Halford

Patrik Laine of Finland celebrates scoring against Russia during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship final match between Finland and Russia in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT

Prized draft prospect Laine wins Finnish playoff MVP


As we draw closer to the draft, there’s only one player that’s come close to challenging Auston Matthews as the No. 1 overall pick — Finnish forward Patrik Laine.

On Tuesday, Laine crept up on Matthews even more.

The 18-year-old capped off a banner SM-liiga campaign by helping Tappara capture the Finnish league title, on the strength of 10 goals and 15 points in 18 games. Laine was awarded the Jarri Kurri trophy as the league’s playoff MVP.

At 6-foot-4, 209 pounds and armed with a dynamic shot, Laine’s had scouts drooling for quite some time. After a scintillating World Juniors — in which he helped Finland capture gold with 13 points in seven games — Laine went on to have a terrific SM-liiga regular season, posting 33 points in 46 games.

Of course, I could write and write and write about Laine’s exploits. Or I could post a video:

Laine is expected to be selected to Team Finland for the upcoming World Hockey Championships in Russia.




Plekanec to captain Czechs at Worlds

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game One
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Montreal center Tomas Plekanec will captain his native Czech Republic at the upcoming World Hockey Championships, the club announced on Tuesday.

Plekanec, 33, has a wealth of international experience, and previously captained the Czechs at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The Worlds are a chance for Plekanec to end his year on a high note, after what was — by all accounts — a difficult season in Montreal.

Despite the team’s struggles, Plekanec did manage to produce well this season. His 40 assists were the second-most of his career, and his highest total since racking up 45 during the ’09-10 campaign.

As for the Worlds, Plekanec has enjoyed past success with the Czechs at this tournament. He won a silver medal in 2006, and back-to-back bronzes in 2011 and 2012.


Reminder: Kraft Hockeyville Final 2 voting closes tonight

Tonight will be your last chance to cast ballots for which rink — Lakeview Arena (Marquette, MI) and the Rushmore Thunderdome (Rapid City, SD) — will capture the title of Kraft Hockeyville for 2016.

To check out both rinks, click the video above.

To vote on who will emerge as the Kraft Hockeyville winner for 2016, visit the website. A reminder that voting closes at Midnight ET.

Report: Sens looking to move AHL team to Belleville

OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 11: Owner, governor and chairman Eugene Melnyk of the Ottawa Senators walks the red carpet and greets fans during the Senators' 20th anniversary pre-game ceremonies prior to the start of the NHL home opener against the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Place on October 11, 2011 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Senators could be the latest NHL team to move their farm team closer to home.

Per the Ottawa Citizen, the club is looking to move its AHL affiliate from Binghamton to Belleville — the former site of the OHL’s Bulls, which is roughly a three-hour drive away from the Canadian capital.

More, from the Citizen:

The talk in AHL circles is the club is investigating relocating the franchise to the Yardmen Arena in Bellevile for the 2017-18 campaign.

If that happens, the belief is the Senators would try not to leave Binghamton empty-handed because the AHL considers it a strong market. It’s quite possible another NHL team could move its affiliate to Binghamton if the Senators are successful in negotiations with the city of Belleville and a potential buyer.

The Senators wouldn’t comment when contacted.

Should Ottawa complete the move, it would be in a similar situation to the rival Maple Leafs, who have their AHL affiliate, the Marlies, within spitting distance.

Belleville has been without a full-time hockey tenant since the Bulls moved to Hamilton last season.

So Ottawa’s potential move to Belleville wouldn’t just be filling a need — it’d also be in lockstep with what the NHL’s three California teams did last summer. All of them brought their AHL affiliates in-state: Kings moved theirs from Manchester to Ontario (California), the Sharks moved theirs from Worcester to San Jose, and the Ducks moved theirs from Norfolk to San Diego.

Last week, the Coyotes purchased their AHL affiliate and moved it from Springfield, Massachusetts to Tucson, Arizona.

Stamkos back at Bolts practice, three weeks after vascular surgery

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2016, file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) skates before an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in Tampa, Fla. Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman says he won’t trade captain Steven Stamkos before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

On Apr. 4, Tampa announced that captain Steve Stamkos underwent successful vascular surgery, and would require 1-3 months of recovery.

On Apr. 26, Stamkos was back at practice.

That was the scene in Tampa Bay on Tuesday, as Stamkos — wearing a red no-contact jersey — took part in full drills with teammates, and participated in line rushes.

This is a fairly big development, given both Stamkos and the organization have been largely mum on his status since surgery.

So, onto the obvious question — what’s his updated timetable for return?

The schedule could play a large role. Tampa Bay opens its second-round series with the Islanders on Wednesday, but the rest of the outlook remains TBD.

This series could be affected by arena availability, as Amalie Arena already has a tenant for Friday night and Barclays Center has a pair of Justin Bieber concerts on Wednesday and Thursday of next week.

These might seem like minor issues, but the longer this series is stretched out, the better it’ll be for Tampa Bay.

Stamkos isn’t the only player the Bolts could get back into the mix. On Monday, head coach Jon Cooper said the club is hoping injured d-man Anton Stralman — currently sidelined with a broken leg — will “make an appearance” in the second round.