Mike Halford

KELOWNA, CANADA - JANUARY 16: Head coach Dan Lambert of Kelowna Rockets speaks to a referee at the whistle during third period against the Seattle Thunderbirdson January 16, 2015 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
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Sabres name assistant coach Lambert AHL Rochester bench boss

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Buffalo made a coaching change at the American League level on Monday, moving Dan Bylsma’s assistant — Dan Lambert — to the head coaching gig down in AHL Rochester, where he’ll replace Randy Cunneyworth.

“We had a plan in place going into last season to eventually promote Dan to head coach of the Americans and transition Randy back to player development,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said in a release. “With his experience as a Sabres assistant last season, we felt Dan was ready to take on the added responsibility of being a head coach and implementing our organizational philosophy in Rochester.”

Lambert, 46, joined the Sabres last season to reconnect with Bylsma. Lambert and Bylsma were teammates in both the AHL and IHL in the early- to mid-90’s and, when Bylsma was out of coaching two years ago, Lambert brought him on board to serve as a guest coach in WHL Kelowna.

With today’s move(s), there is a position on Bylsma’s staff at the NHL level that needs to be filled. Given the fluidity of the coaching market in the last few weeks, it’ll be curious to see who Buffalo targets for the job.

The Sabres were reportedly interested in ex-Sens assistant Luke Richardson prior to hiring Bylsma, but it’s believed Richardson wants a head coaching gig, not an assistant’s position.

What’s more, he’s believed to be in the running for the vacant Anaheim gig.

Bolts notes: Vasilevskiy likely to start, Stralman could make playoff debut

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Based on today’s optional skate in Pittsburgh, the Lightning will have two significant lineup changes for Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Final against the Penguins.

Starting netminder Ben Bishop wasn’t on the ice Monday, and has only briefly taken to the playing surface after getting stretchered off in Friday’s series-opening win.

That means 21-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy will likely get the start tonight, after making 25 saves in relief of Bishop in Game 1. It would be the second Stanley Cup playoff start of Vasilevskiy’s career, having made an emergency start in place of Bishop during last year’s final versus Chicago.

On defense, it appears as though Anton Stralman will make his long-awaited postseason debut. The veteran Swedish d-man has been out of action for nearly two months.

More, from the Tampa Bay Times:

Stralman (fractured left leg) could return tonight, having been sidelined since Mar. 25. Stralman participated in today’s skate, coming off the ice with regulars. Defenseman Nikita Nesterov would probably be the odd man out if Stralman comes back.

Forwards Erik Condra and Mike Blunden were among the last on the ice, so could be scratched. Jonathan Marchessault could be in if the Lightning goes with 12 forwards.

Getting Stralman back would be a huge boon for the Bolts. He’s one of their best possession d-men, averages 22 minutes a night and is a right-handed shot, something the blueline is short on.

Stralman was also a key cog to last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, with nine points in 26 games.

Caps want to turn Tom Wilson into Joel Ward

Tom Wilson
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There have always been plenty of ideas about what Tom Wilson might become in Washington.

Now, GM Brian MacLellan has the latest:

Joel Ward 2.0.

“We miss Joel Ward — he’s the kind of guy we need in the playoffs,” MacLellan said on Monday, per the Washington Times. “You know, you make changes, and he’s a guy we wanted back and we didn’t get back. We missed that skill set.

“I think it’s on us to turn Tom Wilson into Joel Ward. It’s on Tom and it’s on us.”

MacLellan cited his team’s need for a “net-front presence” that “finds loose pucks and finds rebounds.” That was Ward’s forte during his four years in Washington, especially come playoff time, when greasy goals are at a premium.

Ward’s strength, size and ability to whack home loose pucks saw him score some crucial playoff markers for the Caps — none more famous his Game 7 OT winner against the Bruins in 2012:

Ward’s penchant for scoring in the postseason dated back to his time in Nashville, and was on display again last year when he finished with nine points in 14 games.

So it’s easy to see why MacLellan and the Caps wanted to keep him — but the Wilson comment might explain why they were willing to let him go.

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Wilson certainly has the size to be a quality net-front presence. He also has some offensive acumen — back in his final year of junior with OHL Plymouth, he scored 23 goals and 58 points in 48 games.

After the year, Wilson’s head coach said he was the team’s best forward.

Now with all that said, it’s important to remember the lede — there have been plenty of ideas about what Wilson might be. He was drafted 16th overall because scouts were enamored with his ceiling. If he could reach it, the thought was Wilson could become a goalscoring power forward, PP contributor, top-six winger, etc. etc.

The issue, of course, is that Wilson’s played three full years in the NHL already, and he’s still a fourth-liner primarily known for his questionable hits.

Related: Caps’ window has one more year, then all bets are off

With deadline looming, Preds sign prospect Kirkland

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Justin Kirkland meets his team after being drafted #62 by the Nashville Predators on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Given how things have gone with Nashville and unsigned draftees lately, today’s signing of Justin Kirkland is noteworthy.

Kirkland, the 62nd overall pick at the ’14 draft, signed his three-year, entry-level deal with the Preds today, just two weeks shy of the June 1 deadline which could’ve seen him re-enter the draft.

Remember that Nashville already lost out on another of its draftees — Harvard star and Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey — so, in light of that, the Kirkland deal has a little more significance than usual.

More on the 19-year-old, from the club:

[Kirkland] amassed 67 points (31g-36a) in 69 games with the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets in 2015-16, his third season with the club.

In 2014-15, the 6-foot-3, 183-pound left wing helped the Rockets claim the WHL regular-season and playoff titles and advance to the Memorial Cup Final, tying for sixth among all skaters in points (2g-3a-5pts, 5gp) at the tournament.

The Camrose, Alta., native ranked eighth among Western Hockey League rookies in points (17g-31a-48pts) in 2013-14, and for his Kelowna career, has 169 points (71g-98a) in 199 games.

Kirkland is expected to play in AHL Milwaukee next season.

‘Hawks expect to re-sign Panik, who they believe can be ‘a dominant player’

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 12:  Richard Panik #14 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the Nashville Predators at the United Center on January 12, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Chicago is primed to re-up with RFA forward Richard Panik, GM Stan Bowman told The Athletic over the weekend.

Panik, 25, was acquired in a midseason deal with Toronto and fared well upon joining the ‘Hawks, scoring eight points in 30 regular season games, and three in six playoff contests.

The 52nd overall pick in 2009, Panik’s always been high on talent but failed to find his niche in both Tampa (the club that drafted him) and Toronto.

It does seem, though, that things clicked in Chicago.

“Can play right wing or left wing, and he’s played on the first line, third line, fourth line because he’s got some versatility to his game, which is what we like,” Bowman explained. “He’s got a great skill set. He’s fast. He’s strong. He’s competitive. He’s physical. So now we’re just looking for him to put it all together on a consistent basis.

“Because when he brings his best game, he’s a dominant player.”

Panik showed flashes late in the campaign and again in the postseason. He benefited from being thrown into a good situation on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, a trio Joel Quenneville went to a few times in the playoffs.

It’s also worth noting Panik had an uptick at the tail end of a contract year. His one-year, $975,000 deal expires on July 1.