Mike Halford

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 10: Stephen Johns #28 of the Dallas Stars in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Another defensive shakeup in Dallas, as Johns sent to minors

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So far this season, Lindy Ruff has healthy scratched Dan Hamhuis, parked John Klingberg for missing a team meeting, lost Johnny Oduya to injury and given Julius Honka his NHL debut.

Needless to say, there have been plenty of developments on Dallas’ defense — and another one occurred on Friday, when the Stars sent Stephen Johns down to AHL Texas.

Johns, 24, was a fairly regular presence in the lineup this year, appearing in 16 of 21 games while racking up four points. He led the team with 44 hits, and sat tied for third in blocked shots (with 32).

But he, like several other Dallas d-men this season, has had his struggles. Johns sat as a healthy scratch on a few occasions — including a two-game stretch in late October — and really struggled in his last outing, going minus-3 in just under 18 minutes of action in a loss to Edmonton on Saturday.

Johns hasn’t played since the Oilers defeat, sitting out Monday’s win over Minnesota and Wednesday’s loss to Nashville.

Looking ahead, it’s tough to predict what will happen on Dallas’ blueline.

Honka’s emergence has given Ruff another option, and Ruff appears willing to use it. Honka, the 14th overall pick in 2014, played 21 minutes in his NHL debut versus Minny, then 18 against the Preds. Towering rearguard Jamie Oleksiak has also been used more in November, after getting just two games in October.

Esa Lindell has started to emerge of late, and there’s always the reliable Jordie Benn in the mix (Benn is actually having a solid year, with six points through 19 games, averaging 19:14 TOI).

Dallas hosts Vancouver tonight at American Airlines.

Goalie nods: Anderson looks to continue red-hot November

OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 18: Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators makes a save against the Arizona Coyotes during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on October 18, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)
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Just two games on the ledger tonight (Happy Thanksgiving, by the way), so let’s begin in Ottawa.

The Sens will roll with Craig Anderson for the second straight game, after he bested Carey Price in Tuesday’s 4-3 win in Montreal. Anderson stopped 36 of 39 shots faced against the Habs, for a .923 save percentage — pretty much on par with what he’s done for the majority of November.

Amid personal tragedy — his wife, Nicholle, was diagnosed with cancer — Anderson has performed extremely well, going 4-3-1 with a .933 save percentage this month. That includes banner efforts against the Wild (40 saves in an OT loss) and the Flyers (stopping 33 of 35 shots in a win).

All told, Anderson’s save percentage has dipped below .900 in just one of his last eight games.

For the visiting Bruins, no word on a starter yet. Tuukka Rask has played a ton lately — the goalie of record in each of the last six games — but lost his last outing, a 4-2 decision to the Blues.

Elsewhere…

— Carey Price is back in for Montreal, to take on the visiting Hurricanes. Carolina hasn’t announced a starter yet, but all signs point to Cam Ward making his eighth consecutive appearance. Backup Eddie Lack is out with a concussion (Michael Leighton, recalled from AHL Charlotte, is the new No. 2), and Ward has been excellent lately, allowing just five goals over his last five starts — all of which were wins.

 

Canucks extend ’emerging core player’ Hutton — two years, $5.6 million

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17:  Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his first NHL goal against the New York Islanders at 9:46 of the second period at the Barclays Center on January 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One of the brightest young talents on Vancouver’s defense has re-upped for the next two years.

Ben Hutton, who leads all Canucks d-men in goals and is tied for the blueline lead in points, has agreed to a two-year, $5.6 million extension, one that carries a $2.8M average annual cap hit through 2019.

“Ben is developing into one of our young, emerging core players and is an important part of our future,” Canucks GM Jim Benning said, in a release. “We’re excited to see him further elevate his game and help this team compete for years to come.”

Hutton, 23, surprised many last year after making the team out of training camp, then putting together an impressive campaign. The former University of Maine standout — a fifth-round pick in 2012 — finished tied for second with Colton Parayko in rookie d-men in assists (24), trailing only Flyers standout Shayne Gostisbehere.

Hutton was then named to Team Canada’s gold-medal winning side at the 2016 World Hockey Championships.

This year, Hutton is averaging over 21 minutes a night while appearing in all 20 contests. So it’s no surprise the Canucks locked him in.

It’s worth noting that, earlier this month, Hutton had been linked to the Evander Kane-to-Vancouver trade rumors, as Buffalo GM Tim Murray was reportedly interested in acquiring a defenseman.

Looking ahead, the Canucks will now work on another extension for a talented youngster — Bo Horvat, who’s currently the team leader in goals (with seven) and tied with Daniel Sedin for tops in points (13). Horvat, 21, was the ninth overall draft pick in 2013 and will see his entry-level deal expire in July.

Related: Horvat making big strides for Vancouver

Forbort’s finally arrived, which is vital for the Kings

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Derek Forbort #24 of the Los Angeles Kings during a preseason game against the Anaheim Ducks at Staples Center on September 28, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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For a while, Derek Forbort‘s claim to fame was somewhat ignominious — he was the last first-round pick from 2010 to make his NHL debut.

But now, Forbort is a mainstay on the Kings’ defense. Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times has a good piece on his emergence — read more on that here — which includes the following:

Given a chance this season to fill a key role when Brayden McNabb sustained an upper-body injury, Forbort has seized the opportunity. He logged a season-high 23 minutes, 44 seconds’ ice time against New Jersey last Saturday and had 23:17 of ice time against the Ducks on Sunday while matching his season-best total of five blocked shots.

Forbort has played at least 20 minutes in six of his last seven games. He has contributed a goal and six points.

This is a big development for Forbort, and equally big for the Kings.

When L.A won its second Stanley Cup in 2014, it did so with five regular d-men in the mix: Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell and Alec Martinez (Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr and Jeff Schultz platooned in the No. 6 spot).

Voynov, Mitchell, Regehr and Schultz are now gone.

The Kings have tried various stopgap solutions — Jamie McBain, Andrej Sekera, Christian Ehrhoff, Rob Scuderi, Luke Schenn, Tom Gilbert — and received middling results. None proved to be a long-term solution, and some weren’t even a short-term one.

Which is why Forbort, 24, is so important.

This year, head coach Darryl Sutter has relied heavily on Doughty, Muzzin and Martinez. Each averages over 22 minutes per night, and McNabb was the only other blueliner getting 20-plus (prior to his injury). L.A. could certainly use another guy with top-four potential and, to hear Doughty explain it, Forbort could be exactly that.

“[Forbort] has some good offensive abilities too, but for the most part he’s a good puck mover, plays hard in the D-zone, but no he can be a very good player for us,” Doughty said, per L.A. Kings Insider. “You can see how much he’s improved in such little time here in the NHL and I think he’s just going to keep getting better and he could be one of our top guys going down the road.”

Gallant still concerned about lack of toughness in Florida

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  (l-r) Gerard Gallant and Peter Mahovlich of the Florida Panthers attend the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov are gone, Alex Petrovic is hurt and Shawn Thornton is a regular in the press box.

So no surprise, then, that Florida’s had difficulty matching opponents in the toughness department this season — something that irked head coach Gerard Gallant in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Flyers.

From the Sun-Sentinel:

The Panthers had no suitable enforcer to respond Tuesday when Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds got feisty or when Radko Gudas flattened Vincent Trocheck with a headshot. Gallant said he regretted not having Thornton available.

“You always think that when things happen to your team. It’s frustrating to see that happen, especially in your own building,” Gallant said. “The Simmonds situation and then the Gudas hit on Trocheck, you’d like a response on that.

“But when you don’t have personnel to put out there for that it shows.”

We don’t want this to devolve into a new-school-vs.-old-school debate, but facts are facts — right now, Florida is without four of its most physically engaging players from last year. Petrovic and Gudbranson are both huge (6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively) and finished first and third on the team in hits.

Kulikov finished fifth — routinely playing larger than his 6-foot-1, 204-pound frame — and Thornton was an active pugilist, scrapping six times.

It’s not like Florida hasn’t tried to replace some of the sandpaper element. The Dylan McIlrath acquisition was viewed as a direct response, and the club named grinding veteran forward Derek MacKenzie as team captain this season. MacKenzie has routinely been one of the club’s leaders in hits, and will toss the mitts when required.

But on nights like Tuesday, the toughness void was apparent. One has to wonder if team president Dale Tallon and GM Tom Rowe won’t try to address this as February’s trade deadline draws closer.