Last summer, Stars owner Tom Gaglardi said his organization had the “deepest bench of defense prospects in the league.”
And now the club is getting an up-close look at one of them.
On Friday, the Stars announced they’ve signed Swedish blueliner Niklas Hansson to a three-year, entry-level deal that will begin next season. Hansson will join the organization immediately, however, as he’s signed an amateur tryout with the club’s AHL affiliate (Texas), allowing him to leave the SHL to ply his trade in North America.
Hansson, 21, was Dallas’ third-round pick at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and is coming off a very good SHL campaign with HV71. He led the team’s defensemen in goals (seven) and points (22), and was among the top-10 blueliners in the league in goals scored.
As mentioned above, Hansson is part of Dallas’ promising group of defensive prospects. The club is also high on the likes of Esa Lindell, Mattias Backman, Ludwig Bystrom and Julius Honka — the latter being the club’s first-round pick (14th overall) at the 2014 draft.
Pittsburgh received some more tough news on the injury front on Friday, as head coach Mike Sullivan announced d-man Olli Maatta is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury suffered last night against the Devils.
Aside from that bit of news, the Pens were otherwise tight-lipped about Maatta’s situation. It’s unclear what the injury is, or how it happened — as the Post-Gazette points out, Maatta finished last night’s loss and was on the ice for the final shift of the game.
Regardless, the focus is on Maatta’s absence. And what it means for the Penguins.
Here’s how the new defense pairings look:
While Pittsburgh has enough capable bodies to fill the gap, replacing what Maatta brought to the table will be difficult. The Finnish blueliner averages close to 20 minutes per night and is a steady offensive producer, with six goals and 19 points through 67 games this season.
As for the playoffs — well, who knows. There are still two weeks left in the regular season, so Maatta has some time to rehab before the postseason begins.
Assuming the Pens qualify, that is.
Related: Oh no, Geno: Penguins say Evgeni Malkin is out 6-8 weeks
Anaheim defenseman Josh Manson has been dinged for his throat-slash gesture towards Toronto forward Nazem Kadri on Thursday night, the NHL has announced:
Manson has been fined $2,486.56, the maximum allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, for an inappropriate gesture aimed at Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri during NHL Game No. 1104 in Toronto on Thursday, March 24, the National Hockey League announced today.
The incident occurred at 17:17 of the third period. Manson was assessed a game misconduct.
The fracas occurred after Kadri boarded Manson during a wild 6-5 Toronto win in OT.
That Kadri was on the receiving end of said gesture is ironic, given he was fined $5,000 earlier this year for making the same throat-slash towards Calgary captain Mark Giordano.
That incident occurred in mid-February, after Kadri took exception to a heavy Giordano check. While on the bench, the Leafs forward made the gesture, one the NHL has been cracking down on since 2000.
Former NHLer Nick Boyton was suspended twice for making the gesture, first in 2006 then again in 2010. He was banned one game for each incident.
Losers of five straight — failing to notch a single point over that stretch — the Boston Bruins are desperate for wins as they begin a four-game road swing that begins in Toronto on Saturday.
But they’ll have to start that trip without trade deadline pickup John-Michael Liles.
Liles, who’s averaged over 19 minutes a game since joining the B’s in early March, suffered a lower-body injury in last night’s loss to Florida and won’t travel to Toronto with the club.
The veteran blueliner was injured in a collision near the end of the second period. He didn’t return to start the third, and the Bruins were quick to rule him out for the remainder of the contest.
Should Liles miss extended time with this ailment, Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman would be the two likely candidates to replace him in the lineup.
Boston is still sitting third in the Atlantic Division, but is just one point up on Detroit — and the Red Wings head into Friday night’s action on the outside of the playoff picture entirely.
Antti Niemi‘s play has been sub-par since the calendar turned to 2016 and now, with just a handful of games left in the regular season, there’s a real chance he heads into the playoffs as Dallas’ No. 2 netminder.
But he’s not about to lose his cool over it. From the Dallas Morning-News:
Niemi has been struggling since Jan. 1. He has a 3.53 GAA and. 874 save percentage, among the worst numbers in the league in that span. Compare that to his career numbers of 2.43 and .914, and you can see the cause for alarm.
But Niemi said he won’t panic.
“You don’t want to be too emotional about it,” he said. “I don’t think I have played bad. I know I am giving up three or four goals, and that’s too much. But I watch the film and I don’t think it looks bad. I don’t think I’m making obvious mistakes.”
Niemi’s saying all the right things publicly, but it’s hard to imagine he’s not concerned about the situation at hand. He’s started just once in Dallas’ last 10 games and, with only seven left before the playoffs, the signs point to Kari Lehtonen being the Stars’ starter when the postseason opens.
Which would make for an interesting dynamic.
Should Niemi go in as the No. 2, Lehtonen will probably be looking over his shoulder. Niemi’s won a Stanley Cup, been to another Western Conference final and has 62 total games of playoff experience on his resume.
Lehtonen? Just eight games. And he’s never been out of the first round.
While this probably isn’t the “1a-1b” scenario GM Jim Nill envisioned when he acquired Niemi this summer, it is the reality of the situation. And it means goaltending will be a story for Dallas at a crucial stage of the year.