Author: Mike Halford

Jeremy Smith, Kevin Hayes

Hayes ‘needs to pick up his game,’ says AV


Rangers forward Kevin Hayes enjoyed a great rookie campaign last year, scoring 17 goals and 45 points to finish seventh in Calder voting.

Now, his head coach is getting a head start on preventing a sophomore slump.

“I know it’s training camp,” Alain Vigneault said on Friday, per Bergen Record. “But Kevin needs to pick up his game.”

Hayes, 23, is expected to see an increased role this season in New York, and will likely see more minutes that the 13:02 TOI he averaged as a rookie. His size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and skill set make him a difficult matchup for opponents, and he’s being counted on to pick up the offense lost after Martin St. Louis retired and Carl Hagelin was flipped to Anaheim.

There’s another angle to this as well.

The Rangers were aiming to play Hayes at center this season, and gave him a shot at manning the middle in Thursday’s game against Boston. While he did score, his overall performance is what drew Vigneault’s criticism; Hayes had a rough night in the faceoff circle and, per the New York Post, “didn’t have much of a game.”

Hayes will return to the wing tomorrow night when New York takes on New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to his coach’s remarks.

Coyotes rolling with Domi-Vermette-Duclair line

Team Canada v Team Russia

Dave Tippett liked what he saw out of his potential scoring line last time out.

So he’s giving it another shot.

Tonight, Tippett’s Coyotes will take on the Sharks in preseason action in San Jose, which will give the Anthony Duclair-Antoine Vermette-Max Domi line another chance to play together — the three were together for Thursday’s intra-squad game, with Duclair scoring a goal.

“[That line] played well tonight,” Tippett said following the contest. “We’ll see if they can do it again tomorrow.”

Domi, the 12th overall pick in 2013, and Duclair, acquired from the Rangers in the Keith Yandle trade, sound like they’re excited about reconnecting and re-establishing the chemistry forged while linemates with Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the World Juniors.

“Off the ice we’re best buddies so we’re pretty in tune with each other and we know each other really well,” Domi said, per the Coyotes website. “I think that transitions onto the ice pretty good. He’s got a lot of speed and a great shot so he’s pretty easy to play with.”

Vermette, who returned to the Coyotes this summer after last season’s trade to Chicago, is the resident graybeard. At 33, he’s got a boatload of experience compared to Duclair and Domi, who were both eight years old when Vermette made his NHL debut in ’03-04.

Sens suspend prospect Wikstrand after he bolts for Sweden

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits
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An otherwise routine training camp in Ottawa spiced up on Friday, as GM Bryan Murray announced the club had suspended d-man prospect Mikael Wikstrand, who has returned to his native Sweden.

A late-round pick in 2012, Wikstrand had emerged into a top prospect prior to his departure (and, per Murray, he still is.)

The 21-year-old scored 20 points in 46 games last year for Frolunda and, prior to that, was a key member of Sweden’s silver medal-winning team at the ’13 World Juniors, leading the squad in d-man scoring.

Per Sportsnet, Wikstrand informed the Sens he would play for the organization this year — presumably in AHL Binghamton — while attending development camp earlier this summer.

Per his agent, Todd Reynolds, the change of heart and subsequent return home is for “personal reasons.”

It certainly doesn’t sound like Wikstrand will be able to play in Sweden without a fight. Murray said he can be a “grocery clerk” or “play beer league,” but not join a SHL club.

No hearing scheduled for Clarkson after kneeing major

Washington Capitals v Columbus Blue Jackets

There’s no disciplinary hearing scheduled for Columbus forward David Clarkson after getting tossed from Thursday’s game against Minnesota for kneeing the Wild’s Justin Fontaine, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

Clarkson was given a major penalty and game misconduct just 63 seconds into the tilt. The NHL reportedly requested video evidence of the incident afterward, but the Blue Jackets forward downplayed concern over the potential of supplemental discipline.

“I’m not too worried about (further discipline),” Clarkson said following the game, per the Dispatch. “It just sucks. It’s a tough one to swallow. But you put it behind you and get ready for the next game.”

Fontaine was able to return following the hit, but didn’t play in the third period.

The Minnesota Star-Tribune reported he suffered a charley horse and experienced soreness following the contest.

Okposo in contract year, but ‘not talking contracts’

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders - Game Four

Kyle Okposo knows the deal, but he doesn’t want to discuss it.

“I’m not talking contracts,” the Isles’ pending UFA told the New York Post on Thursday. “That’s not going to be a distraction this year. I’m not even thinking about it.”

Okposo, 27, is in a fairly unique position. He’s coming off two solid scoring seasons, where he’s come close to being a point-per-game guy, and his current deal — a five-year, $14 million contract with a $2.8M cap hit — is a bargain.

It also makes him attractive on the trade market.

The trade market has to be mentioned in relation to Okposo, who has seen his name bandied about over the last year. This past week, those rumors flared up again when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested Isles GM Garth Snow wasn’t done dealing away forwards after flipping Michael Grabner to the Leafs.

The big question with Okposo seems to be, can the Isles afford to keep him and, if not, can they recoup some assets before he walks in free agency? Okposo will want (and deserves) a significant raise, but Snow has other decisions to make at the end of this year with the likes of Ryan Strome, Frans Nielsen, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin all needing new contracts.

Snow also needs to keep an eye on the future — following the 2017-18 campaign, captain John Tavares will require an extension.