Ryan Dadoun

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Under Pressure: Loui Eriksson

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This post is part of Canucks Day on PHT…

Loui Eriksson has to be a contender for the biggest disappointment of the 2016-17 campaign.

When Vancouver signed him to a six-year, $36 million contract in the summer of 2016 he was coming off a 30-goal campaign with Boston and the hope was that he would mesh with the Sedin twins on the top line. In the end though, Eriksson had just 11 goals and 24 points in 65 games, making it his least productive season since the 32-year-old forward’s rookie campaign.

There are ways to look at his campaign and see silver linings. From a Corsi and Fenwick perspective he performed better than the Canucks overall. His shooting percentage of 8.3 was way down from 2015-16 and his career average so you could argue that perhaps he was dealing with some bad luck. Even still, it’s hard to find a way to feel upbeat about a campaign that went that badly.

For better or worse, that was just the first year of six on his contract. Now the question turns to if he can bounce back, at least to some degree. He is still just 32-years-old so a comeback wouldn’t be shocking. However, if he goes through another season like he just endured then talk might even transition to a buyout next summer despite how long is left on that deal.

On the flip side if Eriksson is able to rebound then he could be one of the leaders on this transitioning team. With the Sedin twins set to celebrate their 37th birthday on Sept. 26 and entering the final season of their contract, their tenure with the Canucks might be drawing to a close. Even in a best case scenario, Eriksson isn’t a replacement on the ice for what the twins once were, but he could become the guiding force by setting a positive example for the younger players through what might be some difficult rebuilding years.

That would provide the squad with some value and make his contract feel more justified in the long run.

Will Thomas Vanek get signed soon?

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Thomas Vanek might not be the elite player he once was, but he’s still a solid contributor which makes the fact that he remains unsigned as we near September surprising. His wait might be nearing its end though.

”I do feel optimistic that something will come through for both of these guys in the next week or two,” Vanek’s agent agent Steve Bartlett said on Buffalo’s WGR 550, per TSN.ca. “And I think definitely the temperature has risen from teams around the league on both players.”

The other player Bartlett was referring to was Drew Stafford, who has since signed a one-year deal with New Jersey. That adds more foundation to Bartlett’s words.

Vanek had 17 goals and 48 points in 68 contests with the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers in 2016-17, which isn’t bad production considering he was averaging a modest 14:24 minutes per game. In fact, for what it’s worth Vanek did finish 16th in the league in points per 60 minutes, which was just below the 75-point Vladimir Tarasenko, who of course got considerably more ice time.

That’s not to suggest that Vanek could have done as well as Tarasenko had they gotten equal use, but it does highlight how productive Vanek was relative to his minutes. He could be a nice bargain bin pickup for whatever team finally inks him.

Looking to make the leap: Adrian Kempe

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This post is part of Kings Day on PHT…

Part of the challenge facing the Los Angeles Kings right now is that they’re light on noteworthy prospects, but there’s still some young players to watch within their system.

One of them is Adrian Kempe, who made his NHL debut last season and could be a full-time player with the Los Angeles Kings in 2017-18. While he can serve as a winger, there’s a potential opening on the Kings for a third-line center and Kempe might slot into that position. That wouldn’t be a bad role for him as he’s capable defensively.

The bigger question with Kempe is what he might bring to the table offensively. He made a great first impression within the Kings’ organization when he scored eight goals in 17 playoff games with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs in 2014, but since then his offensive numbers have been underwhelming. He had 12 goals and 20 points in 46 AHL contests last season as well as two goals and six points in 25 games with the Kings.

He’s still just 20-years-old though (he’ll turn 21 in September), so he has time to grow offensively. It helps that he has size and speed among his advantages. He’s got a high hockey IQ too, which was on display when he scored his first NHL goal.

He needs to show that he can play at that level consistently though and whether or not he can do that will determine his future value to the team. Maybe he can become a top-six forward, but perhaps he’ll end up in more of a supporting role.

He also needs to improve on the draw if his future is as a center. He only won 43.8% of his 153 faceoffs with the Kings last season, so that was an obvious negative.

It’ll be interesting to see how that all plays out in 2017-18 and beyond. Especially given their currently underwhelming farm system (albeit improved with the selection of Gabriel Vilardi with the 11th pick this year), it would go a long way towards securing the Kings’ future if Kempe’s flashes of greatness manifested into him becoming a more reliable player.

Avs announce signing of college standout Kerfoot

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What was reported Wednesday is now official: Alexander Kerfoot is a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

The club announced that Kerfoot agreed to a two-year, entry-level contract.

“We are thrilled that Alexander decided to sign with the Avalanche,” said Avalanche GM Joe Sakic. “He’s a highly-skilled, playmaking center who is responsible at both ends of the ice. We look forward to seeing him take the next step of his hockey career with our organization.”

Kerfoot completed his senior year with Harvard University in 2016-17, scoring 16 goals and 45 points in 36 NCAA games. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

The Devils originally took him with the 150th pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and tried to sign him this summer. However, he decided to wait until Aug. 15th when he could become an unrestricted free agent.

There was talk that Kerfoot might join his hometown Vancouver Canucks and the New York Rangers were also reportedly a finalist for his services before he settled on Colorado.

He could play a significant role in his rookie season as the Avalanche look to the future following a disastrous 22-56-4 campaign.

Oshie suspects regular season will be harder for Capitals

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The Washington Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy in each of the last two campaigns, but this was a summer of subtraction for the club and that will make things more difficult going forward.

“I don’t expect us to run away with it like we did the past couple years in the regular season,” T.J. Oshie told NHL.com.

Re-signing Oshie to an eight-year, $46 million contract was one of the Capitals’ big accomplishments this summer. Their cap restraints led to them parting ways with a number of other veterans though, including forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson as well as defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt (though Schmidt was taken in the expansion draft).

That’s quite a bit of talent shed and the Capitals will need their younger players to step up in order to fill that void. They’re also hoping for more of the same from Oshie after he scored a career-high 33 goals in 68 games last season.

Of course, even if the Capitals do excel in the regular season once again, the real test will be how they do in the playoffs. In each of the last two years they were eliminated by Pittsburgh in the second round and Washington hasn’t gotten further than that in the Alex Ovechkin era. You could argue that the margin between Washington and a championship is actually fairly narrow given that the Capitals took the eventual Cup winners to seven games, but regardless the pressure is on Washington.

Ovechkin will celebrate his 32nd birthday in September, so while he’s not past his prime yet, his age does emphasize that the Capitals’ window to win the Cup isn’t indefinite. That’s especially true given that the Capitals will have more potential challenges next summer given that John Carlson can become an UFA at that point and Philipp Grubauer can be a restricted free agent.

Related: Poll: Will the Caps finally make it to the Stanley Cup Final?