Ryan Dadoun

Toronto Maple Leafs v Columbus Blue Jackets
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Surveyed NHLers expect big season from Kessel


Phil Kessel will score at least 40 goals in 2015-16.

That’s the opinion of 13 NHL players among the 17 that participated in that survey question for USA Today.

While Kessel finished with 25 goals during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rough 2014-15 campaign, no player questioned felt he would finish with less than 30 goals now that he can count on getting regular minutes with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. With Crosby being the more likely of the two linemates for Kessel, more than half of those asked also named Crosby as the favorite to win the Art Ross Trophy. John Tavares was a distant second.

It’s not hard to see why fans and NHLers alike are optimistic about Kessel’s future with the Penguins. It’s not just the fact that he’ll be able to play alongside Crosby; it’s also that he managed to be one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers for much of his run with the Toronto Maple Leafs despite never having a top-tier center to work with. If he could score 37 goals in each of the 2011-12 and 2013-14 campaigns while playing primarily with Tyler Bozak, then what will Kessel be capable of after getting an upgrade as substantial as the one he just got?

USA Today also surveyed a total of 35 players on a variety of other questions with one of the highlights being the results for: “Name one sleeper team that is better than people realize.”

While Connor McDavid‘s Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel‘s Buffalo Sabres tied for second place with five points each, the Columbus Blue Jackets won with eight votes.

Related: Malkin: Kessel ‘can score 50 goals’ with Crosby

PHT Morning Skate: Can stars guess their NHL 16 ratings?

Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Star players were asked to guess what their rating was in EA Sports’ NHL 16:

Only three franchises decided not to participate in a rookie tournament this year. The Philadelphia Flyers were one of them and GM Ron Hextall prefers to keep it that way. (Courier-Post)

St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock thinks the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to have a better season than expected. (Maple Leafs Hot Stove)

Why Toronto Maple Leafs fans shouldn’t get their hopes up when it comes to the possibility of Steven Stamkos coming home. (Spector’s Hockey)

Now a member of the Edmonton Oilers’ organization, Caleb Jones is working towards getting out from under his brother’s, Seth Jones, shadow. (Oilers.nhl.com)

An interview with Ray Emery, whose odds of making the Tampa Bay Lightning may have gone up depending on the severity of Kristers Gudlevskisupper-body injury. (Tampa Bay Times)

Blue Jackets win second straight Traverse City Tournament

Oliver Bjorkstrand
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When given the opportunity, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospects gave their fans a reason to feel optimistic about the franchise’s future.

With a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings tonight, Columbus’ prospects have won the Traverse City Tournament for the second straight year. Oliver Bjorkstrand was credited with the game-winning goal.

Bjorkstrand, along with linemates TJ Tynan and Kerby Rychel have been very effective throughout the tournament and that continued tonight even beyond the deciding marker. That has to be encouraging for the Blue Jackets as they are three of the team’s top forward prospects.

In the short-term, all three of them will have a difficult time securing a spot on the Blue Jackets’ opening game roster, although Rychel in particular can’t be overlooked. He already made his NHL debut last season with three assists in five contests and was also solid as an AHL rookie.

Columbus has now won this tournament four times, which puts it in a tie with St. Louis Blues over the event’s 17-year history.

By contrast Detroit has earn a single championship (2013), but Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill saw value in the franchise’s youngsters reaching the final game.

“That means that your scouting staff has done an amazing job and that year after year, you seem to be able to put a team together that is highly competitive up there,” Blashill told MLive.com. “That bodes well for us not only in the future, but as I talked about a second ago, right now.”

Questions about future surround Okposo

Kyle Okposo
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The New York Islanders have been enjoying Kyle Okposo‘s services at a bargain price, but now that he’s entering the last season of his five-year, $14 million deal, his time with the Islanders might be drawing to a close.

His agent, Pat Brisson, and Islanders GM Garth Snow only engaged in brief talks about an extension that didn’t go anywhere, per Newsday. There’s still plenty of time for the two sides to figure something out, but it would be very bad if the Islanders ended up letting him walk without getting anything in return and it’s that reality that will fuel trade speculation unless a new contract is signed.

It’s also forced Okposo to wonder about his future.

“It’s pretty hard not to when you go somewhere and everyone’s asking you whether you’re going to be traded or not,” he said. “It’s part of the business and I’m not naive to that. There’s a lot of moving parts.

“Am I upset about it? No. There’s things that upset you on a daily basis in this business and you just have to go with it. As far as contracts, trade speculation, I don’t want that to be a distraction. I just want to go out and play the game.”

Although Okposo took a fair amount of time to breakout, the 27-year-old did just that in 2013-14 when he recorded 69 points in 71 contests. He missed some time last season due to a detached retina, but when he was healthy he added credibility to the idea that he was now a major scoring threat.

Barring a disastrous 2015-16, he should have no trouble getting a major pay raise. The bigger question is if it will be the Islanders that provide him with it.

Related: Stalemate between Isles, Nelson getting contentious

Letang’s lone goal: Play all 82 games

Kris Letang
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Kris Letang is a top-tier offensive defenseman — when healthy. That qualifier has been a big issue for Letang and the Pittsburgh Penguins as he’s been plagued by health issues over the last four campaigns.

Which makes his objective going into the season a natural one.

“My only goal is to play 82 games,” Letang told the team’s website.

There’s definitely an element of luck when it comes to a player’s health, but this isn’t a matter that’s entirely out of his control.

“Managing my ice a little bit more is going to be important,” he said. “I cannot be all out like I do all the time. But I don’t want to change my game. I want to be the same guy that is aggressive, that will finish checks and be a guy that’s tough to play against.”

But that doesn’t mean he will be aggressive in every situation.

He’ll look to Minnesota’s Ryan Suter for inspiration. Suter has only missed five games over the last three seasons while simultaneously leading the league in ice time per contest in each of those campaigns. Letang wants to follow his example by picking his spots a bit more.

Letang hasn’t played since March 28 due to a concussion, but he’ll enter training camp without restrictions.

Related: Pittsburgh’s Biggest Question: Is the defense good enough?