Author: Ryan Dadoun

2015 NHL All-Star Weekend - Mascot Showdown

PHT Morning Skate: EA Sports’ NHL 16 will include mascots

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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.

Team mascots will be a part of EA Sports’ NHL 16. (EA Sports)

Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg had his day with the Stanley Cup:

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner shined in Canada’s 4-1 exhibition victory over Russia as the two countries prepare for the 2016 World Juniors. (Toronto Sun)

Defenseman Bryce Salvador had a good talk with Devils GM Ray Shero recently, but it’s still unclear if he’ll extend his career. (The Record)

Buffalo Sabres vice president Joe Battista is reportedly planning on leaving the franchise. (Associated Press)

Avs-Red Wings alumni game to feature Sakic, Forsberg, Shanahan, Lidstrom

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
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Although Detroit and Colorado are in different conferences now, there was a time when they were frequent adversaries in the playoffs and an upcoming alumni game between the two franchises aims to call back to that time.

In coordination with the Feb. 27 NHL Stadium Series meeting between the two squads, the Red Wings and Avalanche alumni will face off on Feb. 26 with a focus on players that were with the teams from 1996-2002. Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Brendan Shanahan are among those that will be suiting up for Detroit while Colorado will counter with Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and Peter Forsberg, according to the Denver Post.

“We have had an outstanding rivalry with the Red Wings during those years,” Sakic said. “We are looking forward to experiencing this grand outdoor setting and a special weekend of hockey in Denver.”

Detroit and Colorado met in the playoffs five times from 1995-96 through 2001-02. Colorado took three of those series while the Red Wings won twice. Colorado also won the Stanley Cup twice over that span while the Red Wings enjoyed three championships.

The outdoor games will be played at Coors Field in Denver.

Sharks re-sign Aaron Dell after strong AHL campaign

Aaron Dell
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The San Jose Sharks announced that they re-signed Aaron Dell to a one-year contract.

Dell, 26, went undrafted and spent parts of three seasons with the University of North Dakota. He went pro in 2012-13 and has been battling in the minors ever since. He took a step up in 2014-15 by posting a 2.06 GAA and .927 save percentage with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks .

That gave Dell the fifth best GAA and fourth ranked save percentage in the AHL.

With After Niemi gone, Martin Jones and Alex Stalock are expected to battle for playing time with San Jose next season. That leaves Dell to fight with Troy Grosenick and Joel Rumpel for a spot on the AHL squad. Each member of the trio will also be competing to establish himself as the third-string goaltender in order to be positioned for a potential summoning if Jones or Stalock get hurt.

What does Jack Eichel mean to the Buffalo Sabres?

Jack Eichel
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It takes a special type of player to dramatically alter the perception of your franchise and the mood of the fanbase before playing a single minute in the NHL, but Jack Eichel is not your typical high-end draft pick.

He’s the reason over 17,000 fans in Buffalo wanted to see a prospects scrimmage in July. By extension Eichel is the primary source of the optimism surrounding the team despite the fact that the Sabres are coming off of a 23-51-8 record.

In fact, that might even been underselling his impact because as an American he has the potential to accomplish things that no other U.S.-born talent has done before.

That’s what he is to the fans, but just how important was taking him to the Buffalo Sabres? What would it have meant to this franchise if it had missed out on the rare opportunity to draft a player of Eichel’s potential?

Getting Eichel, regardless of how well he does, isn’t nearly enough to guarantee the Sabres an era of long playoff runs and one or more championships. He doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo’s goaltending is an X-Factor, that they’re still dependent on several other prospects to breakout, or that they need forwards like Evander Kane to bounce back to help close the massive gap that existed between the Sabres offensively in 2014-15 and even just the league average. Buffalo still needs plenty of work and that’s true with or without Eichel.

And yet, while Buffalo might ultimately end up with little to show for the Eichel era, even if he proves to be a superb forward, he is the foundation that gives this franchise a good fighting chance at a championship in the mid-term.

He’s potentially a top-tier center, which is something most serious Stanley Cup contenders have and isn’t typically available on the free agent or trade markets unless you happen to be Jim Nill. Beyond that, he’s a potential “big-time” player and those are equally rare and near essential for success.

For much of the last six seasons, Chicago would have been a team with depth, a great defense, and significant scoring threats even if Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were simply good rather than the elite forwards they have proven themselves to be. But that one downgrade alone might have proven to be the difference between a franchise locked in a dynasty debate and one that enjoyed some deep playoff runs without ever lifting the Stanley Cup.

As Mike Babcock put it in April when talking about the aging Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, “In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

That’s what Eichel represents to Buffalo. Even if he lives up to the hype, he’s just a piece of the puzzle, but he’s one of the toughest ones to find.

MacLellan doesn’t think summer additions have to take from Johansson

Marcus Johansson
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Marcus Johansson was handed a one-year, $3.75 million contract in arbitration, but there’s been speculation that Washington’s offseason additions might eat into his playing time in 2015-16. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan doesn’t see that as inevitable.

“We just have a deeper top six and you’re going to have to play well and it’ll be hard to keep your job there,” MacLellan told the Washington Post. “He’s going to have to play well from the start.”

At the same time, MacLellan believes that Johansson can maintain a spot on one of Washington’s top two lines and serve on the first power-play unit. The general manager even hinted at Johansson’s role actually expanding as the 24-year-old might help kill penalties.

Washington added Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie over the summer and both of them are expected to serve as top-six forwards along with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. So when everyone is healthy, that will leave just one slot for Johansson or Andre Burakovsky.

Johansson had 20 goals and 47 points in 82 contests last season while averaging 16:28 minutes per contest.