The Tampa Bay Lightning could get a true defensive depth test tonight against Toronto.
Slater Koekkoek, the 10th overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, has been recalled and could make his NHL debut this evening in place of Victor Hedman, who’s questionable after barely playing in the third period of Monday’s win over Montreal.
Should Hedman miss, he’d join fellow blueliners Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn on the shelf. Garrison, who suffered an upper-body injury on a questionable hit from Detroit’ Justin Abdelakder over the weekend, is out 3-4 weeks; Coburn, who suffered a lower-body injury earlier this month, isn’t expected back until the playoffs at the earliest.
While those ailments have made for some tough times on defense, the Bolts have to be excited about Koekkoek’s arrival. The 21-year-old is enjoying a solid campaign with AHL Syracuse — 24 points in 66 games — and has some serious pedigree, the seventh d-man taken in first round absolutely loaded with quality defensemen (like Hampus Lindholm, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, Cody Ceci, Olli Maatta, Ryan Murray, Mathew Dumba and Derrick Pouliot.)
Kekalainen: Jackets to add ‘depth on defense’ this offseason
Given all the injuries the Blue Jackets have endured this season, it’s no surprise that their GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, would like to add some insurance for next season.
And he’s looking specifically at the blue line.
“I think we need to add a little bit more depth on defense to make sure… I mean defense is a position that if you have injuries you’re going to be in a tough situation,” Kekalainen told FOX Sports Ohio recently.
“The guys that come up to play from the minors have to be NHL-ready, at least, for the amount of games that they need to play at that time. That can expose you if they’re not.
“I think with the amount of players that we have now under contract for next year, and the prospects that we have, whether that’s in Springfield, junior or college coming to the pros, we have to make sure that we have enough depth for next year. That’s something that we’ll focus on in the offseason.”
The Anaheim Ducks are unique in the NHL in that they only have four games left in their regular season schedule. They also have essentially won their division and might even capture the Presidents’ Trophy. So it’s safe to call the regular season a success, but one thing it hasn’t produced is a clear Game 1 starter for the playoffs.
Going into the campaign both Frederik Andersen and John Gibson looked like equally viable candidates for that role given their potential and relative lack of NHL experience. For much of the season it looked like Andersen would run away with the starting gig, although that was partially due to Gibson suffering a groin injury early in the campaign.
“He never stops,” Ducks forward Ryan Kesler told the Orange County Register. “I think three or four times, they had a wide-open net. He throws something. Stick, leg, arm. Somehow, he keeps it out of the net. He’s a special talent.”
At the same time, Gibson did surrender four goals in each of his previous two games. At the end of the day, neither goaltender has significantly beaten out the other this month and with so little action left in Anaheim’s schedule, it seems unlikely that this matter will be cleanly settled before the playoffs.
Going into the postseason without an obvious number one is typically not desirable, but the Ducks don’t see this as a negative.
“It’s a great battle to have,” Corey Perry said. “They’re playing at the top of their game. They’re battling. And that’s all we can ask for. You’d rather have 1A and 1B rather than one and four. It’s a good thing.”
The Minnesota Wild moved into the third seed in the Central Division with a 4-1 victory over the L.A. Kings on Saturday night. The Wild, who trailed the Chicago Blackhawks by 16 points on Jan. 27, now lead the Blackhawks by a point.
Minny’s win moves Chicago into the second wild card seed in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks have a pair of games in hand on the Wild.
With the Kings losing earlier in the night, Vancouver was able to create a three-point cushion between themselves and L.A. with a single point in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars. The Canucks own the second seed in the Pacific Division.
The Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators added to their respective division leads with wins on Saturday.
Nashville hung on for a 4-3 win Saturday afternoon in Washington. With the win, the Preds clinched a playoff berth and moved three points ahead of the St. Louis Blues atop the Central Division.
The Ducks edged the New York Islanders 3-2 punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Anaheim now has a 12 point lead on the second place Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific Division.
The St. Louis Blues fell 4-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets failing to gain ground in the race for the Central Division crown.
Chicago and Winnipeg hold the two wild card seeds entering Sunday’s action while the Calgary Flames are three points back of a wild card position and just one point back of the L.A. Kings for the third seed in the Pacific Division.
Columbus acquired Bourque from Anaheim in the deal which saw James Wisniewski go to the Ducks.
The 33-year-old had four goals and a minus-2 rating in eight games with Columbus.
Saturday’s news ends a whirlwind season for Bourque, who began the season with the Montreal Canadiens. Bourque was waived by the Habs and spent four games with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs prior to being dealt to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Bryan Allen.
Bourque has one year remaining on his six-year, $20 million contract.