Chicago Blackhawks

New York Islanders v Washington Capitals - Game Two

Looking to make the leap: Tom Wilson

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The numbers from Tom Wilson’s first two seasons in Washington pretty much explain his role.

Hits: 402

Penalty minutes: 323

Fights: 26

Goals: 7

While Wilson’s been effective as the energy-slash-enforcer guy, it’s probably not the role most imagined when the Caps made him the 16th overall pick in 2012. Taken ahead of the likes of Tomas Hertl and Teuvo Teravainen, the big-bodied Wilson — 6-foot-4, 210 pounds — should be able to do more.

Just ask his head coach.

“Willie is one of my favorites,” Barry Trotz told the Washington Post this offseason. “I think he’s got a great upside, but at the same time I don’t see him as a fourth line winger for the Washington Capitals.

“To me, he’s better than that.”

Wilson has appeared in plenty of games — only four players from his draft class have been in more — but hasn’t really played all that much, averaging 7:56 per game in his rookie year, then 10:56 as a sophomore, all of it in a predominantly fourth-line role. Part of that is age, having just turned 21 in March, and part of that stems from ex-head coach Adam Oates, who thrust Wilson into the muscle role to compensate for what he saw as a lack of team toughness.

Trotz, though, sees something more.

He gave Wilson top-line minutes last year alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and while the promotion was brief, it provided insight into what Trotz thinks of Wilson’s potential — a big-bodied power forward that can physically punish opponents and produce offensively.

“My goal will be pretty simple with Tom,” Trotz said, per CSN Washington. “Tom needs to elevate his game. We’ll talk about all those areas of where he can and how he’s going to do it and where we see him needing to get to.”

But is this the year it happens?

There is competition for top-six minutes, especially at wing. Washington’s added some veteran talent in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, meaning Wilson, a pending RFA, may not get a shot at his breakthrough until 2016-17.

Or perhaps beyond.

“We want to get Wilson more ice time next year. We need to bump him,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said. “Maybe not next year, but the year after, we have to turn him into a top-six forward.

“We just need him making more plays, doing more with the puck, contributing offensively, and I think we can get that out of him.”

PHT Morning Skate: Seguin says it was ‘real tough’ to ‘keep my mouth shut’ after Boston trade

seguingetty
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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.

“I think the real tough thing was being able to keep my mouth shut. That was real difficult after the trade happened, seeing all the things that were going on.” That’s Tyler Seguin, talking about the days following his blockbuster move out of Boston two years ago. He said watching Behind the B was especially rough. (TSN 1050)

Remember ex-NHLer Chris Kontos? Well, someone tried to steal his Olympic silver medal, won while representing Canada at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer. (CTV)

Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya gave the ‘Hawks some international flair by bringing the Stanley Cup to Sweden. Of course, the former is still without a contract… and the latter now plays for Dallas. (ESPN)

Jets captain Andrew Ladd is back skating after offseason sports hernia surgery. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Coyotes prospect Max Domi speaks about playing hockey with diabetes. (Howlin’ Hockey)

Blues’ biggest question: Are they good enough down the middle?

New York Rangers v St. Louis Blues
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Jonathan Toews. Anze Kopitar. Jeff Carter. Patrice Bergeron. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg.

Teams that win the Stanley Cup almost always have an elite center. As you can see, some of them even have two.

Do the St. Louis Blues?

The answer to that will depend on your definition of elite. If it’s a generous one, then maybe Paul Stastny gets the nod. Otherwise, it’s hard to answer yes.

Next season, the Blues’ top two lines could look something like this:

Alex Steen – Paul Stastny — David Backes
Jaden Schwartz — Jori Lehtera — Vladimir Tarasenko

If one of Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie or Robby Fabbri can step into a top-six role, coach Ken Hitchcock has said that Backes could be moved to the third line.

Regardless of how the lines shake out, it’s no surprise that the Blues were left wanting more from Stastny, their big free-agency signing from last summer.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” GM Doug Armstrong said. “We need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Stastny had 46 points in 74 games last season. He then managed just one goal, with no assists, in the Blues’ six-game playoff loss to the Wild.

Not enough from a player who was supposed to be a difference-maker in the tough Western Conference.

“I think in every sport if you’re strong up the middle you’re usually a strong team,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per Yahoo Sports. “The center icemen seem to be the catalyst, usually offensively. They’re the guys who have the puck the most and make maybe the most decisions on the ice based on the number of touches they have in a game.”

Which is why there’s so much excitement in Washington about young Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But we digress.

The Blues are obviously a strong team. Their regular-season record is proof of that. But they haven’t been able to win that elusive Cup, so it’s only natural to pore over their roster in search of why.

Their lack of a truly elite center — and this goes for good teams like the Wild, Predators, Canadiens, Rangers, and Jets — may be as good an answer as any.

Related: Doug Armstrong is under pressure

Kruger wants to sign with Chicago, but isn’t panicking (yet)

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
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It’s already mid-August, and Marcus Kruger still lacks a new contract from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The team’s salary cap bind remains, so the restricted free agent is still in limbo. He admitted to ESPN Chicago that he wants to get a deal done soon, yet he’s not agonizing over it.

“I want to have it done. I think that’s for everyone,” Kruger said. “But I don’t feel too stressed out about it, yet at least. We have another month until training camp.”

The 25-year-old has professed his patience and flexibility toward the Blackhawks’ situation more than once, and he stood by that, stating “whatever happens, it’s going to be good for me and them.”

It’s plausible that the Blackhawks may ask a little more from the Swede in 2015-16 after some significant departures in the likes of Brad Richards and Patrick Sharp.

His last contract carried a $1.325 million cap hit, while General Fanager pegs the Blackhawks’ cap space at just $231,540 right now.

As Kruger said, the Blackhawks still have time to figure things out, but it’s also true that the clock is ticking.

Report: Blackhawks’ Danault could miss 3 months after hip surgery

philldangetty
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Chicago Blackhawks prospect Phillip Danault could miss about three months after undergoing hip surgery, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazarus reports.

(Do note that the Blackhawks haven’t confirmed or denied the 22-year-old’s status just yet.)

Danault saw his first bit of NHL action in 2014-15, failing to score a point in two regular season games.

The 26th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft spent the last three seasons with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, where one would assume he’d likely end up for much (if not all) of 2015-16.

Whenever he blossoms, the Blackhawks would like him to remind fans of Marcus Kruger, as CSNChicago.com reported back in July 2014:

“They told me they want me to be a Kruger,” Danault said. “So I’ll try to mold myself after Marcus Kruger.”

The Blackhawks still don’t have Kruger locked up to a new contract, so they might ask Danault to do that impression sooner rather than later. Before that happens, he’d need to have a clean bill of health, of course.