Ekblad is ‘really, really mature,’ according to Willie Mitchell


Willie Mitchell is full of praise for Aaron Ekblad.

“I think he’s like a [Drew Doughty], but obviously earlier in the process,” Mitchell, 37, said of his young defensive partner, per L.A. Kings Insider.

“He’s 18 and he’s so talented, so you don’t really have to say too much. To be honest, he’s a really, really mature kid, like really, really mature. He doesn’t look 18, doesn’t act 18.”

Not only are Ekblad and Mitchell partnered together on the ice, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft is living with Mitchell and his wife this year. (Which is nice for Mitchell because, with Ekblad being too young to legally drink, “you always have a driver if you have a glass of wine.”)

At 6-4-5, the Panthers are off to a promising start to the season. They smoked the Ducks, 6-2, in Anaheim on Sunday, with Ekblad logging 20:49 of ice time and collecting an assist. That helper gave him 10 points, the most of any rookie d-man.

“We’re keeping our goals against pretty down,” said Mitchell. “We’re not scoring a lot, but we’ve put some good wins on the board this year against some really good teams. So you can kind of sense that the young guys start to believe.”

The Panthers are in Los Angeles tonight to play Mitchell’s old team, the defending champion Kings.

Kulikov to undergo second MRI, will miss Florida’s next two games

The Panthers will be without one of their minutes leaders this week for a pair of home dates against the Sharks and Isles.

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, third on the team at 22:26 TOI per game, won’t play in tomorrow’s tilt against San Jose or Friday’s against New York because of a knee injury suffered over the weekend, per head coach Gerard Gallant.

More, from the Miami Herald:

Gallant said Kulikov is scheduled for a second MRI, but the team doesn’t think the injury is serious.

Kulikov watched Monday’s practice without crutches, but Gallant said he wouldn’t play the next two games at minimum.

“He won’t play the next two games and hopefully we know more by the West Coast road trip,” Gallant said. “We should know more later in the week.”

With Kulikov out, Colby Robak — who’s been playing as a forward — will be paired with Brian Campbell on defense, leaving rookie Aaron Ekblad to skate with captain Willie Mitchell. Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen make up the other unit.

It’ll be interesting to see how Florida fares without Kulikov in the lineup. The club is playing .500 hockey — 4-4-4 through 12 games — but has a really tough stretch coming up after the Islanders game, with four consecutive road dates in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Nashville.

Heads up: Scott Stevens reportedly interviewed for Player Safety gig


Many critics of the NHL Department of Player Safety’s decision to hire Chris Pronger threw out the blurb, “Who’s next, Scott Stevens?” Well, maybe so.

Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika reports that the league interviewed him while Bob McKenzie added that it’s by no means a “done deal” during Thursday’s edition of TSN’s Insider Trading. The Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti notes that Owen Nolan and George Parros were also among the interviewees.

Much like Pronger, Stevens was one of the best – and easily among the most intimidating – defensemen of his generation. It’s an understatement to regard both blueliners as two of the most polarizing players of their era, too.

One popular refrain regarding the changing standards for dirty hits is that Steven’s highest profile hits (career-threatening, bone-crushing stuff on Paul Kariya and Eric Lindros) would likely be illegal by today’s standards. It’s not all that shocking to see that a potential Stevens hire drawing some debate out from media members, too:

Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski brings up a salient point beyond all that bluster, though: would a Stevens hire be a bit redundant?

One of the great things about the NHL’s competition committee, by comparison, is that it’s a cross-section of players. Seriously, look at this group. Scorers, defensemen. Guys who hit, guys who get hit. A goalie!

In many ways, one of the guys Stevens basically ended, Paul Kariya, would be a better voice in the player safety room. We have hitters represented; what about the hittees?

It’s an interesting proposition to consider. After all, wouldn’t a “finesse” player provide some added perspective regarding when a guy might put himself in a “vulnerable position” and when it might be a flimsy argument? (One example: Jonathan Toews provided some interesting prospective on a big Willie Mitchell hit back in 2010.)

Either way, it’s clear that Stevens draws respect for his “hockey IQ.” He’s already off to a fairly productive career in coaching* and, polarizing or not, he was rarely suspended despite his physical style.

We’ll eventually find out if the league will make another controversial hire in an area that might just promote the most controversy among hockey fans.

(Aside from goalie interference penalties, maybe.)

* – Although it was put on hold.

PHT Morning Skate: ECHL teams will play in Batman, Riddler jerseys


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.

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of Batman, the ECHL Toledo Walleye’s players will all wear batman jerseys on Nov. 22. They will face the visiting Evansville IceMen, who will naturally counter with Riddler attire. The jerseys used in the game will be auctioned off and the proceeds will benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. (Toledowalleye.com)

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $10,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first prize is $1,200. Starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Tyler Seguin, Brenden Dillon, Cody Eakin, and Jamie Benn are the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:

Willie Mitchell thinks advanced statistics like Corsi are “going to come and go.” (Sun-Sentinel)

Highlights from the Minnesota Wild’s 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins:

The Islanders’ defense has excelled at joining the rush and that’s played a big role in the team’s early success. (Newsday)

Current Flyers GM Ron Hextall and former Kings assistant general manager talked about Los Angeles’ thinking when they agreed to the Mike Richards trade. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Mats Zuccarello’s marker on Monday made him Norway’s all-time leader in goals scored. (Rangers.nhl.com on Twitter)

Risk Factors: Los Angeles Kings edition


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Los Angeles Kings

1. They’ve played a ton of hockey recently. The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, went to the Western Conference Final in ’13 and won it all again last year. That made for some long springs and short summers, which didn’t leave much for the requisite rest and recuperation needed to embark on yet another 82-game regular season.

It’s fair to say all that hockey took its toll. Jonathan Quick spent the offseason and a good chunk of the preseason rehabbing his surgically-repaired wrist, which came after a ’13-14 campaign in which he missed two months with a groin injury. (Quick also underwent back surgery following L.A.’s first Cup win.)

NHL on NBC analyst Pierre McGuire referenced Quick’s health during a preseason conference call:

“I think another compounding thing is you just don’t know the health of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (who had wrist surgery in June),” McGuire said. “I asked Jonathan if he felt a lot of young people would try and copy his goaltending style over time because he’s proven to be so successful.

“He said they may try and copy it but they’re going to end up in the emergency room.

“He plays just super aggressive and as [NBCSN executive producer] Sam Flood once said about Tim Thomas, he plays the [goalie] position like a linebacker in football. Quick does the same thing, and I worry a lot about whether he’ll have enough juice left in the tank.”

Kyle Clifford, meanwhile, was off ice this summer recovering from a broken wrist suffered during the Cup Final; Drew Doughty was absent from a large part of training camp dealing with an upper-body injury; Marian Gaborik missed four exhibition games with a groin ailment.

Part of this stems from playing so many games — lest we forget that six Kings (Quick, Doughty, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Slava Voynov) also played in Sochi — but part of this stems from the way L.A. plays. Darryl Sutter’s offense is predicated on getting pucks in deep, grinding to retrieve them, then grinding some more while keeping possession. The Kings are a big, heavy team that doesn’t shy away from taking the body, but even the strongest wear down after time.

2. They’re thinner than before. Los Angeles returns most of the team that hoisted Lord Stanley’s Mug in June, but a few key contributors are gone. Once GM Dean Lombardi made re-signing Gaborik a top priority, the resulting cap crunch meant there was no room for Willie Mitchell, a vital cog in both of Los Angeles’ championships.

Not to overstate Mitchell’s importance, but do consider this: the season he missed (2013) was the one in which L.A. failed to advance to the Final; last year, the 37-year-old blueliner averaged over 20 minutes during the regular season then expanded that role in the playoffs, bumping his TOI to 22:20 while scoring four points in 18 games.

“I miss Mitchie here on this team,” Doughty said recently, per LA Kings Insider.

The Kings’ cap crunch also cost them promising youngster Linden Vey, who was flipped to Vancouver at the draft. Though Vey only appeared in 18 games last year, he was one of three youngsters who starred in AHL Manchester and seemed destined to do good things with the parent club. The other two youngsters, of course, were Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson — both now firmly entrenched in Los Angeles on “That 70s Line.”

The Kings lost veteran depth as well. Colin Fraser left to sign in St. Louis, while free-agent acquisition Adam Cracknell was scooped off waivers by Columbus.

3. It’s really hard to repeat. As most know, there hasn’t been a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion since Detroit turned the trick in 1997 and ’98. Heck, it’s been five years since the defending champion even made it back to the Final — that was Detroit in ’09 — though L.A. and Chicago have come close in recent years.

“It’s probably the toughest trophy to win,” Sutter said at the start of camp, per LA Kings Insider. “To do it back-to-back, especially in the salary cap [era] in a parity league – I mean, if we’d have lost Game 7 to Chicago in the conference finals, then we wouldn’t be talking about it.

“It tells you how close it is.”

Part of that difficulty comes from having a big target on your back. This year, the Kings aren’t defending their title like they did in 2012 — now, they’re the two-time champions (and some people are already throwing around the dynasty label.)

This summer, it seems the rest of the Western Conference adjusted itself accordingly. After watching how much success L.A. had with its four centers — Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards — several teams set about adding depth down the middle: Anaheim acquired Ryan Kesler, Dallas traded for Jason Spezza, St. Louis inked Paul Stastny and Chicago signed Brad Richards.

It made for something of an arms race, but the Kings remain convinced their biggest challenge will come from within.

”Seems like the West is loading up, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to matter much what the other teams do,” Kopitar said, per AP. ”It’s going to matter what we do.”