PHT makes the case for the Calder Trophy finalists

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Every season, fans look at the young players on their roster and hope one of them will take the world by storm. Take a look at the upcoming draft and you’ll see the hope bouncing around as every fan is hoping to pick the “next one” that can help them as soon as next season. Usually after the first few games, hopes of greatness are dashed and people just hope the players will stick with the big club for the rest of the season. But for some players, they are able to thrive from the first time they step on NHL ice.

There were three rookies who stood above the rest this season. Here are the reasons why each of them has a case to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

James O’Brien’s case for Logan Couture:

The first goal for any rookie is to merely earn quality minutes on a team, but to become a big-time contributor is an even more impressive feat. Going even further, all three candidates were strong enough that they didn’t need the “Good … for a rookie” qualification.

The thing that separates Logan Couture from the other two candidates is that he didn’t just earn big minutes. He earned substantial playing time on an elite team: the Pacific Division champion San Jose Sharks. The other two rookies were outstanding on teams that couldn’t make the playoffs, making one wonder if they would have gotten those opportunities on a superior team.

Couture finished second among rookies in scoring with 56 points, but it’s his all-around play that makes him stand out among three very worthy candidates. He earned about a minute per game of PK time, won a nice chunk of his faceoffs (an impressive 53.4 percent) and earned a +18 rating. Couture enjoyed the most complete season of any rookie from 2010-11.

Matt Reitz’s case for Jeff Skinner:

Skinner jumped out a huge lead for the Calder Trophy as he had a first-half that earn him a spot in the all-star game. Logan Couture and Michael Grabner caught attention throughout the season, but Skinner had the best season from beginning to end. He led all rookies with 63 points, was second with 32 assists, and third with 31 goals. All three were among their teams leaders in points per 60 minutes—but it was Skinner who led the pack. The NHL took note as he was the only rookie named to the all-star team in Raleigh this season.

Throughout the season, opposing coaches increasingly focused their efforts on shutting Skinner down. Yet despite those efforts, he thrived down the stretch in the middle of a playoff race. It’s one thing to score goals in meaningless games, but it’s quite another to score when the team is battling for one of the final playoff spots. The Hurricanes increasingly looked to Skinner to lead their second line to give the team something resembling secondary scoring. When the pressure was at its highest point, Skinner produced.

Joe Yerdon’s case for Michael Grabner:

Michael Grabner’s season with the Islanders was a true revelation and a sign of hope for the future for the Islanders. He was first amongst rookies in goals with 34. He was third in points and tied for second on the Islanders with 53. Being an offensive superstar for an Islanders team that showed hope for the future.

What made Grabner’s season all the more incredible is how he did his goal scoring damage. Grabner averaged just 15:05 of ice time and scored just two goals on the power play. Meanwhile, he scored six shorthanded goals a total good for second best in the NHL. His fellow rookie of the year finalists did their damage on the man advantage. Scoring 26 goals at even strength and six more while down a man makes Grabner a sneaky dangerous player and one who helped make his mark when the team needed him the most.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Islanders will play all home games at Nassau Coliseum in 2020-21

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March 22 will be the final Islanders’ game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, according to Newsday.

Randi Marshall reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will announce on Saturday that the Islanders will play any home playoff games this season and all of their 2020-21 home schedule at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are currently building a new arena by Belmont Park race track which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. The franchise played all of its home games at the Coliseum from 1972-2015 before moving to Brooklyn full-time in 2015. That lasted until 2018 when they split home games at both arenas, with Nassau Coliseum playing host to their Round 1 matchup against the Penguins and Barclays for their second round series against the Hurricanes.

While Barclays Center helped keep the Islanders in New York, it has not been the easiest arena to travel to for fans. The ability to get there via mass transit was a positive that the Coliseum doesn’t have. Yet when the Islanders returned back to Long Island last season, there was plenty nostalgia over the building that was home for the franchise’s glory days.

In September the Islanders broke ground on the new 19,000-seat arena by Belmont Park which is less than 10 miles from Nassau Coliseum.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

David Ayres gets own hockey card, stick on display at Hall of Fame

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It has been quite a week for David Ayres.

At this time seven days almost no one in the hockey world knew who he was. But after being forced into action as an emergency backup goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes, and then getting the win in the game over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is still getting some pretty big honors.

First, there was the shirt that the Hurricanes started to produce with his name and number on the back (with Ayres getting royalties, and other proceeds going to a kidney foundation). He was also invited to the Hurricanes’ home game on Tuesday night to sound the siren before their game against the Dallas Stars.

Now he is getting his own hockey card from Upper Deck, while the stick he used in Saturday’s game is on display at the Metropolitan Division exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The card is part of Upper Deck’s Dated Moments e-packs.

From Upper Deck:

David Ayres, a 42-year-old maintenance operations manager and part-time Zamboni driver, was called into action as the emergency goaltender about halfway through the Carolina Hurricanes’ game against Toronto after both Carolina goaltenders were injured. In his surprise NHL debut, he helped Carolina to a 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs.

Meanwhile, the stick he used in Saturday’s game to stop eight out of 10 shots, is now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The 42-year-old Ayres had previously served as an emergency backup goalie for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies but never entered the game. He was forced to play on Saturday after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were both injured.

MORE: Hurricanes emergency goalie David Ayres beats Maple Leafs

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.