Five teams you could call winners at the NHL Draft

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The NHL Draft is a great time for the kids who get selected to play for any of the 30 NHL teams and getting to live that dream where your name is called and you get to throw on the team sweater is a huge thrill. Of course, not every team makes the pick that turns out to be the big winner and sometimes kids (they are kids after all) don’t turn out the way a team hopes they will. When you’re right, you’re a genius but when you’re wrong you’re on the unemployment line as a scout or general manager.

With all that said, there are five teams who we looked at in the draft who came away looking like big winners for one reason or another. Making the right picks is a tough thing to do at the draft but these five teams stood out above all others for what they were able to pull off.

1. Detroit Red Wings

They traded out of the first round swapping their first round pick for a pair of second rounders from Ottawa and managed to land super skilled forward Thomas Jurco and defenseman Xavier Ouellet. Defense was a key point in this draft for the Wings as they also took defenseman Ryan Sproul with their own second round pick. Overall Detroit grabbed five defensemen with the nine selections they had in the draft. Perhaps Nicklas Lidstrom’s eventual retirement finally set in on their thinking.

In Jurco they land a puckhandling wizard the likes we haven’t seen since… Oh right, Detroit already has Pavel Datsyuk to do silly things with the puck. That said, if we see Datsyuk doing the kinds of things we’ve seen Jurco do in highlight reels on YouTube, the NHL world might implode.

They also landed forward Philippe Hudon in the fifth round. The NHL Central Scouting bureau had Hudon ranked 31st at their midseason rankings but when the final list came out, Hudon dropped to 74th. Could the Wings have tripped and fallen into another late-round success story? Time will tell, but Hudon is worth keeping an eye on at Cornell next season in the NCAA.

2. Florida Panthers

Aside from the Panthers swinging a draft day deal with Chicago that landed them Brian Campbell to play defense for them in exchange for Rostislav Olesz, GM Dale Tallon did pretty well at the top half of the draft as well. With the third overall selection they grabbed potential goal scoring machine Jonathan Huberdeau and in the second round they took diminutive spark plug forward Rocco Grimaldi.

Grimaldi’s skills at North Dakota and with the Team USA World Junior Championship teams has people thinking of Brian Gionta when they see him. Those kinds of comparisons are nice to have as Gionta made a killing in college hockey and carried it on to the pros in a big way. If Grimaldi can develop like that, the Panthers all of a sudden have some great skill on the wings.

A handful of other picks could turn out nicely as well for them including what they did in the third round grabbing center Vincent Trocheck, right wing Logan Shaw, defenseman Jonathan Racine, and center Kyle Rau. Four third round picks give Florida a nicer shot at landing someone else who could pan out in the NHL.

3. Minnesota Wild

What the Wild lacked in the number of picks they made up for it by having the prototypical great Round 1 for the hometown fans. While their first pick of Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin may or may not have been a great pick for them as a reach at tenth overall, the Wild helped keep things exciting for the fans that didn’t go streaming for the exits immediately after that selection.

Minnesota swung the huge deal with San Jose that sent Brent Burns to the Sharks and Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota. That deal also gave the Wild a second first round pick which they used to take centerman Zack Phillips out of Saint John in the QMJHL. Phillips was Jonathan Huberdeau’s linemate on that Memorial Cup winning team and he’s got a ton of upside as a potential set up man in the NHL. Trading up to add Minnesota boy Mario Lucia late in the second round was another great thing to make the fans get excited as there’s nothing they love more than having guys from Minnesota play there.

4. New Jersey Devils

Full confession, the Devils making this list is based solely upon what happens when you hit the lottery both literally and figuratively. When the Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery that allowed them to move up to fourth overall, they had their fingers crossed that maybe Swedish stud defenseman Adam Larsson could fall their way. With how unpredictable things would be with the three teams ahead of them, it was a toss-up how things could go.

Lucky Lou Lamoriello proved to get things to go his way once again as the Oilers took Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Colorado grabbed Gabriel Landeskog, and Florida took Huberdeau. Hello future career stud defenseman. Larsson’s skills on the blue line have people making all kinds of lofty comparisons, but the one we’re thinking of here is Scott Niedermayer. Larsson is going to be very good and there’s a distinct chance he’ll be playing in New Jersey right away next season. It’s good to be Lou Lamoriello.

5. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers weren’t set to have much to do at the NHL Draft before they cleaned house sending Jeff Carter and Mike Richards out of town. The Carter deal, while it’s got him in hiding feeling upset about the whole thing, landed the Flyers the eighth pick overall in the draft. There they lucked out in a big way after Winnipeg went off the board somewhat and took center Mark Scheifele ahead of them. That left the Flyers to take big centerman Sean Couturier from Drummondville of the QMJHL.

At 6’3″ 197, Couturier is set to be a big, physical and well-rounded center with the skills to defend and dish it out on offense as well. He plays well physically and can score with the best of them (96 points in 58 games last season, including 36 goals). Sounds like the ideal kind of guy to play in Philadelphia, wouldn’t you say? Their third round pick, center Nick Cousins, could turn out to be a nice complimentary player in the future as a playmaker type but for the Flyers, their culture change moves helped them land one of the five guys that was slated to be one of the best talents in the draft. Not a bad deal at all.

Islanders are rolling: 14-0-1 stretch harkens to 1982 glory

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Islanders insist they don’t think about how well they are playing. They are too busy preparing for their next opponent.

However, win after win after win has added up to a point streak the franchise hasn’t seen since its Stanley Cup dynasty days,

Since opening the season with three losses in four games, the Islanders are 14-0-1 while matching the team points record set during a 15-game winning streak from Jan. 21 to Feb. 21, 1982, in the midst of their run of four straight Cup titles (1980-83).

“The teams they’ve had in the past, they’re legendary teams,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I don’t know if it means anything right now because we’re so focused on just the next game and then just this season. I think when you look back, when you’re done, you can say, ‘Hey, remember that streak we had?’”

The Islanders have earned points in 15 straight games for just the fourth time, with the previous three coming long before teams earned a point for losing in overtime and long before shootouts (1978, 1980 and 1982).

They have pulled it off different ways. The Islanders have given up the first goal seven times, trailed after one period four times and after two periods twice. They won three times in overtime and twice in shootouts. At Philadelphia on Saturday, the Islanders trailed 3-0 in the third period before scoring three times in the last 12:14 to tie it and then winning in a shootout. At Pittsburgh on Tuesday, New York scored twice in the last 4:19 to tie the score 4-4 before winning in overtime.

The two comebacks made the Islanders the first team in NHL history to win consecutive games in which it trailed by multiple goals in the final seven minutes of regulation.

“There’s going to be games when you’re down in the score and you have to find to kind of get back in the game,” said veteran forward Derick Brassard, who has had a resurgence in his first season with the Islanders.

Trotz, in his second year in New York, has repeatedly said his players are so focused on the upcoming game they wouldn’t know about it except for reporters.

“The media seems to keep bringing it up, so we’re understanding the numbers now,” he said, “but really the mentality has been just look at the next game.”

Mathew Barzal has led the way with nine goals, but seven other players have scored at least three goals in the run. The goaltending has been stellar, with Thomas Greiss 7-0-0 with a 1.69 goals-against average and Semyon Varlamov 7-0-1 (2.45 GAA).

“We have a group of people that put a great plan in place for us and then we’ve got a group of guys who have committed themselves to going out there and executing that plan 100% of the time,” veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck said. “It’s never perfect but our goal is to make sure that mental errors don’t get in the way of us winning hockey games, and I think we’ve been able to do that over time.”

To set a new team point streak record, the Islanders will have to do it against the Penguins in the back end of the home-and-home set Thursday night. Pittsburgh is responsible ending New York’s two longest winning streaks – the 15-game run in 1982 and the 10-game stretch earlier this month on Nov. 7. In that loss, the Islanders took a 3-0 into the third period at home before the Penguins tied it and then won in overtime for New York’s only blemish since Oct. 11.

The Islanders were a surprise team last year, reaching the playoffs in the first year under Trotz and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. New York led the Metropolitan Division for a chunk of the season before finishing second and then reaching the second round. After the Islanders returned largely the same team this season without any big-name additions, many predicted a regression.

The Islanders are proving their doubters wrong again.

“Anyone that doubts us can doubt us, that’s up to them,” Clutterbuck said, “but there’s no doubt in here.”

Latest PWHPA ‘Dream Gap Tour’ stop to be held in Toronto

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TORONTO (AP) — The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association’s latest barn-storming stop will be back in Toronto and feature six teams.

The PWHPA on Wednesday announced its fourth Dream Gap Tour stop will be held January 11-12 in northern Toronto. There will be 120 players participating, representing the largest turnout of the association’s four stops to date.

The series was launched in Toronto in September, followed by weekend events in New Hampshire and Chicago last month.

The PWHPA is made up of about 200 of the world’s top players and was established in May after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded. The players have pledged not to play professionally in North America this season in a bid to gain support to establish a single league with a sustainable economic model.

Capitals’ Hathaway suspended three games for spitting on Gudbranson

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The NHL announced that Washington Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway has been suspended for three games thanks to his “spitting incident” involving Anaheim Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson. The punishment was delivered by the league’s Hockey Operations department, not the Department of Player Safety.

It happened during the end of a pretty wild brawl between the Capitals and Ducks, leading to Hathaway being ejected. For what it’s worth, Hathaway said that he regretted spitting at Gudbranson after the game.

“Unfortunately, spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went onto him,” Hathaway said. “It has no place. It was an emotional play by me. You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head, and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me to a sucker punch.”

The Capitals face the Rangers on Wednesday, the Canucks on Saturday, and then the Panthers next Wednesday (Nov. 27) so Hathaway will not be eligible to return until a Nov. 29 home game against the Lightning. Here’s video of the incident:

Gudbranson might feel like the punishment is just.

“That’s about as low as you dig a pit, really,” Gudbranson said. “It’s a bad thing to do. It’s something you just don’t do in a game, and he did it.”

Do you agree with the three-game suspension? If not, what would be an appropriate punishment? It’s certainly tough to shake the notion that Milan Lucic‘s “sucker-punch” drew less of a suspension (two games) than spitting, especially when other after-the-whistle stuff like licking often goes virtually unpunished … but three games it is for Hathaway.

Being that it’s a shorter suspension, it doesn’t sound like Hathaway has a ton of recourse here, although maybe he can try to get some of the $24,193.53 back if he appealed?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Surging Vrana might be capable of even bigger things for Capitals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From Alex Ovechkin for Washington to Artemi Panarin for New York, you’ll see plenty of firepower during Wednesday Night Hockey’s bout between the Capitals and Rangers. Even with Nicklas Backstrom sidelined for the game, I’m here to argue that you still might not see enough of one potential rising star: Jakub Vrana.

When you give Vrana’s 2019-20 stats a quick glance, they’re already impressive.

Not only does Vrana already have 10 goals scored in 23 games, but all 10 of them have come at even-strength, tying him for third in the NHL in that category alongside players like Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vrana’s former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky. His eight assists rounds out his numbers to 18 points in 23 games; over an 82-game pace, Vrana would author 37-goal, 66-point season.

While he’s been riding some hot puck luck since 2018-19 with a 15.1 shooting percentage, the overwhelming message one gets from diving deeper into Vrana’s stats is that the Capitals should strongly consider finding more ways to get him on the ice.

[COVERAGE OF RANGERS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Despite Vrana’s 18 points in 23 games, he’s only averaging 14:15 TOI per game, which is a career-high and slight uptick from last season’s average of 14:02. Beyond getting some bounces, Vrana’s breakthrough in simple counting stats can probably be chalked up to an increasingly itchy trigger finger. After peaking with 1.96 shots on goal per game last season, Vrana’s getting almost one extra puck on net per evening, averaging 2.78 SOG per game (64 SOG in 23 GP).

It’s unclear if you can derive that from playing a more confident game, getting decent reps with a tremendous playmaker like Evgeny Kuznetsov, or if perhaps someone in the Capitals organization gave Vrana a directive to shoot more. Either way, it’s working out quite nicely, as he’s a significant part of the Capitals’ early work as the NHL’s most dangerous offense at even-strength.

Again, though, I must ask for more.

Just about every number seems to point a neon flashing arrow at “More Vrana.” His heat map at Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz is, well, almost off the charts:

Wow.

Admittedly, it would be tough for Vrana to crack the Capitals’ top power play unit, and he’s getting some reps on the second unit (1:35 per game), but his all-around game makes me wonder if more PK work would be warranted.

It’s not as though Vrana is getting totally buried in the Capitals’ lineup, yet with Washington in a strong position (few teams enjoy the luxury of “Can we win the division again?” being one of their burning questions in November), I’d be tempted to see if Vrana would thrive in an even larger role.

And, hey, if all of that is boring … the skill is pretty obvious, too. Not everyone can pull off a Datsyukian shootout move, right?

Just saying.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.