Should size matter in the NHL anymore?

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Around hockey circles, there’s a saying: “Small players need to prove that they can play, big players need to prove that they can’t.” Look around the NHL and the first round of any draft and you’ll find that’s as true today as it’s ever been. A huge, semi-productive prospect is given the benefit of the doubt, while a small superstar will have more question marks around his name than Matthew Lasko. But as general managers and scouts slowly get acclimated to the anti-obstruction rule changes in the post-lockout era, those talented players who used to be passed over are starting to get their shot.

Guys like Nathan Gerbe, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez are proving that players of any size can thrive in the NHL if they’re good enough. Dave Joseph from ESPN Radio in Los Angeles saw the 5’8” Martin St. Louis at the University of Vermont and says he was clearly the best player on the ice—yet he went undrafted. The prospect who had been dominant at every level had to catch on as a free agent with the Calgary Flames. Take the exact same player on the exact same team and put him in a 6’3” body—he’s undoubtedly a Top 5 pick. In 2004-05 (pre-lockout), he proved the scouts wrong when he earned the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Lester B Pearson Trophy, and Stanley Cup en route to one of the best individual seasons in recent memory.

Maybe it’s because of St. Louis’ success. Maybe it’s because of the rule changes. Either way, NHL teams are slowly starting to give all talented players an opportunity. No team better exemplifies that than the Los Angeles Kings with their recent draft picks.

Linden Vey was a smaller prospect and even went undrafted the first time around, yet last season he put up 116 points in the Western Hockey League. For a point of reference, it was the best single season in the WHL in 11 seasons. The Kings drafted him in the 4th round with the 96th pick in the draft his second time around. He understands that his size and the scouts perception isn’t something he can worry about if he wants to be successful. Vey explains his outlook:

“All you can do is control what you do on the ice and how you prepare. That’s what I try to focus on. All of those other things, those aren’t up to you. You just have to make sure to stay focused—my dream is to play in the NHL one day and I just have to make sure to keep working one day at a time.”

Kings head coach Terry Murray has been around the block a few times and sees the shifting landscape as well.

“The game has changed. The smaller player today… we’re looking back before I played as a player. But you go back into those teams you look at on tape in the 1950’s. You have a lot of smaller guys who are very skilled, very fast. The game now with the rule changes, the style that we’re playing, and the way we’re looking at things as coaches, there’s lots of room for the smaller players that have great skill and speed.”

There’s more to it than just a shifting landscape though. St. Louis thrived even before the rule changes, so there was proof that smaller players could perform given the chance. Some of the traits that have helped St. Louis become so successful are his quickness and his ability to visualize the game. Another Kings prospect, Jordan Weal, knows he may not have the body to match up with other players, so like St. Louis, he takes a different tact to neutralize his size disadvantage.

“[I use] quickness, for sure,” Weal explained. “Moving my feet in the offensive zone because it’s a lot harder to hit a moving target than someone who is standing still. If I keep my feet moving and think the game a couple of steps ahead of the other guy, then I can stay on top of that and create chances.”

Sounds like good advice for any player in the NHL—regardless of size. But just as important as size and on-ice intelligence; it’s heart, grit, and determination that will separate the players who can play in the NHL and those who cannot. The best of the Kings diminutive bunch of offensive prospects may be Calgary Hitman alum Brandon Kozun. Kozun tore up the Western Hockey League by putting up the first back-to-back 100-point seasons the WHL had seen since 2001. But even with all of his success, he’s still had to overcome repeated comments about his size.

“I’ve heard everything,” Kozun revealed. “It doesn’t affect me. I’ve heard every small joke. Or you can’t play here, you can’t play there. I just don’t even listen to it anymore.”

Despite having a reputation to favor bigger players, Murray likes the potential in Kozun—but not for the obvious reasons you may think. “[Brandon Kozun’s] got some real determination,” Murray beamed. “[He has] some real heart to play the game hard, you’re going to play. You’re going to play in high traffic areas and you’re going to generate a lot of offense because of his ability to create that separation. Kozun’s that man. He’s put up a lot of numbers on his resume over his junior career.”

To recap: A player needs to be quick, gritty, and smart to make the NHL? Who knew? It sounds so simple, but for years scouts and NHL organizations have looked the other way when it came to productive players under 6’.

Murray summed up the challenges for all prospects. These aren’t challenges that only small prospects, marginal prospects, or late round picks face—these are challenges that all draft picks face.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa scored three goals in the first 15:16 minutes of the game, including two on the power play, and held off a late push by Dallas to win 3-2 and even the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece. Brayden Point opened the scoring by netting his 10th of the postseason and Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk each scored to give the Lightning a three-goal lead they would not relinquish.

Since the beginning of their First Round series against Columbus, the Lightning are a perfect 5-0 following a loss this postseason. Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the pause. Andrei Vasilevskiy has not lost consecutive starts since dropping three straight from Feb. 20-25.

After going 0/14 on the power play in their previous four games, the Lightning scored twice on the man-advantage in Game 2, with both tallies coming in the first period. Point and Palat scored power-play goals 2:59 apart in the first period in the win. Dallas took three penalties in the first 14 minutes of play and the Lightning were able to take control by scoring twice.

Tyler Seguin, who is making his third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28- year-old has gone 11 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span. His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Stars vs. Lightning: Three keys to Game 3 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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After the Stars held off a late push to beat the Lightning in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning returned the favor in Game 2. In Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream), we’ll see which team grabs a 2-1 series lead.

Let’s consider three key factors in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Stars and Lightning.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. More offense from defense?

As the grind of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs wears on, it’s not surprising that teams are leaning on point shots for a decent chunk of their offense.

Defensemen have certainly factored into scoring for both teams so far. During Game 1, the Stars received unexpected offense from defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Joel Hanley. John Klingberg factored into Dallas’ Game 2 comeback push with two nice assists, while Kevin Shattenkirk scored the game-winner for Tampa Bay.

After Klingberg took his turn, will Miro Heiskanen erupt (one assist in his last four games, yet still a point per playoff game [23 in 23 GP] during this run)? Could we see another big goal from Victor Hedman?

[Taking a look at the Lightning’s strong “trade deadline line”]

2. Stars need to walk “that fine line” better in Game 3

Look, it’s probably in the Stars’ best interests to bring a certain level of nastiness to their battles with the Lightning during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Chances are, if the Stars hoist the Stanley Cup, it will be after playing at least a solid chunk of ugly hockey.

But ugly hockey doesn’t always just lend itself to destroying flow and finesse. When players lapse into bad penalties, it can cause many trips to the penalty box.

While the Stars have acquitted themselves nicely on the power play, that’s still not the game they want to play against the Lightning. Tampa Bay showed how quickly its man advantage can go from cold to hot in Game 2, as those early strikes made the difference for the Lightning.

If history teaches us anything, officials will become less and less willing to call penalties as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final wages on. Still, we’re only in Game 3, so Dallas is better off being careful between whistles.

[Can Tyler Seguin break out of his 2020 Stanley Cup Final slump?]

3. Who starts and finishes strong?

Each team (Stars in Game 1, Lightning in Game 2) took a turn protecting a healthy lead during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. In each case, they sat back a bit. One shouldn’t take all of the credit away from each rally attempt, but when you sit on a lead, you often play with fire.

Getting the first goal will, as always, be huge. Yet the fabled “full 60-minute effort” could be key this time around. (Then again, the Lightning can attest to games going a lot longer than 60 minutes … but hopefully you catch the drift.)

Such approaches — taking a foot off the gas, or turtling altogether with a lead — boil down to the philosophies of Rick Bowness and Jon Cooper. If there’s another beefy lead on either side, will the Lightning/Stars find a happy medium between being safe and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

Can Tyler Seguin break out of scoring slump for Stars during Stanley Cup Final?

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During the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Tyler Seguin is enduring a scoring slump at the “even the Dallas Stars can’t deny it” level. Stars coach Rick Bowness couldn’t totally dismiss Seguin’s scoring struggles before Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET. NBCSN; livestream).

“Do we need more from him? Yes,” Bowness said. ”He had some really good looks last game. He needs one of those to go in, there’s no question. He’s working. He needs a break.”

Seguin believes he can shake off 2020 Stanley Cup scoring slump

During the past 11 playoff games, Seguin failed to score a single goal, and settled for a single assist. Stretching back through the entire 2020 postseason, Seguin produced two goals and six assists for eight points over 22 games played.

Not good.

While I’m sure Seguin is growing weary about production questions, he gave an upbeat answer to the media.

”I feel like I’ve been playing a lot better as of late,” Seguin said. ”Definitely looking for that one bounce, but good things are happening when you’re getting chances and that’s what you look at.”

Indeed, Seguin’s gotten some looks.

Through the first two games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Seguin fired five shots on goal. During this postseason, he’s averaged about 2.64 SOG per game (58 in 22).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That’s a little off his full career playoff average (3.05 SOG per game), which already represents a drop-off from Seguin’s regular season career (3.51 SOG per game), but it’s not like Seguin’s totally in his own head. Maybe.

Can Seguin snap out of this streak?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Seguin heat up as this series goes along. The talent is there, and at 28, it’s not as if he’s totally out of the window of his peak.

That said, it’s also fair to wonder if we should become accustomed to Seguin shooting slumps.

Consider his playoff career. While Seguin’s career shooting percentage (5.1, 13 goals in 84 playoff games) is better than his ice-cold 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs run (3.4 percent, two goals in 22 games), it’s not exactly promising.

As mentioned before, Tyler Seguin’s playoff scoring struggles remind me of Rick Nash. Whether it’s a flaw in his game, or prolonged bad luck, it’s baffling (because it’s not just one postseason).

Throughout his playoff career, Seguin’s been snakebitten. His playoff debut represents the only time his postseason shooting percentage was in double digits (three goals, seven points in 13 games, 13.64 percent during the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup run).

Aside from that, Seguin’s second-best percentage was just 8.16 percent, while he’s mostly been below even five percent.

It’s fair to wonder if, for all of his skill, Seguin may simply settle for being a “volume shooter.”

After enjoying 11.9 percent shooting or better through his first three seasons with the Stars, Seguin’s shooting percentage went below 10 percent during three of his last four campaigns. Overall, his career 10.7 shooting percentage is respectable, but maybe not quite what you’d expect from someone whose talent seems evident from the “eye test.”

While it seems clear that Seguin is working hard, he’s generally been getting out-chanced, so he’s not exactly providing lockdown defense in lieu of production.

Being that his frequent linemates Jamie Benn (18 points in 23 GP) and Alexander Radulov (17 points in 23 GP) have been making big impacts, it’s all the more puzzling that Seguin can’t buy a bucket.

None of this is to condemn Seguin as a player. We see plenty of scorers go ice cold, especially when goals are so hard to come by amid playoff competition. It seems like Seguin’s been close on multiple occasions, and he might get on a roll if he can work past this.

Yet, as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final wages on, it’s also fair to wonder if Bowness may feel tempted to make some tweaks. Maybe someone like Roope Hintz would get more out of Radulov and Benn? Perhaps Benn could center a line with Radulov and, say, Denis Gurianov or Joel Kiviranta, being that Benn’s been beastly on faceoffs lately? And maybe easier matchups may open up space and confidence-boosting chances for Seguin?

Aggravating as it must be, Seguin’s struggles remain a factor to watch during this tight series.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.