Hurricanes forward competition open for business in training camp

With training camp starting up in just under two weeks, the chatter about what’s at stake in camp is picking up.

In Carolina, things figure to be more than intriguing. After all, Jeff Skinner is going into his second season building off a Calder Trophy-winning season, Erik Cole is gone and Alexei Ponikarovsky is in, and Tomas Kaberle joins the blue line corps on defense. With all that in place as well as having All-Stars Cam Ward and Eric Staal, there’s plenty to watch for the Hurricanes.

Adding to that fun is the competition that will be happening for openings among their forwards. Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer finds out from Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford that there’s a slew of forwards gunning for jobs with a limited number of openings.

Canes general manager Jim Rutherford says two forward slots will be filled in training camp. Among those vying for the slots: Jiri Tlusty, Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson. And there could be others.

One way or another, youth is going to continue to be served in Carolina. Boychuk, 21 years-old, was the team’s first round pick (14th overall) in 2008 and a guy they’re hoping can finally bust through and stick in Raleigh. Last season, Boychuk played in 23 games and had four goals and three assists.

Dalpe is also 21 and a 2008 second round draft pick. He too got a taste of NHL life last year scoring three goals and one assist in 15 games. Bowman too is 21 and played in 23 games for Carolina last year scoring just one assist.

Jiri Tlusty is 23 years-old and still trying to find a way to stick with the Hurricanes. He was acquired in a trade with Toronto two seasons ago and has spent the majority of his career in the AHL. Last season he spent most of his season with the Hurricanes playing in 57 games and scoring six goals and six assists. Samson is the oldest of the bunch and turns 24 later this month. He got his first real taste of NHL life last year playing in 23 games and earning just two assists.

Out of those five, depending on what coach Paul Maurice is looking for out of his lines, you’d have to lean on Boychuk and Tlusty as being the guys that will be the leaders of the pack. Those two have the highest upside in talent and have the ability to break through and provide some offensive punch to a lineup that could stand to use a boost.

With Erik Cole gone to Montreal, that’s a loss of 26 goals from last year’s team, the third best total on the team. While Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart are fine players they’ve added, they’re not viewed to be 20+ goal scorers. That offense will have to come from somewhere and Boychuk and Tlusty are the most likely guys to help solve that problem.

Then again, training camp can provide surprises and with the youth there for Carolina, the time is ripe for someone to breakout and show they’re ready for the NHL now. Seize the day training campers.

Dave Tippett joins Seattle NHL group as senior advisor

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At this point it simply seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the NHL officially moves forward to expand to Seattle in the coming years. In the meantime, the potential ownership group led by Tod Leiweke continues to take the steps necessary to ensure it becomes a reality.

One of their more recent moves was the addition of former Arizona Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett as a senior advisor for the group.

According to the Seattle Times “nobody is ruling out” the possibilty that Tippett could one day become the first head coach of the yet-to-be-named team, but for now he will help oversee development of the organization.

Here is Tippett talking about his new role, via the Times’ Geoff Baker.

“The challenge of trying to build a team from the foundation up is something not a lot of people get the chance to do,’’ Tippett, 56, told me last week in lower Queen Anne, near his new office at the NHL group’s headquarters. “That’s what makes it very intriguing to me.’’

Tippett, a former winger for 11 NHL seasons with Hartford, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, will bring a hockey insider’s voice to everything, from where to locate the training facility to how to decorate the dressing rooms at a revamped KeyArena.

“There are a lot of times where you need somebody with some hockey experience, whether it be infrastructure like the dressing rooms, the training facilities, or putting together the groundwork of what a skeleton hockey staff would look like,’’ Tippett said.

A player for more than 11 years in the NHL, Tippett most recently worked in the NHL as the head coach for the Arizona Coyotes, a position he held between the 2009-10 and 2016-17 seasons. During his time in Arizona he led the Coyotes to the playoffs three times, including a stunning run to the Western Conference Final during the 2011-12 season. But after five consecutive non-playoff appearances Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways following the 2016-17 season.

He also coached the Dallas Stars for six years, making the playoffs five times.

Tippett’s addition to the Seattle group seems reminiscent of the role former NHL player Murray Craven took on with the Vegas Golden Knights during their expansion process when he joined Bill Foley’s group as an advisor. After serving in that role for two years he was officially named the senior vice president of the team in August, 2016.

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.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi making late push up draft boards

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Throughout the season, many draft experts mentioned that the top end prospects available in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft were wingers and defensemen. Teams looking for a center were out of luck. But that opinion seems to have shifted in the final few days leading up to the event.

That’s where Jesperi Kotkaniemi comes into play.

The 17-year-old was always going to be a first round draft pick, but his performance in the Finnish first division with Assat Pori (10 goals, 29 points in 57 games) as a teenager is pretty impressive.

Another reason why Kotkaniemi is getting so much positive press late in this process, is because he was one of the standout-players on Finland’s team that won gold at the under-18 World Junior Hockey Championship. He had three goals and six assists in seven tournament games.

“Here’s a guy who has been playing the whole season with men and against men and has played extremely well,” NHL director of European scouting Goran Stubb said, per NHL.com. “He has improved his skating. His skating was always OK, but he’s improved and this is a guy with a guy with a very special understanding of the game. He makes very intelligent decisions on the ice. He can shoot, pass, score and is a very nice young man too.”

The fact that the Montreal Canadiens own the third overall pick in this week’s NHL Entry Draft has also helped connect the dots between Kotkaniemi and a top-three selection. You see, the Canadiens have been lacking a true number one center for decades. They remain thin down the middle to this day.

The Habs took Ryan Poehling in the first round last year, so that added a bit of depth in the pipeline at that position. Adding Kotkaniemi to the mix would arguably turn the center position into a strength when it comes to prospect depth. Every team that wins the Stanley Cup seems to have quality down the middle. Montreal needs to develop a franchise player there if they’re going to be competitive again.

“I think Kotkaniemi is the best center of the draft, I think he’s superb, I think he has a game reminiscent in style to (Los Angeles Kings center) Anze Kopitar,” former NHL GM and TSN’s Craig Button said. “I don’t know where you get (centers) if you don’t draft them. (Montreal Canadiens GM) Marc Bergevin has been looking for a center, he’s trying to take wingers and making them centers or take third line centers and make them first line centers. So now you have a guy sitting right there and maybe you can use the third pick to take him at No. 3.”

If Kotkaniemi ends up being one of the biggest risers on Friday night, it’ll be interesting to see what that means for Halifax winger Filip Zadina, who is still in play for the Canadiens at third overall.

For a while, Zadina was considered as the favorite to be selected third after Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov, but all this chatter about Kotkaniemi has taken some steam out of the Zadina hype train.

Even if the Canadiens opt to pass on Kotkaniemi, he could still end up going to Ottawa at four, Arizona at five or Detroit at six, which would be higher than most expected him to go.

But as we all know, it’s hard to trust anything anyone says about prospects and their stock at this time of year. Teams won’t be honest and the players won’t reveal their true thoughts about where they think they’ll end up, so all most of us have to lean on are Youtube clips and independent scouting services.

Ahhhh you’ve gotta love this time of year.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Paralyzed Humboldt player’s family preparing for next phase

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AIRDRIE, Alberta (AP) — The parents of a paralyzed Humboldt Broncos hockey player are preparing for the next phase of his recovery – his return home.

Ryan Straschnitzki is undergoing physiotherapy at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia after being paralyzed from the chest down in a crash between a semi-trailer and a bus carrying the junior hockey team at a rural Saskatchewan intersection in April.

The 19-year-old is expected to return home to Airdrie, just north of Calgary, in a matter of weeks.

His father, Tom Straschnitzki, says he’s already gone through six training programs on how to care for his son once he’s no longer under the constant watchful eye of medical personnel.

The programs include basics of day-to-day care, medication his son is taking and warning signs if something goes wrong.

”Because he can’t feel anything, if there’s a wrinkle, he’ll turn all red and his blood pressure will drop. We’ve got to figure out the signs and try and fix the problem,” Tom Straschnitzki said in an interview at his home with The Canadian Press.

”It’s scary. Hopefully we’ll know what to do and they’ve trained us pretty good.”

Tom Straschnitzki says the family home is about to be renovated to accommodate his son. An elevator is being installed, walls are being knocked down, doorways widened and bathrooms adapted. The reno could take up to six months and, during that time, they’ll need to find a new place to live.

”It’s daunting,” he said. ”It’s a lot of work, like building a brand new house.”

The basement where his son will be living is crammed with souvenirs he collected growing up and a lot more that have come in since the accident.

”That’s Connor McDavid‘s stick over there,” he said as he pointed to a corner in the basement. ”There’s boxes and boxes of letters and we ran out of room here so we put the rest in his room.”

Two books on the floor included ”99” by Wayne Gretzky and ”Against All Odds”, the untold story of Canada’s university hockey heroes.

A fundraiser to help with the family’s costs was scheduled for Saturday night at the Genesis Centre in Airdrie.

Cody Thompson, Ryan Straschnitzki’s former trainer and the event’s organizer, said it’s important the young man have access to treatment and resources.

”Any time you talk to anyone with a spinal cord injury, the first thing they will tell you is the younger you are, the more expensive it becomes, because of the longer time you will live with that injury,” he said.

”If you have the financial wherewithal, the likelihood of you coming out of this with more meaningful movement, mobility and strength to lead a normal life is exponentially higher (than) if you don’t have that ability.”

This time last year, Thompson said, Ryan was focused on playing with a junior A hockey team.

”Now he’s focused on gaining his ability to walk again and gaining full control over his body.”

Sixteen people died, including 10 players, and 13 others were injured as a result of bus crash.

PHT Morning Skate: How to create more offer sheets; Who will win Hart Trophy?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Andrew Berkshire breaks down the Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi trade that the Canadiens and Coyotes made on Friday night. Their skillsets are different, but both players can become valuable contributors to their new teams. (Sportsnet)

• Also on Friday, the Bruins re-signed defenseman Matt Grzelcyk to a two-year contract extension. (Boston Globe)

• Canadiens winger Artturi Lehkonen struggled to produce at different times last season, but his advanced metrics show that he’s an incredibly useful player for his team. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Caps forward Devante Smith-Pelly is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but his goal is to re-sign with Washington. “On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I’ve been in. Obviously, never know what’s going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.” (NBC Sports Washington)

• Top 2018 draft prospect Quinn Hughes has been shaped by his relationship with his brother, Jack, who could be the top pick in the 2019 draft. (Sportsnet)

Taylor Hall, Anze Kopitar and Nathan MacKinnon are all up for the Hart Trophy this year, so the NHL.com staff debated who they thought should win the award. (NHL.com)

• The Toronto Marlies came away with the AHL’s Calder Cup this year, so Pension Plan Puppets break down which players on the Marlies roster they think have a chance of cracking the NHL. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Offer sheets could be a fun way to make the NHL offseason even more fun, but general managers don’t seem to want to go that route very often. Sean McIndoe looks at how he would fix this broken system. (Sportsnet)

• If the 1998 NHL Entry Draft was to be done all over again, Vincent Lecavalier wouldn’t be the top selection. That honor would go to Pavel Datsyuk. (NHL.com)

• Lightning forward Ryan Callahan has been talked about as a buyout candidate, so Raw Charge looks at the difference between buying him out this summer vs. next summer. (Raw Charge)

• In the latest edition of his “Off-season Game Plan” series, TSN.ca’s Scott Cullen breaks down what the Capitals have to address during the upcoming offseason. (TSN.ca)

• The NHL Entry Draft gives struggling teams a chance to turn their fortunes around in the future. Toronto Sun writer Micheal Traikos writes about the potential for turnaround and he answers some of the hot topics surrounding this year’s draft. Will the Sens make a trade or two on Friday night? (Toronto Sun)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.