Blackhawks prospect Brandon Saad makes case to stay at NHL level

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The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run was built on a foundation of strong draft picks. Many of those stars made an immediate impact in the NHL, too, as the team’s fortunes began to change when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews made their rookie debuts in 2007-08.

With that in mind, the team should be among the league’s most open-minded organizations when it comes to embracing an ahead-of-schedule youngster. That being said, it’s still surprising that 2011 second round pick Brandon Saad is making such a preseason impact.

Saad performed well enough to earn his fourth preseason start (coming up Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings), after he teamed up with Viktor Stalberg and Jonathan Toews for an explosive third period on Friday. He even scored the game-winner against the Washington Capitals to make it 3-2.

Naturally, there’s a huge difference between carving up defenses in exhibition games and making an NHL team as an 18-year-old player – let alone continuing that scoring pace in the big time. Saad wasn’t even the team’s first second round pick in 2011, as the team bagged four prospects in the draft’s first two rounds:

Mark McNeill (round 1, 18th overall)
Phillip Danault (round 1, 26)
Adam Clendening (round 2, 36)
Sadd (round 2, 43)

Saad’s first impression caught some off guard, but he’s running with his chance to do so. CSNChicago.com’s Tracey Myers asked Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville about Saad’s impressive start.

Still, nobody quite expected the Blackhawks’ second-round draft pick to have this much of an impact this quickly. The question is, can he really make this Blackhawks team?

“I don’t know. If he keeps doing that way every day we’ll probably be talking about him the next day,” said Quenneville on Friday, after Saad’s goal claimed a 3-2 Blackhawks victory over the Washington Capitals. “This is not something we envisioned. But every training camp there’s someone who gets your attention and captures it, makes you look at the case differently. He’s done that.”

Of course, if he does make the team, it’s unlikely that he’ll see much time alongside 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Toews on the first line. All he can do is put himself in the best position to succeed, though, whether he ends up on the team’s opening night roster or at the junior level with Saginaw.

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WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Blues find themselves at the bottom of the Central Division eneytering Wednesday’s meeting. Chicago took the first two meetings in overtime, but St. Louis got one back with a 7-3 victory on Oct. 27.

New Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton is still looking for his first win since replacing Joel Quenneville. Chicago is 0-2-1 under Colliton, which has extended their losing streak to eight games. That loss to the Blues was the game that started this current slide. They’ve not had a nine-game losing streak since the 2011-12 NHL season.

“I believe we’re on the right track. I believe we will turn this around. I think we’ve got really good players,” said Colliton. “When things are going against you over a long period of time, it’s not easy to get out of it. The circumstances are what they are. We’ve got to find a way to get it done. We can and we will.”

The dark clouds that were above the Blues earlier this season have brightened as they’ve won four of their last six. During that six-game stretch they’ve sliced their goals against per game from 4 to 2.5. Ryan O'Reilly is also excelling with eight goals and 17 points during a 10-game point streak.

Jake Allen‘s play was a factor in the Blues’ slow start, which opened the door for Chad Johnson, who’s played well in net for the last three games. He’s stopped 86 of the last 90 shots he’s faced and will get his chance to continue to shine during this current three-game road trip. Tonight, however, it’s Allen’s net versus the Blackhawks.

“He’s been our best player. You’ve seen countless times the big saves he’s making that are giving us a chance to win,” O’Reilly said about Johnson. “He’s stood on his head and it’s helped a lot. It’s helped us find our groove and do some good things. We have to be better in front of him, though.”

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, November 14th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden Schwartz – Ryan O’Reilly – Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby FabbriTyler BozakAlexander Steen
Zach SanfordRobert ThomasDavid Perron
Patrick MaroonIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz
Joel EdmundsonJay Bouwmeester

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

BLACKHAWKS
Nick SchmaltzJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane
Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovJohn Hayden
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfDominik Kahun
Chris Kunitz – Luke Johnson – Andreas Martinsen

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonHenri Jokiharju
Brandon Manning – Gustav Forling

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Injuries exposing Golden Knights’ lack of depth

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We are not even a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 NHL season and it is already clear that things are not going anywhere near as well for the Vegas Golden Knights as they did in their inaugural season.

They enter Wednesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) tied for the second-worst record in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Los Angeles Kings, and have quite a bit of work to do to get themselves back into a playoff position. Regression from a Stanley Cup Final appearance in year one was inevitable, but this might be even more than should have been expected given just how good they looked a year ago.

Goaltending has been a major culprit in the fall, but injuries and a 20-game suspension to one of their top defenders (Nate Schmidt) have also ruined what little depth the team had.

Even last year when Vegas was rolling through the Western Conference it was a very top heavy team that had some question marks after its top line. The complete dominance of the Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith line, as well as a career year from Marc-Andre Fleury, helped mask whatever flaws may have existed on the roster.

[Related: Golden Knights look to get back on track on Wednesday Night Hockey]

Keep in mind this team a year ago had a minus-17 goal differential at 5-on-5 when its top line was not on the ice (it plus-24 with the the top line on the ice).

But with those top players coming back, and Erik Haula coming off of a breakout season with his first real look in a significant role, and the offseason additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty to hopefully — at least in theory — form what could have been a second dominant scoring line, there was plenty of reason think Vegas could at least be a playoff team once again, if not an actual contender.

Things have quickly gone awry from that plan.

Especially as injuries have mounted and the goaltending has collapsed on itself.

Pacioretty missed four games due to injury earlier this month and has yet to make the expected impact when they acquired him from Montreal for a trade package centered around Tomas Tatar (who has been great in Montreal) and 2017 first-round draft pick Nick Suzuki. As of Wednesday, he has just two points (both goals) in 14 games.

Stastny, their big free agent acquisition, has been sidelined since Oct. 8 and has only played in three games this season. In the words of coach Gerard Gallant on Wednesday, he is “not even close” to returning.

He and Pacioretty have spent just 43 minutes on the ice together this season.

As if that has not been enough, they recently lost Haula — 29 goals a year ago — to an ugly looking injury that required him to be stretchered off the ice and is going to keep him out of the lineup on a month-to-month basis.

Sprinkle in some additional injuries to the likes of Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin and Deryk Engelland (who was one of the many pleasant surprises on the team a year ago) and the lineup has been consistently depleted this season.

General manager George McPhee was recently on Fan 590 in Toronto and talked about the situation, saying “we aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.”

Via The Sin Bin.

I’d like to get healthy, for one game. just to see what we are. We just haven’t been. You know we rebuilt our second line and I think they’ve played two and half games together. Stastny’s been out most of the year, Pacioretty was out, Haula’s out, Tuch’s been out. We aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.

If there is any good news on the horizon it’s that Schmidt will be eligible to return from his suspension on Nov. 18, which should give a boost to the defense.

But when it comes to everything else their options may be limited to just simply waiting. And hoping.

They have to wait for Stastny and Schmidt to get back in the lineup.

They have to hope Pacioretty breaks out of this early funk.

They have to hope Fleury’s early struggles are just that — early struggles — and not the beginning of the end for a 34-year-old goalie that just signed a long-term contract extension this summer.

Beyond that, what are the other logical options here? Vegas still has a lot of draft pick capital at its disposal, but at some point there has to be a big picture outlook where it has to remember that even with its year-one success this is still an expansion team building an organization from the ground up. It can not keep shipping away draft picks and prospects and ignoring the future.

All of that salary cap space the Golden Knights had at their disposal in future years has also quickly started to go away with several long-term contracts signed over the past few months (Marchessault, Smith, Fleury, Pacioretty, Tuch, Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Colin Miller are all signed through at least the 2022 season, while Stastny is locked in through 2021.  Karlsson will once again be a restricted free agent after this season and is currently doing enough to show he, too, is worth a long-term deal).

Everything went right for Vegas in year one, and it produced an incredible, almost too good to be true story. They are going to need everything to go right the rest of the way this season if they are going to come close to repeating because, so far, everything has worked against them. It all has them facing quite a deficit in the standings.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Tristan Jarry makes some history with goalie goal in AHL

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Take a break from your work day and enjoy one of the great — and extremely rare! — joys that hockey has to offer: The goalie goal.

This one comes to us from the American Hockey League on Wednesday afternoon where Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry became the first goalie in franchise history, and only the 14th goalie in AHL history, to score a goal.

He did it late in the third period of the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Springfield Falcons, and you can see it in the video above.

Jarry was selected by the Penguins in the second-round of the 2013 NHL draft (No. 44 overall) and has spent most of the past four seasons playing in the AHL. He has also appeared in 27 NHL games during that time, almost all of them coming a season ago. He lost out on the backup job behind Matt Murray in Pittsburgh to Casey DeSmith this preseason.

Some more goalie goal history for you: Jarry’s goal is the first by a goalie in the AHL since Charlotte Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic scored one in March of this past season.

There have been 11 different goalies to score a goal in an NHL game, the most recent of which was scored by Mike Smith, then of the Arizona Coyotes, during the 2013-14 season. Martin Brodeur (three) and Ron Hextall (two) are the only ones to have scored more than one.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Penguins trade Carl Hagelin to Kings for Tanner Pearson

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Jim Rutherford said changes could be coming to the Pittsburgh Penguins if things didn’t turn around. Things have not turned around yet, and on Wednesday he made his first change.

Just a couple of hours after the team announced that Rutherford had signed a new contract extension to remain the team’s general manager, he completed a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in an effort to shake up his struggling roster.

The trade: Sending Carl Hagelin, a two-time Stanley Cup-winner in Pittsburgh, to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson.

Rutherford said after the trade this could be the start of more changes and that, “with the way things have gone, it’s obvious that we had make a change.”

On the surface there’s really not much separating these two players through the first two months of the season as both have struggled offensively.

Hagelin has just three points in 16 games even though he has spent the bulk of the year playing alongside one of the league’s top players in Evgeni Malkin. Pearson, who is usually good for 15 goals and 40 points over a full season, has just one point in 17 games for a Kings team that has sent offense back to the dead puck era.

But let’s try to dig a little deeper than that and see what this means for both teams.

[Related: Rutherford signs contract extension with Penguins]

First, let’s start with the Kings because this is a tough one to read. Really tough. The Kings are an old, bad offensive hockey team that managed to somehow get older (Hagelin is 30; Pearson is 26) and worse offensively. Even though Pearson is having a miserable year, he is still, in big picture terms, a better offensive player than Hagelin and will probably continue to be in future seasons.

Hagelin has speed to burn, but simply doesn’t have the hands to match it. It leads to a lot of chances that ultimately fizzle out in the offensive zone. That is not what the Kings need. At all.

The key here for the Kings is, most likely, in the dollars. Hagelin is a free agent after this season and has his $4 million salary cap hit coming off the books, while Pearson is still on the hook for $3.75 salary cap hit through the 2020-21 season. If they don’t see Pearson as a long-term fit in what should be an upcoming rebuild, it makes some sense to jettison the salary. Though, it certainly does make you wonder if there was a better return out there than this. It is not that Hagelin is a bad player, because he is outstanding defensively and on the penalty kill and every line he is a part of tends to play better. He just doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose on this particular Kings team or address any of their needs, short-term or long-term. It is entirely possible, if not likely, he gets traded again before the deadline.

The Penguins, meanwhile, needed a boost offensively, especially when it comes to their bottom-six, a group that has been completely nonexistent this season. After their 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night you have to go back nine games to find the last time they received a goal from their third-or fourth-line, and Pearson, in theory, could be an upgrade there.

It is also possible that coach Mike Sullivan could simply slot him into the opening left by Hagelin’s departure.

While he is not likely to be an impact player, he does seem like a pretty good buy-low candidate for the Penguins to take a chance on. His career track record suggests he is significantly better than he has shown this season, and now he gets a fresh start on what should be a good team with top-tier talent around him. It wouldn’t be the first time such a trade worked out for the Penguins.

Remember, they originally acquired Hagelin in the middle of the 2015-16 season when he was struggling in Anaheim in a similar change of scenery swap involving David Perron. Hagelin immediately rediscovered his game in Pittsburgh and played a key role in turning their season around and helping them win the Stanley Cup.

It is not likely to play out that perfectly again for the Penguins, but as Rutherford said on Wednesday, they had to try something.

MORE: Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start

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.