Conacher to make Sabres debut tonight

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After starting his NHL career with 24 points in 35 games with Tampa Bay, Cory Conacher’s NHL career has been on a steep decline since he was dealt to Ottawa.

His tenure with the Senators ended when he was claimed off wiavers on Wednesday. Now the 24-year-old forward is getting ready to start the next chapter of his career tonight with the Buffalo Sabres.

“We’ll put him probably with Tyler Ennis to begin with and see how it goes,” Ted Nolan told the Buffalo News.

The Sabres could certainly use the help right now. They’ve traded away Ryan Miller, Brayden McNabb, Steve Ott, and Matt Moulson and recently lost forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Chris Stewart, and Torrey Mitchell to injuries. That’s on top of defenseman Rostislav Klesla refusing to play for Buffalo after the team acquired him.

Buffalo will play against Chicago tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Kuhnhackl scores weird, wild goal against Canucks

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Tom Kuhnhackl doesn’t find himself on the scoresheet very often.

Entering play on Tuesday night he had one goal in six games this season, only three in his past 75 games dating back to last season, and only 12 in 174 career games.

In any given season he might give you five goals.

At this point in his career he is what he is: A fourth-liner that eats up some minutes at the bottom of the lineup and kills penalties by wildly throwing his body in front of slap shots with little to no regard for his own well being. He showed enough doing that over the first five three years of his career to get a one-year contract from the New York Islanders over the summer.

In the first period of their game against the Vancouver Canucks he netted his second goal of the season, and it might be one of the weirdest goals we see all year.

It was beautiful, and at the same time, incredibly ugly.

Beautiful in the sense that he even managed to get the puck on net as he fell to the ice, ended up on his back, and facing away from the net.

Ugly in the sense that Canucks goalie Jakob Markstrom should never give up a goal on this shot.

I hate it when people say “[insert random NHL goalie here] would love to have that goal back,” because goalies are competitive people and never think they should give up a goal and would like to have all of them back … but maybe it would be in Markstrom’s best interest to just stop thinking about that goal and its very existence. Just pretend it never happened.

Just 44 seconds later the Islanders took the lead on a Josh Bailey goal and then extended their lead later in the period thanks to Jordan Eberle.

For as good as the Canucks have been so far this season their goaltending has not been good. That was obviously on display here.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Sabres host Lightning on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

For years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have chased a second Stanley Cup (and first with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov as their main stars). Meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres have mainly chased competency.

Both teams seem like they’re heading nicely toward their goals. The Lightning just saw a four-game winning streak end, and with a 12-4-1 record (25 points), they lead the Eastern Conference and rank second in the NHL.

The Sabres have won three of their last four games, placing them at 9-6-2 for 20 points. Entering Tuesday’s action, Buffalo currently holds the East’s second wild-card spot.

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

While the Lightning combine Stamkos-Kucherov with Brayden Point‘s impressive second line, the Sabres have enjoyed great work from Jack Eichel. Almost as importantly, they’ve seen marked improvements in various areas of the game.

Eichel vs. Stamkos/Point should be fun, and fans can also get a look at Rasmus Dahlin, who’s made a smooth transition for Buffalo after becoming the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. This game should be an interesting barometer for the Sabres, as they face one of the league’s clearest powerhouses.

[Extended preview for Tuesday’s game]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres
Where: KeyBank Center
When: Tuesday, November 13th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Sabres stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING

J.T. Miller — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde — Brayden Point — Tyler Johnson

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph

Danick Martel — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor Hedman — Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak

Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Louis Domingue

Sabres

Jeff Skinner — Jack Eichel — Sam Reinhart

Vladimir SobotkaEvan RodriguesJason Pominville

Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonTage Thompson

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen

Marco ScandellaZach Bogosian

Nathan Beaulieu — Rasmus Dahlin

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Chychrun latest Coyotes’ youngster to sign long-term

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Defenseman Jakob Chychrun will be making his 2018-19 season debut for the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night in Detroit after missing the first 16 games while recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season.

His season debut is only the second biggest piece of news regarding him on Tuesday.

Less than an hour before puck drop, the Coyotes announced that the 20-year-old Chychrun has signed a six-year contract extension with the team. Financial terms of the deal were not released, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports it will pay him $4.6 million per season, which comes out to a total of $27.6 million over the duration of the contract.

Chychrun would have been a restricted free agent after this season.

This is the second young player the Coyotes have locked up to a long-term deal over the past few months, following the six-year, $27 million contract Christian Dvorak signed back in August.

“We are extremely pleased to sign Jakob to a six-year contract extension,” general manager John Chayka said in a team statement.

“Jakob is a young, highly skilled defenseman with an incredibly bright future. He has battled through some adversity with injuries the last two years, but we remain confident that he has the necessary size, talent and work ethic to be one of our core players for many years to come.”

The injuries that Chayka mentions have limited Chychrun, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2016 draft, to just 118 total games over the first two years of his career, making this a pretty significant commitment for a player that doesn’t really have an extensive track record in the NHL. Even so, there is no doubt the potential is there, and if Chychrun is able to follow the same path he has started on and — most importantly — is able to stay healthy there is a very good chance that he can end up outperforming this contract while still being in the prime of his career when it ends (which would be good news for him).

When he has been healthy Chychrun has showed plenty of promise, especially offensively where he has already tallied 11 goals and 23 assists.

When it comes to the short-term outlook, Chychrun’s return will be a big boost to a Coyotes team that has been playing some outstanding hockey over the past couple of weeks. Arizona enters Tuesday’s game in Detroit as one of the league’s top defensive teams and is 7-3-1 in its past 11 games.

With Chychrun in the lineup the Coyotes now have six regulars in their lineup age 22 or younger, and that does not include Dvorak (age 22) who is currently on injured reserve and yet to appear in a game this season.

They now have nine players signed through at least the 2020-21 season, with three of them (Chychrun, Dvorak, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson) signed through at least the 2024-25 season.

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.

Top pick Dahlin’s been strong for Sabres, who should unleash him

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Conventional wisdom argues that a slow approach might be a wise one with Rasmus Dahlin.

Consider that the top pick of the 2018 NHL Draft is just 18, and won’t turn 19 until April. Dahlin isn’t just adjusting to life in the NHL; the slick Swede also must deal with being in a new country, with all the culture shocks and different ice surface headaches that come with that.

So, yes, on paper, it makes sense that the Buffalo Sabres are handing Dahlin a solid-but-unspectacular ice time average of 18:07 per game.

That said, this is a young man’s game, and Phil Housley would be wise to wonder if we’re soon approaching the time when he should really extend Dahlin’s leash.

For one thing, more NHL teams are just letting their youngest, most talented players loose, and are reaping some nice rewards. The Senators could have spun their wheels with porous defensemen because experience; instead Thomas Chabot has been fantastic, helping the team avoid total embarassment. The Stars have acknowledged the writing on the wall – not to mention John Klingberg‘s injury – by handing big minutes to 19-year-old Miro Heiskanen. For all of the Blackhawks’ missteps, rolling with Henri Jokiharju (also 19) has been both bold and shrewd.

Those teams are leaning on young defensemen in bigger roles for two reasons: 1) they’re really good and 2) those guys are just about unanimously better options than other blueliners on their flawed rosters.

Such logic could absolutely apply to Dahlin and the Sabres.

To start, Dahlin’s been strong.

OK, you won’t be blown away by Dahlin’s offense. So far, he’s generated his first NHL goal and six assists for seven points in 17 games, not quite a point every other night. If that’s your only measure for a blueliner, Dahlin falls into “acceptable shoulder shrug” territory.

For a player who’s brand new and fresh from the draft, Dahlin’s deeper numbers are quite impressive, however. As you can see from places like Hockey Reference, Dahlin’s possession numbers are impressive, whether you look at the stats without context or if you consider them relative to his Sabres teammates.

While Dahlin’s getting more offensive zone starts (51.7-percent versus 48.3-percent), it’s not like he’s getting babied like Mikhail Sergachev was by the Lightning last season. That’s a pretty even workload.

There’s a solid chance that, while Dahlin is enjoying decent power play reps (2:36 per game), he might be worthy of more opportunities there. Housley might at least want to experiment with Dahlin on the penalty kill more often as the season goes along, as Dahlin’s logging just seven seconds per night shorthanded.

His smarts, skating, and skills could be quite useful in … just about every situation, particularly when you consider the alternatives.

Stop trying to make Rasmus Ristolainen, workhorse No. 1 defenseman, happen

One of the hopeful side effects of landing Dahlin was that, ideally, Ristolainen would slot into a more comfortable spot. By more comfortable spot, people mean “not as the guy far and away the most ice time on your team.” Instead, he’s averaging 25:15 per night, more than five minutes above any other Sabres skater.

If you’ve followed Ristolainen’s career, you know that his possession stats have been bad, and often slipped to “full-on disaster” territory. That’s continued by just about every metric this season.

Ristolainen hasn’t really been a spectacular scorer considering his opportunities, and it’s plausible that Dahlin may already be a slightly more useful asset on the power play.

But it’s in the other areas where the Sabres should think long and hard about taking opportunities/burdens away from Ristolainen and giving them to Dahlin and perhaps others. Maybe it would sting to see Ristolainen transition into being an offensive specialist and second-pairing defenseman at $5.4 million, but sometimes winning means acknowledging reality, even if it’s painful.

Others aren’t knocking down the door

This isn’t just about Ristolainen.

Zach Bogosian (19:53 per game) isn’t at the point in his career where he’s likely to be worth trotting out for two more minutes per contest than Dahlin, and his shaky numbers bolster that thought. Jake McCabe (18:54 TOI average) has been solid enough at times, but I’m not so sure I’d trot him out more often than Dahlin, even at this early point. Maybe you’d want Marco Scandella (19:44) to absorb some of the tougher assignments merely to protect Dahlin’s confidence, but the Swede’s possession stats are vastly superior to the four other defensemen mentioned in this post.

***

It’s not like giving Dahlin more opportunities would be a mistake Housley couldn’t walk back.

Dahlin likely deserves more ice time in all three scenarios, but particularly at even-strength and on the power play. Instead, Left Wing Lock lists him on Buffalo’s third pairing and second PP unit.

On the bright side, Dahlin seems like he’s acing his early tests as the top pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, even if his work has been more subtle, rather than providing eye-popping early stats. He’s not inspiring ridiculous comparisons yet, like fellow Swede Elias Pettersson.

The thing is, Dahlin might be capable of much more, despite being wet-behind-the-ears. The Sabres would be wise to find out what he can handle, as moving Dahlin up the chain could make a big difference in moving up the ladder as a team.

At minimum, they might need to realize that he’s already the superior Rasmus.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.