Top prospect Virtanen signs with Canucks

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Jake Virtanen took to Twitter on Friday to reveal that he has agreed to an entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

He was taken with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a power forward who models his game after Rick Nash. He finished the 2013-14 campaign with 45 goals, 71 points, and 100 penalty minutes in 71 WHL contests despite suffering a torn labrum midway through the season. He had surgery in May and probably won’t be ready to play until mid-October.

“I don’t want to rush anything,” he said, per NHL.com. “I want to make sure I’m 100-percent healthy and doing the things I have to do to be healthy and get back in the lineup.”

With that in mind, he’ll probably start the season in the juniors.

Vancouver also recently signed their other first-round selection, Jared McCann.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning head to the nation’s capital to take on the defending champion Capitals in Tampa Bay’s first game since clinching the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy. A reminder, the Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Final on their way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title.

Last night, Washington won at New Jersey, 4-1, for its ninth win in the last 11 games (9-2-0). With the victory and the loss by the Islanders, the Caps overtook New York for the top spot in the Metro Division. Tied 1-1 after the first, Washington outscored New Jersey 3-0 in the second period. Four different players scored for the Capitals – Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson – while Alex Ovechkin added one assist to extend his point streak to four games (2G-3A). Ovi now has 1,204 career points. Pheonix Copley stopped 20 of 21 shots for Washington in his sixth straight win. Nicklas Backstrom had one assist to total 50 for the season – his sixth straight 50-assist campaign – no other player has an active streak longer than three.

The Lightning secured the NHL’s best regular-season record in their 73rd game, the second-fewest games to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy since it was introduced in 1985-86. The 1995-96 Red Wings accomplished the feat in 71 games. Tampa Bay also clinched the Presidents’ Trophy before any other team in the Eastern Conference clinched a playoff spot.

Clinching the Presidents’ Trophy wasn’t the only thing that was accomplished Monday. Steven Stamkos scored his 36th goal of the season, bringing his career total to 384 goals. With that goal, Stamkos passed Vincent Lecavalier for most goals in franchise history.

This is the second of three meetings between these two teams this season. The Lightning topped the Caps 6-3 last Saturday in Tampa in a game that saw Alex Killorn record his first career hat trick. They’ll play their third and final meeting on March 30 in Tampa, their third matchup in 15 days.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, March 20, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej Palat – Steven Stamkos – J.T. Miller
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Mathieu Joseph
Yanni GourdeCedric PaquetteAdam Erne

Victor HedmanMikhail Sergachev
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnJan Rutta

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic DowdChandler Stephenson

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Nikita Kucherov is a master of deception

John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

David Perron has been Blues’ overlooked star

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The St. Louis Blues were one of the NHL’s most active teams over the summer, going all out in an effort to improve an offense that was one of the league’s worst a season ago. Along with acquiring Ryan O'Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres and signing Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon in free agency, they also brought back veteran winger David Perron (after losing him in the expansion draft the previous year) on a four-year, $16 million contract for what is now his third different stint with the team.

So far, that addition has proven to be worth every penny the Blues have paid.

Perron scored two more goals and added an assist in the Blues’ 7-2 thumping of the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, bringing his season totals to 20 goals and 40 total points in 48 games. He is currently third on the team in goals scored and fourth in total points despite the fact he has missed more than 20 games and was sidelined for two consecutive months, having just returned to the lineup this past weekend.

In his first three games back in the lineup he already has three goals and two assists, including Tuesday’s big performance. If you go back to before his injury, he has now recorded at least one point in 16 consecutive games for the Blues and, when healthy, has been one of their most consistent and productive players this season.

It all continues what has been a fascinating career trajectory for Perron.

After showing some signs of being a top-line player early in his career with the Blues but never really fully reaching that potential, things kind of stalled out for him as he bounced around the league, going from Edmonton, to Pittsburgh, Anaheim, and then back to St. Louis between the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.

But when he arrived in Vegas as part of the Golden Knights’ expansion draft haul his career seemed to be injected with new life.

He was instantly one of their top players and one of the key ingredients in their improbable debut season that resulted in a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. It was the best season of his career and resulted in a pretty decent pay day in free agency this past season. He has followed it up in St. Louis with what has been, to this point, the second best season of his career as he is currently on what would amount to a 34-goal, 68-point pace over 82 games. (Because of the time missed due to injury, he is probably likely to finish with around 24 goals and 50 points in 57 games … which is still excellent).

There is almost certainly an element of randomness and luck to some of his production this season, especially since he is currently carrying around a 21 percent shooting percentage this season, well above his normal career average. That number will almost certainly drop in future seasons, but you still can not take away what he has already done this season.

During 5-on-5 play he has been one of the Blues’ best players, averaging more points per 60 minutes (2.34) than every other player on the team, and by a pretty significant margin (O’Reilly is second at 2.15, while Oskar Sundqvist is the only player over 2.00). He is also one of the team’s leaders in primary assists, indicating that he is helping to drive the offense when he is on the ice.

The Blues badly needed more offensive playmakers to put around Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn, and the additions of O’Reilly and Perron have really helped.

Now that Perron is back in the lineup, they are going to need him to continue the current pace he has been on so far this season as they get ready for the start of the playoffs.

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.

Injury roundup: Islanders lose Filppula; Stepan close to return for Coyotes

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It was a pretty brutal Tuesday night for the New York Islanders. Not only were they completely dominated and blown out by the Boston Bruins, but they also lost a couple of key forwards to injury.

The team announced on Wednesday that center Valtteri Filppula will be sidelined for the next four weeks due to an upper-body injury that he suffered early in the first period, forcing him out of the game after logging just 2:57 of ice-time.

Filppula was one of the many veteran forwards the Islanders acquired over the summer following the departure of John Tavares to Toronto, and in 71 games has scored 15 goals to go with 14 assists.

He is one of six players on the roster to have scored at least 15 goals this season.

He was not the only player to have an injury issue after Tuesday’ game.

The team also announced that Jordan Eberle is day-to-day with an upper-body injury of his own. Eberle has 14 goals and 31 total points in 69 games this season. While neither player is a superstar or among the team’s top-five scorers it would still be a pretty big blow to their depth to be without both for an extended period of time. Even with them in the lineup the Islanders are still only 20th in the league in scoring.

Cal Clutterbuck was also injured in Tuesday’s game but he was back at practice on Wednesday.

Injured Bruins returning to practice

Few contenders have been hit harder by injuries this season than the Boston Bruins, but they did get some good news on Wednesday when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that Matt Grzelcyk, Marcus Johansson, and Kevan Miller will join the team for practice in Florida. All three player have been sidelined for at least two weeks. Johansson’s injury came not long after he was acquired in a trade deadline deal with the New Jersey Devils. He suffered a lung contusion when he was on the receiving end of a big hit from Carolina Hurricanes forward Micheall Ferland.

[Related: Ferland’s big hit gives Johansson lung contusion]

Lightning’s Girardi out indefinitely

In other injury news, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced that veteran Dan Girardi is out “indefinitely” due to a lower-body injury.

Girardi has not appeared in a game for the Lightning since March 7, but in 61 games this season has four goals and seven assists while logging just over 17 minutes of ice-time for the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Stepan getting closer to return

Finally some good injury news for the Arizona Coyotes, another team that has been crushed by injuries all season.

Center Derek Stepan is getting closer to returning to the lineup after being sidelined since the end of February due to a lower-body injury.

Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said on Wednesday, via Craig Morgan, that Stepan is “very, very close” to rejoining the team and that they could see him this weekend against either the New Jersey Devils or New York Islanders.

In 64 games this season Stepan has 13 goals and 19 assists and would be a big boost for the stretch run as the Coyotes look to secure a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They currently occupy the second Wild Card spot, still holding a one-point lead over the Minnesota Wild.

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.

Red Wings sign Jimmy Howard to one-year extension

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The Detroit Red Wings are prepared to enter the 2019-20 NHL season with the exact same goaltending duo they have this season after the team announced on Wednesday that it has signed starting goalie Jimmy Howard to a one-year contract extension.

Financial terms of the deal were not released by the team, but according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, it could be worth upwards of $5.1M, with $1.1M of it available through playoff bonuses should the Red Wings qualify next spring.

The 35-year-old goalie said on Tuesday, via NHL.com, that he is perfectly willing to keep signing one-year contracts after this season because the Red Wings have treated him so well throughout his career and he does not want to do anything to hurt their chances to build a team. The Red Wings are the only team Howard has played for during his career after they selected him in the second round of the 2003 NHL draft. He has been their No. 1 goalie since the 2009-10 season and pretty consistently been a league average, to slightly above league average goalie.

The 2018-19 season has been a tale of two seasons for Howard as he started off with what looked to be one of the best performances of his career, especially when you consider he has been playing behind a rebuilding team that is currently one of the league’s worst.

But his production started to regress a bit throughout January and February and currently has him sitting with a .908 save percentage in 44 appearances.

With Howard’s deal now officially signed, the Red Wings’ goalie situation is totally set for next season as Jonathan Bernier will still be signed for two more seasons at a salary cap hit of $3 million. Howard’s new deal, however, does not include a no-trade clause, allowing the team to move him for the right deal.

The fact the Red Wings, a team that is supposedly rebuilding and looking toward the future, are prepared to enter another season with two goalies over the age of 30 that will eat up more than $7 million in salary cap space is a testament to just how thin they are at the position throughout the organization. At some point they are going to have to find a younger, long-term solution because neither goalie they have now will be a part of the next contending team in Detroit.

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.