Looking to make the leap: Mirco Mueller

Ever since Doug Wilson referred to the Sharks as a “tomorrow team,” Mirco Mueller has been focused on cracking the squad.

“When Doug Wilson says he trusts in younger players and he wants to build on our age group, that gives you a lot of motivation and confidence that you really have a shot to make the team,” Mueller said in July, per NHL.com. “I’ve been working out this summer because I knew that was going to be a big part for me to make the team, to get stronger and bigger.”

Mueller, 19, was San Jose’s first-round pick (18th overall) at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and a guy San Jose specifically targeted — Wilson moved up a couple of spots on draft day to take the WHL Everett product. It’s easy to see why. A big kid (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) that can skate and move the puck well, Mueller was the first d-man San Jose took in the opening draft round since 2007. He essentially represents the future of the Sharks blueline.

The big question now is, will he make the leap?

Though filled with promise, Mueller has a few strikes going against him. One is his relative lack of experience — he has just nine games of pro experience, all coming last year with AHL Worcester, where he scored two points and finished minus-5. Another strike is San Jose’s defensive depth. Mueller is one of seven blueliners on an NHL contract, a group that includes Brent Burns, who will return to the blueline this year after spending last season as a winger. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jason Demers, Justin Braun, Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin round out the top six, and it’s expected AHLers Matt Tennyson and Taylor Fedun will challenge for spots as well.

But don’t forget, the Sharks are a “tomorrow team.” They seem to be embracing the youth movement and that doesn’t just start and stop with Wilson — consider what head coach Todd McLellan told NHL.com about Mueller’s chances of making the team.

“It’s a younger league now,” McLellan explained. “There’s a lot of young players that are playing and being effective. We have to encourage that, and we are as an organization.”

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    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.