Surveyed NHLers expect big season from Kessel

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Phil Kessel will score at least 40 goals in 2015-16.

That’s the opinion of 13 NHL players among the 17 that participated in that survey question for USA Today.

While Kessel finished with 25 goals during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rough 2014-15 campaign, no player questioned felt he would finish with less than 30 goals now that he can count on getting regular minutes with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. With Crosby being the more likely of the two linemates for Kessel, more than half of those asked also named Crosby as the favorite to win the Art Ross Trophy. John Tavares was a distant second.

It’s not hard to see why fans and NHLers alike are optimistic about Kessel’s future with the Penguins. It’s not just the fact that he’ll be able to play alongside Crosby; it’s also that he managed to be one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers for much of his run with the Toronto Maple Leafs despite never having a top-tier center to work with. If he could score 37 goals in each of the 2011-12 and 2013-14 campaigns while playing primarily with Tyler Bozak, then what will Kessel be capable of after getting an upgrade as substantial as the one he just got?

USA Today also surveyed a total of 35 players on a variety of other questions with one of the highlights being the results for: “Name one sleeper team that is better than people realize.”

While Connor McDavid‘s Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel‘s Buffalo Sabres tied for second place with five points each, the Columbus Blue Jackets won with eight votes.

Related: Malkin: Kessel ‘can score 50 goals’ with Crosby

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.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.