Alexander Wennberg is becoming a star for Columbus

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It’s been almost a year since the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Ryan Johansen.

At the time, the trade seemed to open a huge hole at center ice, one that Jackets fans hoped might be filled by Auston Matthews.

But, of course, the Jackets didn’t get Matthews. They ended up with the third overall draft pick, using it to select Pierre-Luc Dubois, a player who believes he can be a “first-line center in the NHL,” but was sent back to junior at the start of the current season.

And so many felt it would be another year of struggles for the Jackets. Until they had a legitimate No. 1 center, it was going to be tough. Sure, the young defense would develop, and perhaps Sergei Bobrovsky could keep them in most of their games. But as a whole, hopes for 2016-17 were pretty low.

Enter Alexander Wennberg, the Jackets’ first-round draft pick in 2013. The 22-year-old is surpassing all expectations in 2016-17. Playing on a line with Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno, Wennberg has piled up 20 points in 21 games, including 15 assists.

“He has the vision, he can make plays,” Saad told the Columbus Dispatch recently. “Once he has the puck on his stick, he’s deadly with it.”

Last Friday against Tampa Bay, Wennberg won a puck battle in the corner, then fed Saad in front for the game-winning goal:

Wennberg’s play-making has also helped the Blue Jackets become the NHL’s most deadly team with the man advantage. While rookie defenseman Zach Werenski has deservedly earned much of the credit for the Jackets’ power play, it’s Wennberg’s nine PP assists that lead the team.

       Read more: Werenski learning the rigors of an NHL schedule

Where did all this come from?

Well, head coach John Tortorella started giving Wennberg more ice time about a year ago, not too long after he took over from Todd Richards.

“He’s been probably one of our best play-makers,” Tortorella said in January, per NHL.com. “When you talk play-makers, everyone thinks offense, but coming out of our end zone, too, he makes plays. He’s not an off-the-glass guy. He wants to try to make a play so we keep possession. For such a young man, I just love his poise, and that’s what you need. You can’t be afraid to make a play and he has shown that.”

It remains to be seen if Wennberg can maintain his points pace. He may cool off a touch, or maybe even more than a touch. But as of today, he’s keeping some pretty impressive company among NHL centers:

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Wennberg scored his fifth goal of the season last night; it turned out to be the game-winner in a 5-1 domination of the Lightning.

The Jackets now have just one regulation loss in their last nine. In their last five games (2-1-2), they’ve outshot their opponents by a combined margin of 189 to 125.

Their next game is Thursday in Colorado, where the Avalanche better bring a lot more intensity, because this Columbus team might be for real.

Related: Don’t tell Torts, but the Jackets’ Corsi has been really good lately

Blackhawks F Katchouk will be 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 Sunday.

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.