Pre-game reading: In today’s NHL, more defensemen are starring as teenagers

— Up top, check out the NHL’s Goals of the Week, featuring a pretty filthy toe drag by Derek Stepan.

— Remember when it was rare for a defensemen to make a big impact in the NHL without first spending a few years of developing? Yeah, not so much anymore. Teenagers like Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov are already stars for their teams. Aaron Ekblad is only 20, and he’s played almost 200 games for the Panthers. Sure, most d-men still need time after they’re drafted. But for the super-skilled guys, it’s a different story in today’s fast-paced NHL. (Associated Press)

— A neat story about a kid who turned his passion for hockey into a job with the Washington Capitals. “Ohashi’s journey — from obsessing over sports as a kid in Bethesda to studying psychology and mathematics at Bates to landing an internship and then a full-time job on Barry Trotz’s coaching staff for his favorite hockey team — is indeed the stuff of teenage dreams.” (Washington Post)

— Between the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, which team is more likely to maintain its winning ways? TSN’s Travis Yost says it’s the Jackets. “Columbus might be getting the majority of the bounces heading their way, but it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve it – they are obliterating their competition on a nightly basis and playing the vast majority of time in the offensive third.” As for the Wild, well, even if they do regress a bit, they’ve built a very nice playoff cushion. (TSN)

— Starting in the New Year, each team will get a “bye week” comprised of five days off, with no practices or games allowed. Click here for all the bye weeks. “It is a first for the league — and something the NHL Players’ Association negotiated last year as part of the new All-Star Game format. The players wanted a chance to rest their weary bones before the busy stretch run.” (ESPN)

— A list of the top 10 NHL stories of 2016. Number 1? That crazy day in June when Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, P.K. Subban was traded for Shea Weber, and, oh yeah, Steven Stamkos re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

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