Oilers disappointed after series loss to Ducks, but future looks bright in Edmonton

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After all the miserable, bordering on embarrassing, regular seasons they went through over a 10-year stretch, the Edmonton Oilers served notice this season they have the potential to be a force in the Western Conference.

With Connor McDavid leading the way, the Oilers went from a team that could perhaps make the jump into the playoffs this season to a team one win away from the Western Conference Final.

This 2016-17 season came to an end for the Oilers with a 2-1 loss in Game 7 versus the Anaheim Ducks, concluding a series that included a number of massive lead changes and wild swings in momentum.

“We weren’t afraid of the (playoff) stage. We were willing to come out on it and perform. That’s a good sign for us,” said coach Todd McLellan. “The overall feeling right now is disappointment … but we basically got a college degree in a month.”

Of course, now the expectations will rise for next season. After winning the draft lottery again and having the magnificent fortune of selecting McDavid first overall, the Oilers emerged as the second best team in the Pacific Division during the regular season with 103 points, making the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

McDavid, at just 20 years of age, is a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Leon Draisaitl, taken third overall in 2014, put together a 77-point season in just his second full campaign in the NHL and was ridiculously productive in this series versus Anaheim with the exception of Game 7.

Yes, it helps he played alongside McDavid. This year, they played together for 670 minutes at five-on-five. But Draisaitl had 51 points a year ago, when he didn’t even play five minutes of even strength with McDavid, and is another top young talent in Edmonton. Cam Talbot provided a substantial upgrade in goaltending, both in the regular season and playoffs.

The list of improved performances this season doesn’t end there.

“You could see how much we grew as a group, but individually we’ve grown just as much,” said Talbot.

It’s been a long time since anyone could say that about the Edmonton Oilers.

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.