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Long-awaited hockey milestone happened suddenly for Jordan Greenway

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

BOSTON (AP) — Jordan Greenway didn’t have much time to think about being a pioneer.

The Boston University forward was preparing for his junior year last summer when he heard that USA Hockey might be calling on collegians and minor-league pros to fill out its Olympic roster. It was only after NHL players were officially ruled out and Greenway made the team that a reporter told him he would be the first African-American man on the U.S. Olympic team.

”I’m happy I’m the first. I hope I’m the first of many,” he said last month after practicing with the Terriers on campus. ”Hopefully I inspire other kids to want to do the same thing, try something different.”

A 6-foot-6, 238-pound winger who has 25 points in 28 games for the Terriers this season, Greenway played in the 2017 world championships and was second in points on the U.S team that won the world junior championship last year. He could be the first American to win both world junior and Olympic gold.

USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher called Greenway ”one heck of a hockey player” who also has the potential to awaken an interest in hockey in communities that traditionally haven’t played it.

”I think a lot of kids saw him do it in the world juniors last year,” Kelleher said. ”Hopefully, more and more people and families that watch the Olympics will be drawn to our team and the success they had. And hopefully some kids or some families identify with Jordan and are inspired to get involved with our game.”

Raised by a white mother in Canton, New York, a village about 20 miles from the Canadian border, Greenway said he is used to being one of the only African-Americans on the ice – or at family gatherings.

”I’ve been able to fit in pretty well,” he said. ”I’ve grown up in a white population. So it really hasn’t been anything different, just a way of life for me growing up. It hasn’t been different at all.”

Greenway played for BU in the Beanpot on Monday night, assisting on the Terriers’ second goal in a 3-2, double-overtime victory over Harvard. But when BU plays in the championship game next week for Boston’s college hockey bragging rights, Greenway will be in South Korea. (Harvard’s Ryan Donato also is heading to the Olympics, on the same flight.)

Growing up about 2 hours from Lake Placid, Greenway said he dreamed about playing in the Olympics ”like every kid does.” But he wasn’t thinking about Pyeongchang or even Beijing in 2022; he had his sights set eight or 12 years down the line.

”I never thought it would come this soon, like before I graduate from college,” he said. ”But I’m excited it’s happening this year and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”

A 2015 second-round draft pick by the Minnesota Wild, Greenway is a big forward who said he likes to get in front of the net and ”wear a team down.” Growing up, he modeled his game after players like Kings and Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds – ”not really because he’s African-American,” he said, chuckling at the coincidence.

”It’s more just because I think him and I have a similar game style,” Greenway said, adding Joe Thornton to the list of role models. ”He’s a big body, in front of the net a lot.”

Also on the list: Willie O’Ree, who broke the NHL’s color barrier when he played for the Boston Bruins in 1958.

”He was definitely somebody I looked up to when I was a kid,” Greenway said. ”I just hope I can be the same inspiration for another kid, and hopefully a lot of kids can look up to me like I looked up to him.”

The respect is mutual.

Speaking at a Boston Bruins game last month to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his milestone debut, O’Ree said he was happy to see Greenway topple another barrier. And though he advised Greenway just to work hard and do his best, he also said that it might take some time for the importance of the moment to sink in.

”When I first stepped on the ice in the Montreal Forum and became the first black player to play in the NHL, it really didn’t register with me until after the game. None of the media came up and said, ‘Mr. O’Ree, do you realize you just broke the color barrier?’

”I read it in the paper the next morning,” he said. ”And said to myself, ‘I made things happen.”’

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers

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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.