NHL draft action likely to begin with Montreal at No. 3

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DALLAS (AP) — The Montreal Canadiens could make the first real move in the NHL draft with the third overall pick.

If everything goes as expected in Big D on Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, play-making Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will be the first overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres. Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov will then go to Carolina.

”Obviously Rasmus and Andrei deserve it, they’re unbelievable players,” American prospect Brady Tkachuk said Thursday. ”From the third (pick) on, it’s just whatever the team wants, so we’ll see what happens. But it’s going to be pretty exciting to be a part of.”

So the real draft action should begin when Montreal goes on the clock.

The Canadiens will have their choice of the other top prospects like right wing Filip Zadina, who’s playing in the Quebec league, and Tkachuk, the left wing from Boston University who is looking to follow father Keith and brother Mathew into the NHL. Maybe Finnish center Jesper Kotkaniemi.

Plenty of other top defensemen will also be on the board, including Adam Boqvist, Quintin Hughes, Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard.

”The most important is going to be tomorrow when Montreal goes on the stage, and they will say my name or not,” Zadina said. ”I’m just glad I can be there in the top five, top six players. It’s unbelievable.”

Or maybe the Canadiens, who have 10 picks in the seven-round draft over two days, make a deal and let another team move into that slot.

Trevor Timmins, Montreal’s assistant general manager, expects GM Marc Bergevin’s to be ringing.

”We’re ready to go,” Timmins said Thursday. ”The list is never set in stone until we go head to the draft from the hotel here, but we’re confident of the prospects that we like … right from that third overall pick to the last pick we make on Saturday.”

Timmins said centers, offensive defensemen and scoring wingers have the highest asset value on the Canadiens draft board, and that all are needs in their organization.

Ottawa has the fourth pick, and No. 22, and team officials were going through scenarios again Thursday.

”It was one of the best meetings I’ve had with scouts in 20 years talking about what we plan on doing at (No.) 4, what possibilities are at 22, how these players will impact our organization moving forward,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion said. ”We’re just excited. We suffered this year. There’s no doubt we suffered as a team with the number of losses. But the one good thing is we know we’re getting a really good player here.”

Arizona, Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago, the New York Rangers and Edmonton hold the final picks in the top 10. The New York Islanders, who on Thursday hired Stanley Cup champion coach Barry Trotz, then have consecutive picks before the draft-hosting Dallas Stars select 13th.

The draft at the American Airlines Center comes 25 years after the former Minnesota North Stars moved to bring NHL hockey to Dallas.

Coyotes GM John Chayka said he has five players who would fit his team in the fifth spot.

”We understand that there’s a variety of outcomes that could exist and then we’re going to have a plan in place that accounts for any of the iterations of what could occur,” Chayka said. ”It’ll be an interesting draft. I’m sure there’ll be opportunities to move up and opportunities to move down and opportunities to stay and take the pick.”

While general managers and team officials did their final prep for the draft, several of the top prospects took part in other activities in the Dallas area.

The prospects first were at a youth hockey clinic with several players from the Dallas Stars. There was then a media availability at Reunion Tower, more than 500 feet above the ground. That vantage point overlooks the city and next to the open lot where once stood Reunion Arena, the home of the Stars when the won the Stanley Cup in 1999.

Dahlin said he wasn’t feeling nervous about the likelihood of having his name called first Friday night.

”I haven’t actually thought about it so much yet,” Dahlin said. ”It’s crazy to be here actually, I can’t believe it. … Sometime in the near future I will stop and think what I am going through. I’m just trying to enjoy this time as much as I can.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.