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Building off a breakthrough: Evgenii Dadonov

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Florida Panthers.

The Florida Panthers front office missed on a couple of things when constructing its roster during the summer of 2017, but one move that unquestionably worked out in their favor was the decision to bring forward Evgenii Dadonov back to North America on a three-year, $12 million contract.

Usually when we think about “breakthrough” players it tends to be a younger player without much professional experience — or having struggled for a bit while still finding their way in the league — having their first big season in the NHL. In that sense Dadonov is not your traditional breakthrough player because it took him quite a fear years, with a pretty extensive detour in the middle of it all, to have his first big year.

[Panthers Day: Looking back]

Originally drafted by the Panthers in the third-round of the 2007 draft, Dadonov flashed some potential early in his NHL career (20 points in 56 games over parts of three seasons) before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes late in the 2011-12 campaign. Following that season — and after having never played in a game for the Hurricanes — he made the jump to the KHL where he spent five highly productive years split between Donbass HC and St. Petersburg SKA.

Following what was his best season in the KHL in 2016-17, and with the Hurricanes no longer controlling his NHL contractual rights, Dadonov returned to the NHL and joined the organization he began his professional career with. Given that no one really knew what to expect from Dadonov in his return, the $4 million per year cap hit was probably considered a bit pricey and perhaps even a little bit of a gamble.

In the end it turned out to be a bargain for the Panthers.

In his return season to the NHL Dadonov was one of the Panthers’ best players, finishing with 28 goals (second on the team), 68 total points (fourth on the team), and a 53.6 Corsi percentage (best on the team) in 74 games.

He spent much of the season playing on Aleksander Barkov‘s wing, a duo that turned out to be a fantastic one for the Panthers. When they were together, the Panthers outscored teams by a 53-38 margin and controlled more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts, and while it would be easy to attribute a lot of that success to Barkov carrying the line, both players saw their performance drop significantly when they were separated from one another.

Honestly, the Panthers couldn’t have hoped for Dadonov’s return to go better than it did.

Now the question becomes whether or not he can do it again for the Panthers.

There is very good reason to believe that he can.

Not only were his traditional numbers outstanding, but there is nothing in his underlying numbers to suggest any of it was much of a fluke as he was not really benefiting from any sort of an unsustainable surge in shooting percentages (neither his nor his teammates). The Panthers took a bit of a gamble by committing as much as they did to him up front, but the reward seems to be a top-line winger to join their young core alongside Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trocheck.

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.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: PHT predicts Round 2

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So after a Round 1 that was full of unexpected endings, what can even expect from Round 2? How many more brackets might get busted over the next two weeks — if they weren’t already busted after what we just witnessed?

Here are some fun facts about Round 1:

• 14 of the 16 top point producers from the regular season are not in the Second Round

• 5 of 8 winning teams overcame a series deficit

• 7 of the top 10 regular-season teams eliminated

• 3 Game 7s – most in the opening round since 2014 (3 Game 7s in entire playoffs last year)

• Ten games required overtime, matching the total from the entire 2018 postseason.

• For the first time in NHL history, the top team from each conference and all division winners were eliminated in the opening round. Washington’s defeat guarantees that there will be a new Stanley Cup champion for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons.

• Only three other rounds in NHL history have featured two Game 7s that required overtime, with each occurring on either the same day or on consecutive days: the 1997 Conference Quarterfinals (2 on April 29), 2011 Conference Quarterfinals (April 26-27) and 2012 Conference Quarterfinals (April 25-26). No postseason in NHL history has ever featured more than two Game 7s that have required overtime.

• Overall, 10 of 46 games required overtime in the First Round (21.7%), matching the total from the entire 2018 postseason (10 of 84 GP; 11.9%).

Now let’s move on to Round 2. Here’s who we think will advance to the conference finals. Who do you have moving on?

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

WATCH LIVE: Blue Jackets-Bruins, Stars-Blues kicks off Round 2

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Game 1: Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
Series preview

Stream here

Game 1: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues, 9:30 p.m. ET
NBCSN
Call: Brendan Burke, AJ Mleczko, Pierre McGuire
Series preview

Stream here

Pre-game coverage begins tonight on NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and Connected TVs – will live stream all games airing on NBC, NBCSN, USA Network, and CNBC, via “TV Everywhere” throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

Golden Knights’ owner says NHL executive apologized for Game 7 penalty

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — The owner of the Vegas Golden Knights said Thursday a senior NHL executive phoned him to apologize for a penalty called during Game 7 of his team’s loss to the San Jose Sharks.

Owner Bill Foley said the call came the morning after Vegas lost 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night to end the first-round series. Foley said at a news conference the call came from an executive who is ”about as senior as you can get,” but he did not want to identify him.

The play in question was a major penalty on Cody Eakin of the Golden Knights that Foley described as ”infuriating.”

The owner said the executive admitted it was a ”bad call” and the league did ”acknowledge” it. Foley added that the apology made him ”feel a little better after that.”

Foley said he was sitting with injured forward Erik Haula in a suite at SAP Center when Eakin cross-checked Sharks captain Joe Pavelski in the chest with 10:47 to play. Paul Stastny bumped Pavelski as he fell to the ice, where he was knocked out and bleeding on the ice.

The officials conferred on the unreviewable play while a dazed Pavelski was helped to the locker room with a towel pressed to his head. Eakin was assessed a 5-minute penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct. The Sharks scored four goals on the ensuing power play.

Series supervisor Don VanMassenhoven said the major penalty was given because the cross-check caused a significant injury.

”The game was ours, it was over, 3-zip,” Foley said. ”We were looking, saying ‘all we gotta do is play some defense, play defense and stay out of the box.’ Within 30 seconds, 5-minute major. It wasn’t a penalty. Painful.”

San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said Pavelski is listed as day to day but is not expected to be cleared for Game 1 of the second-round series against the Avalanche on Friday night.

DeBoer downplayed the league’s call to Foley.

”I haven’t gotten many of their calls where they made a mistake,” DeBoer said. ”There were a couple earlier in that series where I would have appreciated a call. We’re past that. We’re on to the next opponent now.”

AP sports writer Josh Dubow in San Jose, California, contributed to this report.

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

Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman needs surgery for torn knee ligament

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TORONTO (AP) Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman has a torn knee ligament and is expected to miss a minimum of six months.

The team said Thursday he injured his anterior cruciate ligament during a playoff loss to Boston and will have surgery Monday.

The 26-year-old Hyman set career highs in goals (21) and points (41) this season. He had one goal during the seven-game playoff loss to the Bruins.

He has 115 points in 251 career NHL games.