Dylan Strome making most of fresh start with Blackhawks

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the 2019 Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET from Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When the Arizona Coyotes made Dylan Strome the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, right after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel went first and second respectively, they were hoping he was going to be a cornerstone player for their rebuild. Even though everyone knew he wasn’t going to be on the same level as the two eventual superstars that went ahead of him he was still an outstanding talent with top-line potential.

For whatever reason, though, it just never panned out for him with the Coyotes.

Arizona tried to bring him along slowly so that he could be a full 200-foot player when he arrived in the NHL, but despite his continued dominance offensively in the Ontario Hockey League and American Hockey League it never really translated to anything with the Coyotes.

Earlier this season, the team decided to move on and sent him to the Chicago Blackhawks for a trade package that was centered around Nick Schmaltz.

It was a great gamble for the Blackhawks.

The salary cap, some questionable roster moves and few impact players coming through the farm system had decimated their depth in recent years and put them in a spot where it was going to be difficult to find potential impact talent. As I argued at the time, a player like Strome was a perfect player for a team like the Blackhawks to take a chance on. He has natural high-end talent, he has excelled at every level prior to the NHL, and has the pedigree of a top-three pick from just a couple of years ago. If he doesn’t pan out, the price wasn’t all that much to pay, especially when they got a comparable player to Schmaltz (Brendan Perlini) in the deal.

If he does pan out, it is going to be a steal.

Even though it has only been a few weeks, the early returns on the deal from a Chicago perspective show Strome seems to be making the most of his fresh start.

Entering Tuesday’s Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins, Strome has already recorded 13 points in his first 17 games with the Blackhawks. That is a 60-point pace over 82 games, and with seven points in his past three games he is one of the big reasons the Blackhawks are playing some of their best hockey of the season with wins in five of their past six games.

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What helps for the Blackhawks is that he is, at least in theory, exactly the type of player they need. Not only because he is still only 21 years old and flashing some of the potential that made him a top-three pick, but because he is still signed for next season on his entry-level contract that will only count $867,000 against the salary cap.

He’s obviously still an unfinished product, and a part of his early point production with the Blackhawks is the result of a 17 percent shooting percentage that will almost certainly regress. He is also getting an opportunity to play alongside one of the league’s best offensive players in Patrick Kane (who has been especially hot in recent games with 12 points during this recent surge by the Blackhawks), but even with all of that the early returns for the Blackhawks have to be encouraging.

If they are going to find a way to re-open their championship window in the Jonathan Toews-Kane era they are going to need to find some young blood that can make a big impact.

Perhaps they have found one in Strome?

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.

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

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.