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PHT Morning Skate: Central Scouting midterm rankings; Blue Jackets hire St. Louis

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.

• Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are atop the 2019 NHL Draft Central Scouting midterm rankings. [NHL.com]

• Sounds like the Seattle NHL team could hire its general manager as soon as this summer. [Seattle Times]

• Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis has been hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets as a special teams consultant. [Blue Jackets]

• Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson on crease crashers: “Make the crease six inches smaller and if a guy goes in the crease then blow it down. You won’t have guys running into the goalie.” [Ottawa Sun]

• On save percentage and the Jack Adams Award. [TSN]

• “The NHL and its players need to strike out on their own and grow their brand, and the way to do that is to strike an agreement with the KHL and hold a World Cup of serious hockey countries with the flexibility to have it in consumer societies where the game has a realistic chance of pushing product and brand.” [Sportsnet]

• It’s been unexpected, but the New York Islanders are enjoying the ride this season. [Islanders Insight]

• Looking at Carter Hart’s numbers for the Philadelphia Flyers and comparing them to other starters around the NHL. [Broadstreet Hockey]

• Why the Edmonton Oilers should just make Ken Hitchcock the team’s GM. Wait, what? [Edmonton Journal]

Clayton Keller has really stepped up his game for the Arizona Coyotes this season. [The Hockey News]

• A lack of consistency on defense has been hindering the Pittsburgh Penguins. [Pensburgh]

• Which Florida Panthers could be on the move before the Feb. 25 trade deadline? [Featurd]

Charlie Coyle continues chugging along for the Minnesota Wild despite yet another position switch. [Pioneer Press]

• There should be some tough lineup decisions for Todd Reirden if he’s going to help the Washington Capitals out of their current rut. [NoVa Caps]

• It was a good night for Dajon Mingo of the Jacksonville Icemen at the ECHL All-Star Game in Toledo, Ohio. The defenseman, who played at nearby Bowling Green State University, put home the winning shootout goal to give the Eastern Conference the victory. [Color of Hockey]

• Finally, here’s a good look at some of the stuff Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson is doing out in the community:

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    Sharks’ Erik Karlsson to return after missing nine games

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    The San Jose Sharks have been one of the most dominant teams in the league over the past two months and will be getting even more good news on Saturday night when defender Erik Karlsson makes his return to the lineup after missing the team’s past nine games.

    Karlsson last appeared in a game for the Sharks on Jan. 16 and had playing some of his best hockey of the season prior to the injury, recording 28 points over the previous 20 games.

    It took him a while for his offensive production to get back to his normal career level, but Karlsson has been an impact player all season after arriving in an offseason trade with the Ottawa Senators. Among defenders that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Karlsson is in the top-five in both on-ice shot attempt differential and scoring chance differential.

    His 43 total points are also among the top-10 even though he has, again, missed the past nine games.

    So, yeah, he has been pretty outstanding no matter metric you want to look at.

    The Sharks still managed to go 6-3-0 without him during that stretch and enter Saturday’s game having won six of their past seven games, a pretty strong statement on the overall quality of the team and the depth they have assembled. They are one of the NHL’s best teams, a true Stanley Cup contender, and now they are getting one of the best players in the league back.

    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.

    Skinner focused on present in Buffalo rather than future

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    By John Wawrow (AP Sports Writer)

    BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Jeff Skinner knows how much the Sabres and their playoff-starved fans want him to stay in Buffalo beyond this season.

    ”Ha, ha, I’ve heard,” the forward memorably said with a laugh in December. ”I’m having a lot of fun, too.”

    And yet, two months later, Skinner is nowhere closer to providing anything resembling a definitive answer regarding where he’ll be playing once his contract expires after this season.

    ”The present is still where we are, and that sort of thing will play itself out,” he said Thursday. ”I think there’s no point in really talking about it now because there’s nothing really to talk about from me on my end.”

    Skinner, however, can’t hide his emotions when asked how much he enjoys Buffalo.

    His eyes brighten and he breaks into wide, toothy smile in saying: ”I like it here. Yeah, I like it.”

    Cast off by Carolina as part of the Hurricanes’ latest rebuilding plan, the three-time 30-goal-scorer and 2011 NHL rookie of the year is approaching career-best numbers since being traded to the Sabres in August.

    He has a team-leading 34 goals – three short of matching a career high – and is second in the NHL behind Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (38). His seven game-winning goals are second in the NHL and most in Buffalo since Derek Roy had nine in 2008-09. Skinner has been so consistent, his longest goals drought was four games to start the season.

    And he and captain Jack Eichel have been inseparable on a top line that’s played a significant role in keeping Buffalo in playoff contention in a bid to end a seven-year postseason drought, and on a team that finished last in the overall standings in three of the previous five years.

    Despite going 11-15-5 since a 10-game win streak in November, the Sabres (28-21-7) already have 63 points – one more than they had last season – and sit 10th in the Eastern Conference, four points behind eighth-place Pittsburgh.

    The topic of Skinner’s future is once again rising to the forefront with the NHL’s trade deadline looming on Feb. 25, and after Skinner was spotted having a lengthy conversation with his agent, Don Meehan, following a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

    ”To me it was just checking in,” Skinner said, referring to the meeting. ”No details to discuss. Nothing really to report.”

    As for the approaching trade deadline, Skinner shrugged and said: ”I don’t think about it at all.”

    It remains unlikely the Sabres will consider trading Skinner by Feb. 25.

    General manger Jason Botterill told The Associated Press in December he didn’t consider that date as being a deadline for contract talks. And there has been no indication – publicly or privately – that Botterill’s stance has changed since.

    Botterill has maintained regular contact with Meehan, and has said he wants Skinner to focus on playing and familiarizing himself with his new surroundings. What bolsters Botterill’s hopes is noting how Skinner chose to play in Buffalo by waiving his no-trade clause in a deal the Hurricanes acquired prospect forward Cliff Pu and three draft picks.

    Eichel laughed when asked if he’s aware of Sabres fans campaigning for Skinner to stay.

    ”He has how many goals, 34?” Eichel said. ”I’m sure Sabres fans want him to stay. I mean, would they want him to leave?”

    Eichel’s certainly on board, too.

    ”I’m not Skins’ agent. I’m not our GM, but he’s been a big part of our team this year,” he said. ”You could probably say we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”

    It will ultimately be up to Skinner to decide.

    One positive is how much the Toronto-born player has enjoyed playing closer to home, and having his family attend games in Buffalo (essentially a two-hour drive) as opposed to Raleigh, North Carolina (roughly a two-hour flight).

    Coach Phil Housley noted Skinner’s proximity to home and family has provided incentive. And it helps playing alongside Eichel.

    ”Jeff finds that open area, he’s a positional player, and Jack seems to find him in those areas,” Housley said. ”They just seem to have a great chemistry together.”

    Skinner must also weigh what offers he might command in free agency at a time more teams are spending less in free agency and committing more salary cap-space to re-signing their own players.

    All that can wait.

    ”As a player, you can only sort of control a small number of things,” Skinner said. ”For us right now, that’s moving on to tomorrow’s game and getting ready for that.”

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

    Sam Gagner headed back to Oilers after trade with Canucks

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    The Edmonton Oilers continued shaking up their roster by shipping Ryan Spooner to the Vancouver Canucks for Sam Gagner.

    A day after moving Cam Talbot to the Philadelphia Flyers for Anthony Stolarz, the Oilers made the one-for-one swap hoping  the 29-year-old Gagner can rekindle his scoring touch from his early days in Edmonton.

    Gagner spent the first seven seasons of his NHL with the Oilers where he posted five consecutive 40-point seasons to start his career and was a big contributor on the power play. He did hit 18 goals and 50 points two years ago in Columbus, but was slowly phased out after moving on to th Canucks last season. He’s only played seven games in Vancouver this season, spending most of his time on loan to the AHL Toronto Marlies where he scored 12 goals and recorded 37 points in 45 games. The team is hoping to get him to Brooklyn in time for Saturday night’s game against the Islanders.

    Spooner’s travels continue as he’s now joins his third NHL team of the season. After signing a two-year deal with the New York Rangers in the summer, they then shipped him to the Oilers for Ryan Strome in November. (The Rangers retained $900K of Spooner’s salary in the deal.)

    It’s one of those “change of scenery” deals we see often in the NHL. In this case, the scenery is familar for Gagner and the Oilers are hoping he can be a beneficial presence as they try to salvage the mess that is this season.

    MORE: PHT NHL Trade Tracker

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    What’s better than a goalie goal? A double OT goalie goal

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    Everyone loves a goalie goal — a true goalie goal. Not one of those bad passes that turns into a goal and the netminder gets credit because they touched it last.

    Goaltender Anthony Hurtubise scored a goal Friday night for his St. Thomas Stars of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. But it wasn’t just any goalie goal. The 20-year-old scored his in double overtime. Yes, double overtime. It was the only tally in the 1-0 win over the Komoka Kings.

    Here’s Hurtubise describing how it went down inside the Joe Thornton Community Centre via Instagram:

    We were tied 0-0 with about a minute and a half left in the second over time (3 on 3, if no one scores it’s a tie game, each team gets a point). Other team pulled their goalie to try and get two points as there are only a few games left before playoffs. I saw the goalie go to the bench while they were on the rush, made a glove save and took my shot.

    (Komoka has already secured a playoff spot but clearly were trying to make up ground on fifth-place LaSalle.)

    And not only did Hurtubise score the game-winning overtime goal, he also stopped 27 shots to record a shutout. Pretty nice way to spend a Friday night.

    Stick-tap Chris Peters

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.