Beyond Pettersson: A look at the rest of the Calder Trophy field

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It has been a foregone conclusion for most of the season that Vancouver Canucks phenom Elias Pettersson is going to walk away with the Calder Trophy this season as the league’s rookie of the year. He has instantly transformed the Canucks’ lineup and at times been an unstoppable force when he is on the ice.

He is clearly the favorite and head and shoulders above the rest of the class.

Still, even with Pettersson’s dominance there are three other rookies in this class that are making a pretty strong push to at least make the discussion interesting.

Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

Hart is a recent entry into the discussion, but he is making a pretty compelling case for himself with the way he has played since his mid-season call-up from the American Hockey League.

Not to overstate things, but he is probably the single biggest reason for optimism if you’re a Flyers fan because he at least has the potential — the potential! — to finally solve the long-standing problem in net. He has been a highly anticipated prospect ever since he joined the organization and his first look in the NHL has been everything even the most wildly optimistic Flyers fan could have hoped for it to be.

After backstopping the Flyers to a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night, he is now up to a .922 save percentage in his first 13 appearances and is top-10 among the 65 goalies that have played in at least 10 games. His .924 even-strength mark is 16th out of that group. Yes, it’s a smal sample size but for a rookie goalie to jump right into the mess that has been the Flyers’ season and settle the position the way he has is extremely impressive.

It’s been a decade since a goalie last won the Calder (Steven Mason did it in 2009 for the Columbus Blue Jackets) but if Hart can maintain this momentum through the second half of the season he will at least give himself a chance to counted among the finalists.

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Defenders typically have an uphill battle for this award as only four of them have won it since 1990. Still, two of the top contenders this season are defenders and the best of the bunch so far has been No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres.

After years of near-misses in the draft lottery the Sabres finally had the ping-pong balls go their way this past year and landed the potential No. 1 defender their rebuild has been lacking.

[NHL Awards 2019: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star break]

Dahlin has been tremendous from day one.

He is not only playing more than 20 minutes per night, he has been a positive possession driver (51 percent Corsi percentage) and showed superstar potential offensively. Entering play on Tuesday he has already recored 26 points in his first 48 games and is on track for around 45 points on the season.

As an 18-year-old.

In the history of the league only two defenders in their age 18 season have ever topped the 40-point mark. Phil Housley, Dahlin’s current head coach, had 66 during the 1982-83 season and Bobby Orr had 41 back in 1966-67.

As it stands right now his 26 points already the seventh-most all-time for an 18-year-old defender.

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

Then we have Heiskanen, who has probably been one of the few bright spots in what has become a tumultuous season for the Stars.

Given all of the injuries on the Stars’ blue line this season (John Klingberg has missed time, as has Marc Methot and Stephen Johns) they have thrown their prized rookie right into the deep end of the pool and asked him to play more than 23 minutes per night. That is three more minutes per game than Dahlin, and a workload that is almost unheard of for a rookie. Since the start of the 2005-06 season only seven rookies that have played in at least 45 games averaged more ice time per game. Five of those seven were age 22 or older in their rookie seasons.

Heiskanen is still only 19 years old.

To his credit, he has not looked at all out of place in that role. He already has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 49 games while the Stars have been on the positive side of the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance differentials with him on the ice (via Natural Stat Trick).

The Stars have their flaws, and they haven’t always drafted well in recent years, but with Klingberg and Heiskanen they at least have the makings of a dominant duo on defense for the next decade.

More: PHT Power Rankings: 10 people that will impact the NHL playoff race

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.

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.