Shero has a Devil of an NHL draft decision: Hughes or Kakko

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero doesn’t mind keeping everyone waiting one more day before revealing whether he will select one of the two top projected prospects – American center Jack Hughes or Finland’s Kaapo Kakko – with the first pick in the NHL draft.

What Shero would concede Thursday was his decision having the potential of spicing up New Jersey’s ever-healthy cross-river and Metropolitan Division rivalry with the New York Rangers, who are picking second when the draft opens in Vancouver on Friday night.

”What we’ve got to do is what’s best for the Devils right now,” Shero said. ”Knowing that the team picking No. 2 in this case is in our division, they’re going to get a great player as well.”

If that places a heavier burden on his shoulders, well, that’s fine with Shero.

”It really doesn’t bother me. Some people say the Rangers and Jeff Gorton are in the best spot,” Shero said, referring to the Rangers GM. ”I mean, I’m picking No. 1, so I’m in the best spot, I think.”

For his part, Gorton doesn’t mind the suspense.

”We’re sitting there and obviously one team’s going to indicate to us exactly how it might go for the rest of the draft. I think we’re in a good spot,” Gorton said. ”We know that we’re going to get a really good player no matter what happens to us.”

In a draft that has the potential of featuring a record number of Americans taken in the first round, Shero’s decision rests on choosing between an under-sized play-making center in Hughes or the heftier Kakko, who is considered a purer goal-scorer.

Shero has met with both players over dinner, including traveling to Helsinki, Finland, to meet with Kakko. And though he has a good idea which player the Devils will select, Shero was waiting until Thursday night to make his recommendation to team owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer.

In many ways, the decision is similar to the one Shero faced three years ago, the last time the Devils had the first pick. In 2017, Shero selected Switzerland center Niko Hischier, while New Jersey’s division-rival Philadelphia Flyers took Nolan Patrick.

At 5-foot-10 and 170, pounds Hughes is NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American prospect. He set a USA Hockey development program record by combining for 228 points (74 goals, 154 assists) over his two-year stint. From Orlando, Florida, he’s in position to become the eighth U.S.-born player selected No. 1 and first since Toronto took Auston Matthews in 2016.

At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Kakko is the top-ranked European skater. He completed a season in which he helped his nation complete a gold-medal sweep of international titles by winning the world championship last month along with the world junior and under-18 titles. Kakko’s 22 goals in 45 games were a Finnish Elite League record by a draft-eligible player.

Though he was only formally introduced to Kakko for the first time this weekend, Hughes understands the two will draw comparisons for years to come.

”You saw (Alexander) Ovechkin and (Sidney) Crosby all these years,” Hughes said, referring to the long-time Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins captains. ”I’m not saying we’re going to be Ovechkin and Crosby, but I’m saying it’s going to be pretty cool to be linked with him.”

The top of the draft features a wide mix of talent varying in size and speed. Defenseman Bowen Byram is ranked second among North Americans followed by center Kirby Dach. Then follows a large cluster of Hughes’ USA Hockey teammates, including centers Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras and 5-foot-7 forward Cole Caufield, who set a program record with 72 goals last season.

The NTDP list of potential first-round selections are rounded out by left winger Matthew Boldy, defenseman Cameron York and Spencer Knight, the top-ranked North American goalie.

With Hughes and Kakko expected to be off the board, the real intrigue should begin with Chicago picking third after the Blackhawks bucked the draft lottery odds to jump from the 12th spot in the draft order.

”There seems to be an understanding of how those firsts two picks will go, though you never know until it happens,” Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said. ”But we’re going to pick one of three players. … We’re not going to be cramming last minute. I think we’re going to be very comfortable with the guy that we pick.”

Colorado follows with the fourth pick, leaving Avalanche amateur scouting director Alan Hepple interested in who the Blackhawks might select.

”I told Joe just to go ask them,” Hepple said, referring to Avalanche GM Joe Sakic. ”We’ve got a few guys targeted. We know what we have.”

NOTES: Knight has the potential of becoming the 10th American-born goalie selected in the first round and first since Dallas chose Jake Oettinger with the 26th pick in 2017. … The record for most American-born players selected in the first round is 12, in 2016. … Center Dylan Cozens, ranked fifth among North Americans, has the chance to become the first player born in Canada’s Yukon Territory selected in the first round.

AP Hockey Writers Stephen Whyno and Larry Lage, and sports writers Tim Booth and Pat Graham contributed to this story.

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

Where Avs are at after re-signing J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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

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