Culture is key in developing NHL prospects, Devils GM says

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Whether it involves New Jersey rookie center Jack Hughes or any other prospect, Devils general manager Ray Shero says the most important aspects of a prospect’s development must be in place before first stepping into the locker room.

Simply put, the key is culture, and how it rubs off on an impressionable 18-year-old.

”If you have a bad group of guys, if you’re not in a good environment in terms of work ethic, you’re like, ‘OK, that’s how it’s done here, great. I’m not going to work, I’m going to stay out ’til 4 o’clock,”’ Shero told The Associated Press.

”If there’s accountability, and that’s really a big thing in terms with anything whether it’s business, sports, whatever … when you walk into that it’s ‘Oh, that’s how it’s done,”’ he added. ”There’s learning curves for everything on and off the ice. I think the better you support those guys as young kids and teenagers, the better off they’re going to be.”

The start of the NHL season this week places the focus on a new crop of youngsters set to make their debuts.

In New Jersey, all eyes are on Hughes, the under-sized, play-making center who became the eighth American-born player selected with the top pick in June. He joins a team that features two other No. 1 draft picks in Taylor Hall, who was selected first by Edmonton in the 2010 draft, and Nico Hischier, selected No. 1 by the Devils in 2017.

Nothing Hughes has done thus far should give Shero pause as the Devils prepare to open their season hosting Winnipeg on Friday.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Hughes displayed how much of a competitor he is in expressing how unhappy he was losing in his first NHL competitive setting – a 6-4 loss to Buffalo in in the Sabres prospects tournament last month.

”We kind of got lucky to put four on the board, and only gave up six. Disappointing game,” Hughes said.

The youngster responded once the preseason began by scoring twice, including the decisive goal, on a give-and-go with Nikita Gusev in a 4-3 overtime win in his preseason debut against Boston.

Devils defenseman P.K. Subban was so impressed, he referred to Hughes’ performance as ”nasty.”

And the player who spent the past two years setting USA Hockey’s National Development Program’s scoring record followed up by scoring a breakaway goal 34 seconds into a 4-2 win over the Rangers a few days later. Hughes finished the preseason with three goals and an assist in four games.

Coming from a hockey family in which his brother Quinn is a defenseman in Vancouver and father Jim a former coach, Jack Hughes understands he has not accomplished anything just yet. And he got a taste of what playing in the NHL would be like representing the United States at the world hockey championships in May.

”I went into this summer knowing I needed a lot of work to be done. I kind of figured it out that it wasn’t the USHL,” he said. ”It was kind of wakeup call to work on my game and get a lot better.”

The Devils are encouraging Hughes’ development by assigning him a locker next to Hall.

Hall sees his role as being someone Hughes can use as a sounding board

”He’s taking in a lot of information every day, so helping him with that. It’s more leading by example,” Hall said. ”I think it’s up to us as players as coaches as management to shelter him as much as possible to make sure all his energy is going toward hockey.”

Like any youngster, Hughes is bound to make mistakes. One issue that stood out in Buffalo was the number of times he coughed up the puck.

Former NHLer turned broadcaster Ed Olczyk isn’t concerned, believing Hughes will learn to adapt.

”He’s going to try things that he won’t in 50 games game from now or 100 games from now. You’ve going to have to take the good with the bad and vice versa,” he said.

Devils assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald said Hughes’ turnovers are no different than what he saw during his time in Pittsburgh with then-youngsters Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

”I just think you allow the player to be who they are, and that’s what he is,” Fitzgerald said. ”Jack’s a magician with the puck.”

Here’s a list of other youngster to keep an eye on this season:

D Cale Makar, COLORADO

After helping UMass make its first Frozen Four appearance in April, college hockey’s Hobey Baker Award-winner made the jump to the NHL by joining Colorado in the midst of its first-round playoff series with Calgary. He became the first defenseman to score a playoff goal in his NHL debut and finished with a goal and five assists in 10 games.

D Quinn Hughes, VANCOUVER

A play-making defenseman, Hughes spent two years at Michigan before closing last season with three assists in five games with the Canucks.

RW Kaapo Kakko, NEW YORK RANGERS

Selected second overall behind Jack Hughes, the 6-foot-2, 194-pound forward led Finland with six goals in 10 games at the world championships. His 22 goals in the Finnish Elite League last season were the most by a draft-eligible player.

LW ALEXANDRE TEXIER, COLUMBUS

The 20-year-old is being counted upon to be part of the Blue Jackets’ young core to step up following the offseason free-agency departures of Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene. Texier had two goals and an assist in eight playoff games with Columbus last spring.

D Erik Brannstrom, OTTAWA

Acquired in a trade that sent Mark Stone to Vegas in February, Brannstrom is expected to get plenty of playing time on a young Senators team.

F Victor Olofsson, BUFFALO

Nicknamed Victor ”Goal-ofsson” for his deft shooting ability, he had two goals and two assists in six games with the Sabres last year, and had a team-leading 30 goals in 65 games with AHL Rochester. A seventh-round pick, the 24-year-old rookie was a late-bloomer after playing five seasons in his native Sweden.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

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.