Conor Garland establishing himself as key piece of Coyotes’ future

Conor Garland knew he had to make the most of his first opportunity in the NHL.

Players that fit his profile (not only a fifth-round draft pick, but also one that has always had to carry around the “undersized” label) do not typically get many opportunities to stick.

If they do not make a strong first impression, there may not be a second one.

Garland not only seized his chance last season, he has run with it and over the past calendar year become one of the Arizona Coyotes’ best offensive players and a significant part of their up-and-coming core.

“Something me, and my dad, and my trainer always discussed a lot is that you have to be ready for your first chance in the NHL whenever it comes,” Garland told NBC Sports Wednesday.

“As a smaller guy, and as someone that was drafted in the fifth round, you might only get one or maybe two chances at most. So when I got that call I was obviously ecstatic about getting to play in the NHL, but also realizing that if you have three or four average games you might get sent back to the AHL and never get a call again. I just wanted to play my game, play my style, and do what got me called up to try and stay every day.”

That initial call to the NHL was the result of an unending run of injuries to the Coyotes’ roster, as well as Garland himself showing steady development in the AHL, building confidence, and starting to regain the scoring touch he displayed in his final two years in the QMJHL when he was one of the league’s top scorers and the 2014-15 MVP.

“The Coyotes put so much work into me, especially in that first year and a half where things weren’t going well and I was struggling and not scoring,” said Garland. “But after Christmas my second year as a pro, I really took off offensively and got my confidence back and started to become the player I was in Juniors. The more games you get, the more confidence you get and I feel that way up here in the NHL now. You just have to focus on getting better every day, and I think I did. It took a while, but I finally got there.”

Now that he is there, he hasn’t stopped scoring.

Entering Thursday, Garland leads the team with 19 goals, while his 32 since his debut are 13 more than any other player on the team during that stretch.

He has also been one of the most efficient scorers in the entire league.

Since making his NHL debut, he has averaged 1.20 goals per 60 minutes of even-strength hockey, while averaging more than 10 shots on goal per 60 minutes. Both of those numbers place him in the top-15 of the entire NHL (out of nearly 600 players with at least 500 minutes of ice-time).

And there is not really much to suggest it is a fluke or not sustainable. The shot volume is there, he has strong underlying numbers across the board, and a knack for getting to the net.

“One thing you notice about all the smaller players in the league that have success, they are all tenacious,” said Garland. “There are not many small perimeter players in the NHL. Obviously I don’t have a great shot so I have to get to the net.”

Even though the Coyotes have slumped over the past month (3-7-4 since January 9) they occupy a playoff spot in the Western Conference and have a promising core to build around. It’s a core that Garland has rapidly become part of.

He has spent the past 20 games playing on the Coyotes’ top line next to their big in-season addition, Taylor Hall, a duo that has developed an instant chemistry and been — by far — Arizona’s most dangerous line combination offensively. When they are together the Coyotes shot attempt and scoring chance share climb to over over 56 percent, while they average nearly three-and-a-half goals per 60 minutes, a massive increase over what the team produces when one (or neither) is on the ice.

“I don’t think he’s going to have a hard time building chemistry with anyone,” said Garland. “He can carry a line on his own. Sometimes he definitely does stuff that wows me. You can be thinking it’s time for a change and there’s nothing there, and then all of a sudden he breaks free and it’s a 3-on-2 for us. His raw speed, his power, his ability to handle the puck is just crazy.

“I just want to keep getting him the puck more and more and keep finding him. I think there’s more opportunities for me to find him, and that’s something I’m working on. I’m definitely fortunate to be able to play next to him.”

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.


    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.


    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.


    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    Jeanine Leech/Getty Images

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.