Wednesday Night Hockey: Suter’s quick start a positive in a pile of negatives in Chicago

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Chicago will take any positives it can get in 2021.

Pius Suter appears to be one of them. In his sixth NHL game, the rookie netted a hat trick for his first three career goals, the first Blackhawks player to achieve that feat in 90 years.

It’s no doubt things look bleak for the team this season; Jonathan Toews is still out with an illness and they’ve made a public commitment to rebuilding. Entering Wednesday, they’re 2-3-2 with six points, tied for second place in the messy Central Division.

“Great to see him break through offensively,” coach Jeremy Colliton said about Suter on Sunday. “I love that he was willing to shoot on that two-on-one; a lot of guys are just looking to give it to (Patrick Kane). And it was a really good sign that he continues to be a guy to want to make a play himself.”

Suter was the 10th NHL player in the past 30 years to score his first three career goals in a single game; the last to do so was Montreal’s Ryan Poehling in 2019, and Auston Matthews scoring four goals in one contest.

Fun stat oddities aside, Chicago needs as many things to look forward to as possible in a year its not expected to go terribly deep into the postseason. The Central has a plethora of issues getting games in with COVID-19 protocol dilemmas in Carolina and Dallas to start the season; that will effect all the schedules in the division.

[COVERAGE OF BLACKHAWKS-PREDATORS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Anything fun they can take away from this season they surely will, and perhaps Suter can be a part of that.

“I was happy to get the first one, finally, it made it easier,” Suter said to reporters after Sunday’s game. “After the second one, I felt like, ‘Yeah, you need to get the third.’ I had a few chances, and finally it worked out.”

All three of his goals on Sunday came in different fashions. His first came from being posted up in front of the net, the second with teamwork from Mattias Janmark, and the third on a 2-on-1 with a wrist shot by Jonathan Bernier.

Those tallies after he dazzled on a would-have-been assist on a goal from Patrick Kane that was disallowed, too. The 5-foot-9 forward from Switzerland is known for being opportunistic, but not necessarily his net front play.

One wouldn’t have known that if they just watched his sixth NHL contest, where his positioning especially in front helped aid him to his hat trick.

He was the MVP in Switzerland a year ago with 30 goals and 53 points in 50 games for the ZSC Lions. The year prior, now-Chicago second-year player Dominik Kubalik took home the same honor.

If Suter finds a place in the lineup in similar fashion, they’ll be thrilled.

“He’s a very smart player, he’s really good around the net, but his skating has allowed him to drive play and get through the neutral zone, get out of D-zone,” said Colliton. “Obviously, he’s playing with a couple pretty good players, but he can help them get out of D-zone and get attacking off the rush and in the offensive zone. It can really help us. It was a very strong game for him.”

One game is just that; one game. This is a difficult years for rookies to adjust to the NHL and, well, everything else. Especially for a team that’s focused on its future, though, there’s opportunities to be had, and it seems Suter is making the most of it.

Everyone in Chicago should be excited to get behind that.

“I had some chances and at the end and it worked out. It was a great feeling,” said Suter. “It was fun. Gave me some confidence too. It’s a good start (to) something. Keep going.”

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.