NHL Power Rankings: Bounce back candidates for next season

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at 15 bounce back candidates for the 2021-22 season.

There can be any number of reasons for a player to have a down year, but it is not necessarily a sign of a long-term problem or that their time as a productive player is finished. Maybe it is due to an injury, maybe some bad puck luck, or maybe just playing in a tough situation on the wrong team or the wrong line. Either way, players bounce back all the time from those types of seasons and we are going to take a look at some options for next season.

Who all makes this week’s NHL Power Rankings list?

To the NHL Power Rankings!

1. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. What on earth happened here? For the first two years of his career Hart looked like he was going to finally be the long-term answer to the Flyers’ biggest problem spot. He was one of the biggest reasons for optimism heading into this season. Then he completely faceplanted with one of the worst individual performances in the league. He is much better than he showed this season, and the Flyers should be expecting a lot more in 2021-22. At least, that is what they have to be hoping for. His play will determine a lot of the future success of the Flyers.

2. Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets. It was pretty quickly obvious that his style of player did not mesh with what John Tortorella envisioned. Will a new coach and a fresh start to the season (not to mention playing for a new contract) kickstart something for him this season? The talent is certainly there.

3. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues. Injuries have limited him to just 42 total games (regular season and playoffs) over the past two seasons, and when he has played he has clearly not been 100 percent. He will be turning 30 years old in December, but a fully healthy Tarasenko should still be capable of 30-plus goals over a full season. That will help the Blues a lot.

4. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames. A lot of people in Calgary had a bad season, but Monahan’s drop in production was especially obvious. Maybe you should not expect him to be the point per game player he was a couple of years ago, but his 82-game pace this year would have been a 16-goal, 45-point season. He is better than that.


5. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres. He looked like a different player in Buffalo after the coaching change. That is a good sign that whatever was holding him back early in the season can be fixed. A massive talent that the Sabres need to be a star.

6. Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings. He has been a bright spot in Detroit during this rebuild, but his production dipped a bit during the 2020-21 season. One of the fastest players in the league, Larkin is entering his age 25 season (should be his peak year) and is coming off a career-low shooting percentage season. Expect a bounce back.

7. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals. The question here is will this bounce back season happen in Washington, or somewhere else via trade? He missed time due to COVID on two separate occasions, and just struggled through the worst individual season of his career. Still an outstanding talent and playmaker. Think he has another couple of really productive years ahead.

[Related: What is next for Capitals after another First Round exit]

8. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks. Gibson is regarded as one of the best goalies in the NHL (and he is), but his numbers the past two seasons have dropped dramatically. A lot of that is probably a function of playing behind one of the league’s worst teams.

9. Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators. Only 10 goals in 50 games is a sharp decline for Arvidsson, and it was driven almost entirely by a massive drop in shooting percentage. If he maintains the same ability to generate shots and that puck luck rebounds he could be in line for a nice season next year.

10. Stars trio of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Ben BishopThese three are simply about injury bounce backs and nothing at all related to performance. They combined for just 14 man games during the 2020-21 season (only 11 for Radulov and only three for Seguin; zero for Bishop) and that played a huge role in the Stars going from the Stanley Cup Final to missing the playoffs. Get them back and healthy and the Stars should be a playoff team again.

11. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets. Jones has regressed a bit the past two seasons, but like Laine, I want to see what happens with a coaching change. Also you can not discount the possibility of a contract year bump, especially given his apparent desire to test the open market.

12. Jason Zucker, Pittsburgh Penguins. This was a tough year for Zucker. He missed some time due to injury and never really seemed to find a permanent spot on any line. He is still a good player and the Penguins could really use a bounce back year given the contract and price they paid for him in a trade.

13. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. I want to think that he did not just forget how to score goals. That surely a better system, an increased role, and maybe some luck can get him back on track. I want to think that. Buffalo probably does as well.

14. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks. Is this really how his career is going to fizzle out? Injuries have taken a toll, but he is still only 31 years old. Maybe that is not his prime, but he should still have some good years ahead of him.

15. Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames. The Flames paid big money for Markstrom to solve their revolving door of goalies, and his debut season was a mixed bag. Some good, so not so good. He may not be an elite goalie, but he has a pretty lengthy track record of being a steady, durable goalie that can play a big workload and play it well. He should be better than he was this 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.

Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.