NHL draft going to the Wolverines? 3 among top prospects

So much attention on Michigan’s hockey program, and too few seats for scouts at Yost Ice Arena due to COVID-19 restrictions, created early season challenges for Wolverines coach Mel Pearson.

“NHL people were trying to find their way into a our building in a lot of different ways, whether as an usher or working in the press box or whatever,” Pearson said with a chuckle, recalling some of the more creative credential requests he received from scouts after being initially limited to 16 seats for 32 NHL teams.

Eventually, everyone who needed a spot got one.

The sudden surge in interest was readily apparent, and not simply because the Big Ten — unlike Canada’s three top junior leagues — was one of North America’s few developmental leagues able to pull off a full season last year.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, became a must-stop on the scouting trail because of a Wolverines lineup featuring a trio of highly touted freshmen in defenseman Owen Power, and forwards Kent Johnson and Mathew Beniers.

At 6-foot-6 and 213 pounds, the smooth-skating, play-making Power is the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked North American player, with Johnson listed third and Beniers sixth entering the draft on Friday night.

Michigan could become the first college hockey program to have three players selected in the first round. Michigan State in 1990, Boston College in 2000 and Ohio State in 2001 each had two players selected in the first round.

“It’s an extraordinary year to say the least. And I’m coming up on my 40th year in college hockey at the Division 1 level,” Pearson said. “I’ve been around some high-end players, but never the quality and the quantity that we’re seeing here at Michigan. Just extremely proud and extremely happy for the young men and their families.”

Add in defenseman Luke Hughes (ranked fourth), who is committed to playing at Michigan this season, and the draft will have a distinct Go Blue theme to it while being held remotely for a second consecutive year due to the pandemic.

Canadian junior center Mason McTavish is the second-ranked North American skater, while Swedish left wing William Eklund is the top-ranked European.

The Buffalo Sabres hold the first pick, followed by the expansion Seattle Kraken and Anaheim Ducks.

Power finished with three goals and 16 points in 26 games to earn conference all-rookie team honors. From Mississauga, Ontario, he then represented Canada at World Championship, where he finished with three assists and won gold. His performance, especially being able to showcase his skating ability on the larger European ice surface in Latvia, cemented his top ranking.

“If he had not gone with the men’s team, he still would be No. 1 on our list and, I think, on a lot of lists,” Central Scouting Bureau director Dan Marr said. “But I think the fact of what he did on the men’s national team and won a gold medal, anyone who was presenting an argument for someone else to go No. 1, they just didn’t bother arguing the point anymore.”

Power could be the third NCAA player selected first in the NHL draft, joining Michigan State’s Joe Murphy, who went No. 1 to Detroit in 1986, and Boston University goalie Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders, 2000).

Johnson, from North Vancouver, British Columbia, finished second among college freshmen with 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) while making the switch from center to wing. Beniers, from Hingham, Massachusetts, finished with 14 goals and 14 assists, and helped the U.S. win gold at the World Junior championships.

There’s a good chance the trio will be back together at Michigan for their sophomore season, with Power already saying he’s leaning toward returning to school. One of Power’s reasons to come back is the opportunity to enjoy a year on campus without coronavirus restrictions in which games were played without fans present.

There’s also unfinished business. The Wolverines were seeded second entering the NCAA Tournament before being removed from participation because of positive COVID-19 test results.

“They’re a very tight group and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them all come back,” Pearson said. “They’ve talked about it: `Hey, let’s make a run for this and then let’s go try our hand at professional hockey.’”

STAYING HOME

Eklund has also indicated he’d prefer spending one more season developing in Europe before turning pro. The 18-year-old earned Swedish Hockey League rookie of the year honors in finishing tied for second on Djurgarden with 11 goals, while adding 12 assists for 23 points in 40 games.

IN THE FAMILY

Hughes is following in the NHL footsteps of his older brothers Quinn, who was drafted No. 7 by Vancouver in 2018, and Jack, who went No. 1 to New Jersey two years ago.

Only two other families have had at least three brothers selected in the first round. Duane, Brent, Rich and Ron Sutter did so from 1979-82. And then there was Eric, Marc and Jordan Staal from 2003-06.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.