Sabres to open NHL draft featuring Michigan, mystery, Kraken

The focus of attention falls squarely on the Buffalo Sabres to kick off an NHL draft heavily themed by Michigan, mystery and the expansion Seattle Kraken.

General manager Kevyn Adams isn’t tipping his hand on whether Buffalo will use the No. 1 pick to select defenseman Owen Power, the consensus top prospect and one of three Wolverines players projected to be chosen in the first round Friday.

There’s even more uncertainty surrounding the Sabres, who have the potential of shaking up the draft order by adding an extra pick. Adams hasn’t ruled out doing so while juggling trade talks involving three key players, including captain Jack Eichel, who has questioned his future in Buffalo over a dispute with the team regarding how to repair his herniated disk.

“Lots of conversations. Lots of different scenarios,” Adams said Thursday of his bid to overhaul a franchise that finished last in the overall standings for the fourth time in eight years. “We’re willing to listen to every possible thing that’s going to get our franchise pointed in the right direction.”

The Sabres are picking first for the fourth time in franchise history, and second since selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in 2018. They’re followed by the Kraken and the Anaheim Ducks in a two-day, seven-round draft being held remotely for a second consecutive year due to the pandemic.

Having added 30 players in the expansion draft Wednesday, the Kraken can now start stocking up on prospects.

“It’s obviously a different feel and a different entity, but equally as exciting coming out of the entry draft with players, some that may be able to help us sooner than later, no doubt, but definitely are the future of our team,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said.

In a season in which the Stanley Cup was awarded for the first time in July, COVID-19 has added an element of uncertainty in ranking prospects, many of whom had limited playing time because of constricted or canceled seasons in North America, or scrambled to join teams in Europe.

Add in the NHL’s annual pre-draft combine being canceled, and scouting staffs were forced to rely on limited game tape or lean more heavily on Zoom calls with prospects for their projections.

“There’s some mystery to this draft,” Colorado Avalanche scouting director Wade Klippenstein said. “It’s not ideal. It would be nice to have more viewing, live viewings especially, on players. But I think there’s incredible opportunity here this year.”

Michigan benefited from playing a 26-game season before the second-seeded Wolverines were forced to pull out of the NCAA Tournament following positive tests.

Listed at 6-foot-6 and 213 pounds, Power is the NHL Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked prospect, a fluid skater and playmaker who made the most of the larger European ice surface by helping Canada win a gold medal at the men’s world championships in Latvia.

He is joined by Wolverines forwards Ken Johnson, ranked third among North American skaters, and sixth-ranked Matthew Beniers. They have the opportunity to make Michigan the first college hockey program to have three players selected in the first round.

An 18-year-old winger, William Eklund, is the top-ranked international skater after earning Swedish Hockey League rookie of the year honors.

Mason McTavish, the second-ranked North American, joined numerous Canadians by playing in Europe. Forward Brennan Othmann, the eighth-ranked North American, did the same, using his father’s ties to play in Switzerland after the Ontario Hockey League season was canceled.

“I had a lots of buddies I played with and played against, and they can’t showcase themselves,” Othmann said. “That’s just disappointing for them and for me to hear that. We’ve worked our whole lives to get drafted in the National Hockey League.”

Central Scouting director Dan Marr acknowledged it’s more difficult to project this year’s class, while noting every NHL team faces the same challenge. The fallout might see more mid-to-late round selections blossom into NHL players.

“There’s going to be a lot of players in the top 60 that are going on to go and play,” Marr said. “But what we don’t know is that other group of players that we didn’t get to see much. … The argument can be made there’s going to be a lot of mid-round picks that could play ahead of players taken before them.”

Another twist to this year’s draft class is the number of top prospects considering taking another year to develop before turning pro. Eklund said he intends on playing one more season in Sweden, while Power said he’s leaning toward returning for his sophomore college season.

That’s fine with Adams, who said it won’t factor into the Sabres’ decision.

“This is a tough league. So I think the one mistake we don’t want to make is putting someone in position that they’re just treading water,” Adams said. “We want them to be ready to play.”

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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.