Krejci, Staal, Power among Olympic men’s hockey players to watch

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BEIJING — David Krejci went home to the Czech Republic to play one more season in front of friends and family. Eric Staal did not get an NHL contract despite helping Montreal reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Thanks to the NHL bowing out of the Beijing Games, Krejci and Staal are at the Olympics once again.

Krejci and Staal are among the biggest names at a men’s hockey tournament that’s a who’s who of former and likely future NHL players.

“It’s going to be competitive,” said Staal, who is Canada’s captain. “It shows that the Olympic Games is something special. There’s a few other guys on other countries that were fresh off the league last year, and obviously this is a great experience for us to be able to keep playing competitively. It’s going to be great.”

Here are some players to watch when games begin Wednesday:


Just 35, the longtime Boston Bruins center would be in the NHL this season if he wanted to be. After putting up 854 points in 1,112 games in North America and winning the Cup in 2011, Krejci has 17 goals and 19 assists this season in the Czech league and is in the Olympics for the third time after playing in 2010 and 2014.

Czech Republic goaltender Roman Will said Krejci “will be the best player in the tournament.” After playing against Krejci in the NHL, Lukas Sedlak is glad they are teammates at the Olympics.

“He’s really smart,” Sedlak said. “He knows the game. He knows where to go. He thinks one step ahead, so he knows where all the players are going to be, so I think that’s his biggest strength.”

Coach Filip Pesan believes Krejci’s experience on the smaller, NHL-sized ice will help and expects the wily veteran to get up to speed quickly at the international level, which is above the Czech league. The Czechs open the tournament Wednesday against Denmark, which is in the Olympics for the first time.


The new Captain Canada chuckled at the notion of being the biggest men’s hockey star in the Olympics.

“Well, we’ll see when the games start,” Staal said. “I’m excited to be here. It’s been a unique couple of years here with everything going in the world and when the NHL opted to not play and my situation was what it was and I jumped at this chance.”

Staal, 37, skated in 21 games with the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs last year when they reached the final. He won the Cup with Carolina in 2006 and with 2007 world championship and 2010 Olympic titles is one of 29 players in hockey’s prestigious Triple Gold Club.

“I’m sure he wanted to add another Olympic gold to his accolades,” said Canada teammate Daniel Winnik, whose last NHL shift in 2018 came with Staal. “Eric’s going to be a calming voice in the room for us. He’s wearing the ‘C’ for a reason.”

And the “C” is not just for show. Staal is expected to be the No. 1 center for Canada, which opens the tournament Thursday against 2018 silver medalist Germany.


Among the 15 college players on the U.S. roster, Beniers offers the most potential to be a difference maker.

The No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft by the expansion Seattle Kraken, Beniers has 36 points in 28 games this season at Michigan, which is a top contender for the NCAA title. He’s expected to get some power-play time for the U.S., which plays its first game Thursday against host China and its handful of American players.

Defenseman Jake Sanderson could miss that game after his travel was delayed by positive virus test results. The U.S. faces Canada on Saturday, and Sanderson’s addition for that showdown and beyond would be a major boost.


The only player taken ahead of Beniers was Power, who went first to the Sabres and could join Buffalo in the NHL this spring after his college season wraps up. Power is expected to be one of the top four defensemen for Canada, which has an older roster than the U.S.

Power would have been one of Canada’s best players at the world junior championship in December. That tournament getting canceled because of COVID-19 outbreak fears after play was under way means this is a second chance for Power to wear the maple leaf and make an impact.

“We kind of got notice (the Olympics) may be a possibility when the NHL announced they weren’t going,” Power said. “I don’t want to say made up (for it), but it was kind of just nice knowing that we most likely have another opportunity to come play for Canada even though world juniors was over.”

No. 3 pick Mason McTavish, who has already has three points in nine NHL games with the Anaheim Ducks, is Canada’s youngest player and could see time on the top line alongside Staal.

“Great player, man,” Staal said. “He’s going to play a long time. You can tell that pretty quick. … To be out there with him right now, for me, is a lot of fun. Great energy, great players. He’s a big, strong kid. He knows where to be on the ice, I think, getting around those dirty areas he’s real solid.”


The two youngest members of the tournament play for Slovakia. Winger Juraj Slafkovsky and defenseman Simon Nemec are 17 and projected to be first-round picks in this year’s NHL draft.

“(Nemec) has incredible vision of the game, and he has a feel for hockey — how it should be played,” said longtime NHL assistant Craig Ramsay, who is coaching Slovakia. “Slafkovsky is just a giant of a guy, and he has good hands and good feet. He has amazing potential to be an NHL hocky player. Both of them, I believe, can play in the league and we’re really hoping to see good things from them and that they get a chance and they take advantage of it.”

Slafkovsky could be a top-10 if not a top-five pick. He does not turn 18 until March — so he must wear a full cage for the tournament — and is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds.

“The people who are interested about me, I think they are going to watch,” said Slafkovsky, who wants to show “that I can play men’s level and show my strength and show that I can play in the NHL soon.”


The Russians’ captain played three games in the NHL for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 and scored one goal after signing a $9 million, three-year contract. He refused to report to the minors after being assigned to the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves, had his contract terminated and returned to the KHL.

Shipachyov dressed for only one game for the Russians when they won gold at the 2018 Olympics without NHL players. Now he’s their captain and leads the KHL in scoring with 67 points in 48 games.

“He’s a great passer,” teammate Mikhail Grigorenko said. “He’s one of the best passers in the world and obviously the captain, I think he’s got good leadership, too.”

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    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

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    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.