Slafkovsky, 17, among standout stars in men’s hockey at Olympics

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The best player so far in the men’s hockey tournament at the Olympics is also the youngest.

Juraj Slafkovsky of Slovakia is six weeks away from his 18th birthday and already drawing comparisons to Jaromir Jagr. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound forward is tied for the most goals at the Olympics with four. Slovakia coach Craig Ramsay said Slafkovsky actually reminds him of New York Islanders great and Hall of Famer Clark Gillies.

“He’s big and he’s strong, he skates well and he’s a great kid,” Ramsay said. “Slavy has the obvious advantage that he’s so big and strong, but he has good feet. He’s not just a slug that’s big. He can skate, he can jump, he can handle the puck and now that he’s shooting the puck a little bit more, you’re starting to see some good things happen.”

Slafkovsky, U.S. forward Sean Farrell and Sweden center Lucas Wallmark have been the standout stars of the tournament so far. Wallmark matched Slafkovsky in goals, and Farrell leads the Olympics with six points.

“I feel good,” said Farrell, who plays at Harvard. “I’ve found chemistry with my linemates, (Noah) Cates and (Ben) Meyers, right away and I think we’ve been playing well 5-on-5 and causing a lot of havoc in the O-zone and fortunately we’ve been able to bury our chances.”

Farrell is 3 of 3 on shooting for his three goals. Ramsay is just happy that Slafkovsky — who is projected to be a top-10, if not a top-five, pick in the NHL draft this summer — is putting the puck on net instead of deferring.

Through the first three games, Slafkovsky had all of Slovakia’s goals.

“Before the tournament, if someone would tell me that I would score even one or two goals, I would laugh,” Slafkovsky said. “But actually it’s happening, and I’m pretty happy.”

While Slafkovsky has surprised himself, Ramsay expected this kind of performance from the 17-year-old. Put Slovakia general manager Miroslav Satan in the impressed department.

“I am enjoying his game,” said Satan, who scored scored nine goals in eight games at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics as a 19-year-old. “He’s two years younger than I was at my first Olympics. It was about time he’s showing he can be a goal scorer.”

So is Wallmark, who scored only 24 goals in 204 NHL regular-season and playoff games with Carolina, Florida and Chicago. Three of his four at the Olympics have come on the power play.

“I didn’t play that much power play over there, so of course that helps,” Wallmark said. “Just trying to get open and want the puck in the offensive zone. I’m just trying to find the net, and when you’re playing with good players, it makes it a lot easier.”

Slafkovsky is making it look easy and would like to try center at some point. Even after Slafkovsky struggled at the position at the world championships, Ramsay believes Slafkovsky could handle those responsibilities, but the focus this tournament is on producing and now trying to get Slovakia past Germany and into the quarterfinals, where it would face the United States.

While Slafkovsky and Slovakia defenseman Simon Nemec are the only 2022 draft-eligible prospects in the Olympics, the U.S. has three players taken in the first round over the past two years.

Farrell was a fourth-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2020, but coach David Quinn has been hearing about him for years. Assistant Scott Young coached Farrell in youth hockey in Massachusetts.

“Talk about a highly skilled, highly competitive player with a high motor,” Quinn said of Farrell, who is listed at 5-foot-9. “He doesn’t certainly let his size get in the way of him being productive, he’s hard to play against and he’s played very well for us in a short period of time.”

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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.