Adam Henrique

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What can Elias Pettersson do for an encore?

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The one big positive for the 2018-19 Vancouver Canucks was the rapid development of Elias Pettersson.

From the moment he arrived he was the team’s best, most impactful player and began his career with a five-game point streak and 10 goals in his first 10 games. Even when he was not scoring goals he made the Canucks worth watching every night he was in the lineup because he was always one shift away from doing something spectacular.

He ended the season with 28 goals in only 71 games and became just the second Canucks player to ever win the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year (Pavel Bure won in 1991-92). He is now the face of the franchise and the player the whole thing is going to be built around.

The question for the Canucks now becomes what he can do for an encore in year two after such a strong rookie season.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

For all of the brilliance he displayed in his debut, the only red flag that might exist is that a lot of his goal-scoring success was driven by a 19.4 percent shooting percentage, which is an almost absurdly high number and one that is unlikely to be duplicated in year two. It is such a high mark that only eight players (minimum 140 shots) hit that number in a single season between 2010 and 2017 (Steven Stamkos, Anders Lee, Sidney Crosby, Adam Henrique, T.J. Oshie, Jiri Hudler, Mark Scheifele, and William Karlsson) and none of them did it more than once during that stretch, meaning their shooting percentages all regressed the next season.

It is an almost impossible number to reach over a full season, and it is especially unheard of for rookies. Pettersson was the first rookie (age 20 or younger) to shoot that high since Eric Lindros in 1993, and only the third since 1990 (Lindros and Jaromir Jagr).

This is not to suggest that Pettersson is going to suddenly forgot how to score goals, or that his shooting percentage is going to drop so dramatically that it put a huge dent in his production.

He has a great shot and elite skill and is probably always going to be capable of shooting at a percentage well above the league average. It just won’t always be that high, meaning his game is going to have to evolve. For him to match (or exceed) the 30-goal pace he set out on last season he is probably going to have to increase his shot volume and put more pucks on net. He is capable of that, and is talented enough and good enough that the production we saw from him in year one is probably a good baseline to expect in future seasons.

He just might take a different path in getting there in future seasons.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Ducks should accept short-term pain for long-term gains

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

The Anaheim Ducks’ future may very well hinge on one x-factor among all others: GM Bob Murray’s self-awareness.

When a team has self-awareness, you can go from dour to hopeful with rocket speed, like the Rangers have. If you’re delusional, you can get stuck in hockey quicksand, like the troubled Wild.

Whether Murray wants to admit it or not, the Ducks seem headed toward that fork in the road in 2019-20.

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | 2018-19 in review]

The road’s been bumpy up to this turning point, too. Randy Carlyle and Corey Perry are both out after a terrible 2018-19 season, and the Sharks summarily swept the Ducks in Round 1 to end 2017-18, so things have been dark for the Ducks for quite some time.

Despite all of the red flags waving around, one could picture Murray talking himself into this season being radically different.

  • What if Dallas Eakins fixes that broken Carlyle system, and seamlessly integrates young forwards like Sam Steel and Troy Terry?
  • Players like John Gibson, Ryan Getzlaf, and Cam Fowler could enjoy better injury luck.
  • Beyond the top three of the Sharks, Flames, and Golden Knights, the Pacific Division is pretty crummy. Why not us?

If you take an honest look at this Ducks team, though, ask yourself: what’s a realistic ceiling for this team?

When Ryan Getzlaf leads your team in scoring with 48 points despite being limited to 67 games played, and you basically flushed months of brilliant work from John Gibson down the toilet, you probably shouldn’t print those 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs tickets just yet.

GM Bob Murray’s perception of this Ducks team isn’t just Anaheim’s biggest X-factor for 2019-20, as the tug-of-war between seeking a playoff run and setting up this team for a better future could affect this team years down the line.

After all, Murray’s already dug a bit of a hole assuming that the Ducks have another run or two left.

Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique are fine players, but at 28 and 29 respectively, each having five years remaining at about a combined $11M is pretty unnerving. The Silfverberg extension happened during this past, disastrous season, so there’s reason to worry that Murray might still need convincing that at least a soft rebuild or pivot is necessary.

The Ducks have some anchors in Silfverberg and Henrique, which contrasts with the Rangers, who had contracts teams wanted, including Mats Zuccarello.

That said, Murray could push things in the right direction if he’s realistic about this team’s rather limited potential.

For one thing, while the Ducks have unearthed solid talent even while lacking many high-end picks during their contending years, it seems like a lack of blue-chippers is catching up with them. Trevor Zegras (ninth overall in 2019) is a strong start, but the Ducks need more cornerstone pieces to build around.

If the Ducks can show some discipline in absorbing growing pains, they may very well turn things around.

Ideally, the Ducks would allow Eakins some breathing room to work with, and encourage a focus on getting younger players like Sam Steel and Troy Terry more minutes, even if that could push a mediocre team into becoming a cellar dweller. Not only would you get a better idea of what you have in Steel and Terry (and Eakins), but you’d also probably end up with better lottery odds to land someone like Alexis Lafreniere.

With Perry bought out, Ryan Kesler eyeing possible retirement, and Ryan Getzlaf looking understandably creaky lately, the Ducks probably don’t have much of a choice. As great as John Gibson can be — and I’d wager he was the best goalie in the world for stretches of last season — the Ducks still looked mediocre last season, even when he was standing on his head.

Yes, it would be painful to suffer through another abysmal season in 2019-20, but the Ducks have been willing to do painful things, like buying out Corey Perry. Besides, the pain could last a whole lot longer if Murray chooses to ignore the symptoms.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Why Rangers should consider trading Chris Kreider right now

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The New York Rangers have undergone one of the most significant transformations in the league this offseason with the additions of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, and the good fortune that saw them move to No. 2 in the draft lottery where they selected Kaapo Kakko.

It has drastically changed the look of the team on the ice, both for the long-term and the short-term, and also significantly altered their salary cap structure.

With the new contracts for Panarin and Trouba adding $19.6 million to their salary cap number (for the next seven years) it currently has the Rangers over the cap for this season while still needing to re-sign three restricted free agents, including Pavel Buchnevich who is coming off of a 21-goal performance in only 64 games.

Obviously somebody is going to have to go at some point over the next year, and it remains entirely possible that “somebody” could be veteran forward Chris Kreider given his contract situation and the team’s new salary cap outlook.

Perhaps even as soon as this summer by way of a trade.

What makes it so complicated for Kreider and the Rangers is that he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and will be in line for a significant pay raise from his current $4.6 million salary cap number.

It is a tough situation for general manager Jeff Gorton and new team president John Davidson to tackle.

If you are looking at things in a more short-term window there is at least a decent argument for trying to keep Kreider this season, and perhaps even beyond. For one, he is still a really good player. He scored 28 goals this past season, still brings a ton of speed to the lineup, and is still an important part of the roster.

Even though the Rangers missed the playoffs by a significant margin this past season (20 points back) they are not that far away from being able to return to the postseason. Maybe even as early as this season if everything goes absolutely perfect. They added a top-10 offensive player in the league (Panarin), a top-pairing defender (Trouba), another promising young defender with potential (Fox), a potential superstar (Kakko), and still have a goalie (Henrik Lundqvist) that can change a season if he is on top of his game. It is not a given, and not even likely, but the window is at least starting to open.

Even if they do not make it this season they are not so far away that Kreider could not still be a potentially productive member of that next playoff team.

The salary cap situation will be complicated, but the Rangers can easily trim elsewhere in a variety of ways, whether it be utilizing the second buyout window or trading another, less significant part of the roster. As we just saw this past week, there is no contract in the NHL that is completely unmovable.

They COULD do it.

But just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, and that is the big issue the Rangers have to face with one of their most important players.

Should they keep him and try to sign him to a new long-term contract?

For as good as Kreider still is, and for as much as the Rangers have improved this summer, they still have to think about the big-picture outlook.

That means separating what a player has done for you from what that player will do for you in the future. For a team like the Rangers that is still building for something beyond this season, the latter part is the only thing that matters.

The reality of Kreider’s situation is that he is going to be 29 years old when his next contract begins, will be making significantly more than his current salary, and is almost certainly going to be on the threshold of a significant decline in his production (assuming it has not already started).

Let’s try to look at this as objectively as possible.

Kreider just completed his age 27 season, has played 470 games in the NHL, and averaged 0.29 goals per game and 0.59 points per game for his career.

There were 12 forwards in the NHL this past season that had similar numbers through the same point in their careers (at least 400 games played, at least 0.25 goals per game, and between 0.50 and 0.60 points per game). That list included Adam Henrique, Ryan Callahan, Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Kesler, Dustin Brown, Drew Stafford, Andrew Ladd, Tomas Tatar, Jordan Staal, David Perron, Lee Stempniak, and Kyle Turris.

This is not a perfect apples to apples comparison here because a lot of the players in that group play different styles and have different skillsets. They will not all age the exact same way or see their talents deteriorate in the same way. But what should concern the Rangers is that almost every one of the players on that list that is currently over the age of 30 has seen their production fall off a cliff. Some of them now carry contracts that look regrettable for their respective teams.

It is pretty much a given that as a player gets closer to 30 and plays beyond that their production is going to decline. Teams can get away with paying elite players into their 30s because even if they decline their production is still probably going to be better than a significant part of the league. Maybe Panarin isn’t an 80-point player at age 30 or 31, but it is a good bet he is still a 65-or 70-point player and a legitimate top-line winger.

Players like Kreider that aren’t starting at that level don’t have as much wiggle room, and when they decline from their current level they start to lose some (or even a lot) of their value.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Given the Rangers’ salary cap outlook, that is probably a risk they can not afford to take with Kreider long-term because it is far more likely that a new contract becomes an albatross on their cap than a good value.

You also have to consider that the Rangers have long-term options at wing that will quickly push Kreider down the depth chart.

Panarin is one of the best wingers in the league. Over the past two years they used top-10 picks in potential impact wingers (Kaako this year and Vitali Kravtsov a year ago). Buchnevich just turned 24 and has already shown 20-goal potential in the NHL.

As Adam Herman at Blueshirt Banter argued immediately after the signing of Panarin, committing more than $6 million per year to a winger that, in the very near future, may only be the fourth or fifth best winger on the team is a very questionable (at best) move in a salary cap league and gives them almost zero margin for error elsewhere on the roster.

Right now Kreider still has a lot of value to the Rangers for this season. He is probably making less than his market value, is still one of their best players, and still makes them better right now.

But when you look at the situation beyond this season his greatest value to them probably comes in the form of a trade chip because it not only means they can acquire an asset (or two) whose career better aligns with their next best chance to compete for a championship, but it also means they do not have to pay a soon-to-be declining, non-elite player a long-term contract into their 30s, a situation that almost never works out favorably for the team.

The Rangers have had to trade some key players and make some tough decisions during this rebuild.

They should be strongly considering making the same decision with Kreider.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Blues fourth line plays with courage; What if Leafs trade Kadri?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Does it make sense for a rebuilding Senators team to bring back Erik Karlsson? (TSN)

• Losing Zdeno Chara for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Final would be awful news for the Boston Bruins. (The Hockey News)

Connor McDavid is dying to get the Edmonton Oilers back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (NHL.com)

• If he signs with the Flyers, Kevin Hayes could help Nolan Patrick in a big way. (NBC Sports Philly)

• What happens if the Maple Leafs trade Nazem Kadri? (Leafs Nation)

• What should the Rangers’ game plan be in free agency? (Blue Seat Blogs)

• The Florida might draft a goalie in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. (Miami Herald)

• The Pittsburgh Penguins are starting to find out just how difficult it is to build a roster after going on multiple Stanley Cup runs. (Pittsburgh Tribune)

• There are several different players the Red Wings can take at no. 6 overall. MLive.com lists 10 possibilities. (MLive.com)

• The Colorado Avalanche might want to pursue Artemi Panarin in free agency. (Denver Post)

• The St. Louis Blues’ fourth line has been playing with lots of grit and courage. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• A trade involving Jason Zucker and Adam Henrique could make sense for the Ducks and Wild. (Anaheim Calling)

• If the Flames are looking for cap relief, they should consider trading T.J. Brodie. (Flames Nation)

• Can teams win it all if they have players that make more than $8 million per season? (Sinbin.Vegas)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Defense the story in Cup Final; Leafs trying to move Zaitsev

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The big story so far in the Stanley Cup Final? Defense, of course. (TSN)

• The Bruins want to be able to deliver hits themselves so they are mostly indifferent to the Oskar Sundqvist suspension. (WEEI)

• Boston sports fans have not always been spoiled with dynasties. (Sports Illustrated)

Carl Gunnarsson‘s overtime goal was a good reminder that the Blues are not a team that is just going to roll over. (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Vladimir Tarasenko is quietly staying the St. Louis Blues’ best. (Bleedin’ Blue)

• How the Blues and Bruins can take control of the Stanley Cup Final. (Sportsnet)

• After a difficult season the Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to move defender Nikita Zaitsev. (The Leafs Nation)

• Former Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings coach Willie Desjardins is becoming the head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers. (Medicine Hat News)

• The Colorado Avalanche should look into making a Phil Kessel trade. (Mile High Hockey)

• NWHL expansion is in jeopardy. (The Ice Garden)

• Comparing the Seattle expansion timeline to the Vegas expansion timeline. (NHL To Seattle)

• How the New Jersey Devils are utilizing the NHL scouting combine. (New Jersey Devils)

• Rethinking the NHL scouting combine. (Faceoff Circle)

• The Pittsburgh Penguins have re-signed defender Jusso Riikola. (Pensburgh)

• Would a Jason Zucker for Adam Henrique trade be something that could work? (Anaheim Calling)

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.