Islanders stay put, land Wahlstrom, Dobson with back-to-back picks

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DALLAS — It’s been quite few weeks for the New York Islanders organization. After hiring Lou Lamoriello as their new president and general manager and then snatching up Barry Trotz to replace Doug Weight as head coach, they scored big in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Sitting at picks No. 11 and 12, the Islanders were able to select forward Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Noah Dobson.

“All we can say is we’re glad where they were when we picked, so we feel very good about it,” said Lamoriello. “You never know when it comes to drafts, everybody has a little different focus, but these were two players we had very high.”

“It’s a dream come true. To be in New York, that city’s awesome and the organization is a powerhouse organization throughout the years. I couldn’t be more happy,” said Wahlstrom, who spent the last two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

Wahlstrom, who was a viral star as a 9-year-old, scored 48 goals and recorded 94 points this season. There’s no question about his offensive ability (“Scoring goals is my specialty”). It’s his play away from the puck that he feels he needs to improve, along with consistency. Currently committed to Boston College, he says he’ll make a decision at the end of the summer.

“If I have to develop for one year, Boston College is a great spot for me to develop as a person,” he said.

Also offensively-minded is Dobson, who helped the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL win the Memorial Cup in May. Modeling his game after Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, he’s a good puck moving defenseman that is confident on the rush.

His abilities mesh with where the NHL is going.

“The NHL is a fast game now and you’ve got have D that are able to get the pucks up to the forwards and let them do their thing,” said Dobson. “I think it says a lot. Obviously there’s a lot of great defensemen in this draft. The game’s becoming a fast game so you’ve got to be able to move the puck quick and get the puck up ice.”

Dobson said he wants to use the summer to get stronger and increase his chances of making the team out of training camp in September.

As a 15-year-old, Dobson left his home in Prince Edward Island to spend a year with the Red Bull Salzburg academy. There hs impressed against older competition and furthered his development in a professional setting.

“I think that year at Red Bull showed him how hard he had to work to get to where he wanted to be,” said former NHLer Brian Savage, who served as a Red Bull scout.

Both players were tabbed to go a little higher than they did in many mock drafts, but as Wahlstrom noted, it doesn’t matter where you’re selected.

“You always want to be the best and picked as high as possible,” he said. “But it’s the draft and you get picked and then after that you have to focus on what you do to make the team.”

MORE:
Oliver Wahlstrom goes from viral stardom to NHL top prospect
Noah Dobson and his unique road to the 2018 NHL Draft

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blues GM confirms Kovalchuk interest, makes Jagr comparison

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PHT’s Adam Gretz placed the St. Louis Blues fifth in his power rankings for potential Ilya Kovalchuk destinations earlier week, citing the team’s need for a boost on offense (while highlighting the tantalizing potential of Kovalchuk with Vladimir Tarasenko).

It sounds like Blues GM Doug Armstrong is throwing his team’s name in the hat, if nothing else. He confirmed the Blues’ interest in Kovalchuk, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Always looking to improve our team,” Armstrong said. “We’re like all teams. He’s 35 years old, there’s risk involved with players of that age. But he could be Jaromir Jagr. He could start slowing down at 41. Or he could come back and hit the wall. You never know.”

Armstrong also mentioned that, unlike teams such as the Sharks and Kings, the Blues didn’t arrange a face-to-face meeting with Kovalchuk. It’s unclear if that fact indicates a lower level of interest from St. Louis and/or Kovalchuk.

The age comments are more than just pointing out the obvious, by the way.

Kovalchuk would count as a 35+ contract, and with his most recent ask being a manageable cap hit yet a deal that would ask for some term at three years, a team would need to be confident that signing him would be worth it in the future. Not just now.

Taking a look at the Blues’ Cap Friendly page, such a risk would be reasonable for St. Louis, yet they would need to mull over the ramifications.

Three especially noteworthy players currently have three years remaining on their contracts: Jaden Schwartz, Jake Allen, and Alexander Steen. It might surprise some to realize that Steen is already 34, but Schwartz and Allen are young enough that the Blues must acknowledge that raises could be coming.

(Personally, that seems most pressing for Schwartz, as Allen has his critics as an up-and-down No. 1 goalie.)

A couple other looming raises could make Kovalchuk’s hypothetical three-year deal a bigger burden, as such a deal would run concurrently with raises in 2020-21. Both Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million cap hit) and Brayden Schenn ($5.125M) stand to make a lot more money once their bargain deals expire after 2019-20.

Overall, the Blues are in a fantastic situation to make it all work.

They only have about $62M committed to 18 players heading into next season, and the only plus of Robby Fabbri‘s terrible injury luck for St. Louis is that the RFA is likely to sign a team-friendly contract. (Assuming that Fabbri gets a clean bill of health.)

The Blues stand as a dark horse candidate for John Tavares for the same sort of reasons that Kovalchuk would make sense. While last season’s failure to make the playoffs was a disappointment, they’ve generally been competitive. A big-time addition could really accelerate that improvement, and this team has money to burn (for now). St. Louis also boasts some prominent players in the thick of their primes.

And, sure, Tarasenko’s presence cannot hurt.

St. Louis isn’t exactly like the Ducks, a team that hasn’t drafted a Russian player since 2009. While Tarasenko is the most prominent countryman on the Blues roster, St. Louis also employs Ivan Barbashev, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nikita Soshnikov. (Czech forward Vladimir Sobotka also isn’t far removed from a three-year sojourn in the KHL, for whatever that’s worth.)

Long story short, the Blues have plenty of reasons to legitimately pursue Kovalchuk, and there’s some reason to believe that St. Louis would be a good fit for him.

That said, they’ll need to get in line … and they may not be in the front of that queue when free agency begins in July.

MORE ON THE KOVALCHUK SWEEPSTAKES

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.

West playoffs set after Avs beat Blues

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While two Eastern Conference matchups are still up in the air, the West is settled after the Avalanche beat the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in Colorado.

More on that decisive game in a moment. First, take a look at how it shakes out:

(Central 1) Nashville Predators vs. (Second wild) Colorado Avalanche

(Central 2) Winnipeg Jets vs. (Central 3) Minnesota Wild

(Pacific 1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (First wild) Los Angeles Kings

(Pacific 2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (Pacific 3) San Jose Sharks

Nashville won the Presidents’ Trophy, so the Predators will hold home-ice advantage as long as they are in the playoffs. The Jets – Wild matchup seemed to be in the cards for some time, while there was plenty of turbulence below Vegas in the Pacific. The Ducks won their last game of the season while the Kings and Sharks fell on Saturday.

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

Out East, two intriguing playoff matchups are set. The Metropolitan Division-winning Washington Capitals will take on Columbus, the first wild card. Meanwhile, the in-state rivalry will continue for the Penguins and Flyers in the Metro’s two versus three matchup.

The Bruins and Lightning continue to vie for the Atlantic Division – and thus, the East’s eighth seed – so the Maple Leafs and Devils must wait to see who they’ll face. More on that here.

Play-in game

The Avalanche ended up winning 5-2 following a flurry of late goals (two for Colorado, one for St. Louis) with the Blues’ net empty. It ended up being closer than that score seemed, and there’s some controversy.

St. Louis has some reason to complain about Colorado’s second goal, as Tyson Barrie‘s power-play tally survived an offside review that’s more than a little bit polarizing:

The league ultimately determined that replays were inconclusive. Alex Pietrangelo was not happy after the game, as the Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reports.

“Maybe they need some glasses in Toronto,” Pietrangelo said. ” … Maybe they’re guessing, or maybe they didn’t want us to get in the playoffs.”

With that, the Avalanche went up 2-0 6:11 into the second period, and the decision could have been even more controversial if the Blues would have failed to kill the delay of game penalty. St. Louis managed to kill it off, though.

Regardless, the game could have been very different if Colorado’s lead stayed at 1-0. Alongside Duncan Keith‘s last-second goal to cost the Blues a win, that Barrie goal stands as a painful “What if?” question for St. Louis.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday night as the St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

St. Louis Blues
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Patrik BerglundKyle BrodziakAlex Steen
Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson
Ivan BarbashevOskar SundqvistChris Thorburn

Joel EdmundsonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnColton Parayko
Chris Butler – Roberto Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

[NHL on NBCSN: Blues need to pick up valuable points against Blackhawks]

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET]

Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon SaadNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane
Dylan SikuraVictor EjdsellAlex DeBrincat
Tomas JurcoArtem AnisimovAndreas Martinsen
Patrick SharpDavid KampfVincent Hinostroza

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonConnor Murphy
Jordan Oesterle – Blake Hillman

Starting goalie: J.F. Berube

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Allen coming up clutch; Who plays with McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins?

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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.

• Sabres top prospect Casey Mittelstadt looked back at his college experience at the University of Minnesota after he signed his entry-level contract with Buffalo this week. (The Gopher Hockey Blog)

Jake Allen has had his share of ups and downs this season, but he’s really come through for his team during this crucial stretch. (Fan Rag Sports)

• Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo wrote a great letter about how hockey is an escape for all the tragedies he’s experienced in his life. (The Players’ Tribune)

• Former NHL defenseman Andrew Ference believes it’s time for hockey to be more inclusive, which means that players can’t just stay in their own little bubble. They have to participate in different programs that show off their personality so that they might develop a connection with new fans. (ESPN)

• Cristobal Huet and Christian Ehrhoff both decided to call it quits over the last couple of days. Both had plenty of success in the NHL. (IIHF)

• Now that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is playing on Connor McDavid‘s left wing, Oilers Nation examines which player could be the best fit on the right side of that trio. (Oilers Nation)

• How useful is Roman Polak in the playoffs? Faceoffcircle.ca takes a deeper look at the numbers. (Faceoffcircle.ca)

Shea Weber won’t return this season, but the foot injury that was expected to sideline him for six months will only take four months to heal. (Sportsnet)

Nico Hischier still has plenty of things to work on, but his rookie season has been a success in New Jersey. (All About the Jersey)

• The Preds have lost three games in a row, but that’s no reason for their fans to be concerned. After all, they’re still right at the top of the league standings. (On the Forecheck)

• Ottawa and Carolina went head-to-head last night, so TSN’s Travis Yost looked at a problem they both had in common this season. (TSN.ca)

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.