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Where do Hughes, Kakko fit in respective lineups?

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The top two picks from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft have both signed their entry-level contracts. Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko signed his deal with the New York Rangers on Thursday, while American center Jack Hughes inked his contract with the New Jersey earlier this morning.

Barring an injury, both Hughes and Kakko will be in their teams’ respective lineups once the regular season kicks off in October. But how will they fit into those lineups? Will they both get to play an offensive role for their team this year?

Let’s start with Jack Hughes. 

The Devils have to sign restricted free agents Pavel Zacha, Mirco Mueller, Will Butcher and Connor Carrick, so they still have almost $20 million in cap space to do so. Even if they bring every one of those players back, they still have to money to add a quality player or two via free agency (there’s not much left) or via trade.

Currently on their roster, the Devils have Nico Hischier, Zacha and Travis Zajac down the middle. When Taylor Hall was healthy last season, he spent a good chunk of time playing with Hischier, so there’s no reason to believe that those two won’t be reunited again once the training camp starts. That duo could either play with free-agent signing Wayne Simmonds or veteran Kyle Palmieri.

Of all the forwards on the Devils roster, Hischier spent the most time on the ice with Palmieri, so a top line of Hall, Hischier and Palmieri could terrorize opposing teams all season. If head coach John Hynes decides to play those three together, what’s left for Hughes?

Again, assuming they don’t add a major piece to the roster between now and the start of the season, Hughes could end up centering the second line with Wayne Simmonds on one wing. Simmonds isn’t the same player he was a couple of seasons ago but playing a big-bodied veteran who isn’t shy about throwing his weight around next to Hughes could be a good idea.

Playing the 18-year-old on a second line would also allow him to get “easier” matchups, as teams will likely focus their energy on stopping the top three offensive weapons.

Hughes will also certainly contribute on the power play, as he has the speed and offensive instincts to be a difference maker in that area right away.

The Devils have been conservative with Hischier’s ice time in his first three seasons (he’s averaged 16:19, 18:23, and 18:06). Will they automatically give Hughes 20-plus minutes per game? That’s unlikely. But Hughes might be more NHL-ready than Hischier was at the same age. So don’t be surprised if he’s somewhere in the 17 to 19-minute range when his first year is over.

How about Kappo Kakko?

Well Kakko’s adjustment to the NHL might be a little smoother because he’s probably going to break into the league as a winger. Playing at this level at 18 years old is never easy, but the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about the defensive responsibilities of playing center should help facilitate offense.

The Rangers have made some improvements to their roster this summer. Their biggest splash came in free agency, as they were able to sign Russian forward Artemi Panarin to a long-term contract. Panarin, who immediately becomes the best winger on the roster, could line up next to Mikka Zibanejad, who is the best center on the team. Head coach David Quinn could add Chris Kreider or Pavel Buchnevich to that line, or he could also place Kakko there depending on how aggressive they want to be with their prized rookie.

After Zibanejad, the Rangers are extremely young down the middle. Brett Howden and Lias Anderson are 21 and 20 respectively, and they’ll be leaned on heavily to contribute offensively this season. But do the Rangers really want to line up a rookie with another young player trying to learn how to play center? Probably not.

So there’s a very real chance that Kakko could get quality even-strength minutes next to Zibanejad and Panarin. If that doesn’t end up happening, he’ll likely play with a young center and a veteran like Chris Kreider or Pavel Buchnevich.

Like Hughes, Kakko will see a good amount of time on the power play. The 18-year-old has put up points at every level which says a lot about his offensive upside. Giving him added time and space on the man-advantage could make his first year a season to remember.

We should witness a great battle for the Calder Trophy this season.

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.

Rangers’ Georgiev impressive in shutout of Flyers

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In the twilight of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career, it appears the New York Rangers can rest easy knowing they have a capable heir-apparent to begin filling his legendary shoes.

Alexandar Georgiev is a name the Rangers will be hoping can continue an upward trajectory, and the 23-year-old showed another flash of his skill on Sunday afternoon on NBC, shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 on Star Sunday.

Georgiev turned aside 29 shots on his way to his 13th win of the season and second career shutout.

The Rangers came into the game losers of six straight against the Flyers and were at risk of getting swept by their Metropolitan Division rivals for the first time since the 1984-85 season. That didn’t happen as David Quinn’s young side — the youngest current roster in the NHL at 25.7 years — put together a solid performance, winning their second consecutive game for the first time since Jan. 19 when they won three straight.

Scoring on Sunday came from the Rangers current fountain of youth, with 23-year-old Pavel Buchnevich, 25-year-olds Ryan Strome and Brady Skjei all finding twine for the Blueshirts. A 21-year-old Brett Howden assisted on two goals.

The Flyers entered Sunday fresh of being eliminated from playoff contention 24 hours earlier after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes. The emotion letdown of that was pretty evident from a team dealing with those thoughts and the fatigue playing the second half of a back to back brings.

Philly put in a valiant effort down the stretch. Changes at general manager and head coach will be a big story of the season, as will an eight-game losing streak where they ended up sitting in last place in the NHL. But they showed some promise after clawing back enough points to be relevant until the eve of the final week of the regular season. From Jan. 10 to March 11, they produced the third most points of any team in the NHL, trailing only the juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Louis Blues.

The Flyers will miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last seven years – after making the postseason 16 times in the prior 17 seasons from 1995 to 2012.

Like Georgiev and the Rangers, Carter Hart appears to the be future in Philadelphia. He didn’t have his best outing on Sunday, allowing three goals on 25 shots, but has been a revelation in a town known for its burgeoning goalie graveyard.

Hart came into the game with a .940 save percentage over his past five games.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Flyers on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Pride will be at stake between the Rangers and Flyers when they meet in the first game on Star Sunday on NBC.

The Flyers were officially eliminated from the playoffs after a tough 5-2 loss on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers, meanwhile, have been out of contention for a while, missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 15 years.

“I think the poor start is the reason that we’re in this position,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Saturday’s game. “Every year it feels like it’s the same story. We need to figure it out…we know we can make the playoffs and be a dangerous team, but we can believe whatever we want. We just have to go out there and make it happen.”

For New York, stopping the Flyers’ six-game winning streak against them — including their three previous meetings this season — will be top of the order. The Flyers haven’t swept the season series since the 1984-85 season.

Philly put up a valiant effort this season after firing the general manager and head coach they began the season with. The Rangers began the season on a rebuilding foot, having brought in David Quinn while selling off several key pieces at the trade deadline.

Despite where both teams find themselves, there won’t be lacking for motivation.

“You want to win hockey games, especially when you’re playing a division rival,” Quinn said.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

WHAT: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 31, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Rangers-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Vladislav NamestnikovFilip ChytilVinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyLias AnderssonRyan Strome
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenBoo Nieves

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brendan SmithNeal Pionk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

FLYERS

James van RiemsdykNolan Patrick — Claude Giroux
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Ryan HartmanScott LaughtonTravis Konecny
Michael RafflCorban KnightPhil Varone

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbeherePhilippe Myers
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Ed Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Rangers host Capitals on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington sits in a tie for first in the Metro with the New York Islanders (Isles have one game in hand) as they look to be headed back to the postseason for the fifth straight time and what would be an 11th appearance in the last 12 seasons. The Capitals have won five of their last six games and this is the second game of a thre-game road trip after beating the Islanders, 3-1, on Friday (Washington plays at Philadelphia on Wednesday on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET).

Alex Ovechkin leads the team in points (75) and paces the entire league with 45 goals (Patrick Kane – second with 40) as he pursues another Rocket Richard trophy – aiming to break a tie with Bobby Hull (seven) and become the first player in NHL history to finish atop the goal-scoring race eight times. With Ovechkin’s goal on Friday, he became the first player in NHL history to score 45-plus goals in 10 seasons:

The Rangers are coming off a 4-2 loss to Montreal on Friday – their third straight loss as they are headed towards missing the postseason for the second consecutive year – after a stretch that saw them make the playoffs 11 times in a 12-season span from 2006-2017.

Henrik Lundqvist turned 37 years old on Saturday. The longtime starting goalie is in a bit of slump having lost seven of his last eight starts (1-5-2, 3.14 GAA). His record sits at 17-17-9, and he’s currently sporting a 3.04 goals against average and .907 save percentage, both of which would be career-worsts if the season ended today.  King Henrik is just three wins away from his 14th straight 20-win season (in as many years in the NHL). If he can reach that mark, he’ll become the fourth goalie in NHL history to record at least 14 seasons with 20 wins, along with Patrick Roy (17), Martin Brodeur (16) and Ed Belfour (15).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

What: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Sunday, March 3, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Capitals-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyNic DowdTravis Boyd

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

RANGERS
Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadJimmy Vesey
Vladislav NamestnikovRyan StromeJesper Fast
Brendan LemieuxLias AnderssonPavel Buchnevich
Brendan SmithBrett HowdenFilip Chytil

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Libor Hajek – Neal Pionk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from New York. Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones will handle studio coverage.

Hayes, Zuccarello part of Rangers’ ‘retool’ or saying goodbye to Broadway?

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There’s a 10-point hill to climb for the New York Rangers to try and get back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. But even a run over the next month won’t mean much if the teams ahead of them continue picking up points.

On that note, it’ll be an interesting few weeks for general manager Jeff Gorton, who a year ago raised the white flag on the 2018-19 NHL season and signaled that the team was heading in a new direction. Changes came and will continue to come, especially with three key players set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

Forwards Kevin Hayes (10-23–33,  40GP) and Mats Zuccarello (8-16–24, 35GP), along with defenseman Adam McQuaid find themselves dubbed as trade bait with the Feb. 25 3 p.m. ET deadline approaching. Hayes, whose name has been linked with the Colorado Avalanche for some time, is back in the lineup after missing nine games with an upper-body injury. Zuccarello missed time last month with a groin injury and has been dealing with an infected foot but should be back Thursday versus New Jersey. McQuaid was acquired in September from the Boston Bruins, but it seemed clear at the time he would eventually be flipped for future assets.

The Rangers want to continue to get younger and faster in preparation for an off-season where they can use cap space to their advantage with a free agent market that could be littlered with big names like Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Jeff Skinner. Moving the 26-year-old Hayes, whose agent has spoke with Gorton but no negotiations have taken place yet about an extension, would free up future room and bring back assets in return. Same for the 31-year-old Zuccarello. Draft picks brought back can either restock the prospect cupboard or used in future trades to get immediate help.

Both have expressed their desire to stay, but Hayes and Zuccarello understand the nature of the business.

“At the same time, everybody knows how I feel about wanting to stay. I’ve loved my five years here,” Hayes told the New York Post over the weekend. “I love the organization, the guys, the staff, the city, the fans. I really can’t see myself anywhere else. But it’s also kind of out of my hands.”

“You know what, I think everyone knows my opinion about everything. I love it here,” Zuccarello earlier this season about the trade talk. “This is my ninth season. This is where I grew up to become — hopefully — an adult. Maybe half [an adult]. But this is home for me, my second home.”

In Hayes’ case, when he settled with the team on a one-year deal and avoided arbitration last summer, it set up this exact scenario. Gorton was given a period of time to take a look at the Rangers’ youth down the middle — Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden — and decide whether keeping the 26-year-old center fit his plans. A long-term extension is in the player’s plans, but the GM will have to weigh if locking him up for five years or beyond at somewhere between $5-6M a season is ideal, or if there’s another plan of attack to strengthed the position in the off-season.

Henrik Lundqvist is still playing at an elite level, and with two more years left on his contract after this season, this “retool” by Gorton shouldn’t continue into next season. Two down years and plenty of roster reshaping should have the Rangers back to playoff contenders for the 2019-20 season.

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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.