Getty Images

Expect Blue Jackets to be very glad they signed Duclair

6 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights provided a lot of lessons to the rest of the NHL, if teams wanted to listen. One of the key messages many seemed to receive was that the Golden Knights took talented, unappreciated players, gave them great opportunities, and raked in the profits.

When we look back at free agency, John Tavares‘ signing will create the greatest impact (successful or not), but from a value perspective, the Columbus Blue Jackets landing Anthony Duclair for the league minimum will be tough to beat.

Consider the circumstances for a moment. Duclair is just 22. He scored 20 goals and 44 points for the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-16, albeit riding an unsustainable shooting percentage of 19. At just $650K in 2018-19, the intriguing winger will make less money than obscure Blue Jackets such as Markus Hännikäinen and Alex Broadhurst.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline sheds some light on why Duclair accepted such a cheap deal with Columbus (sub required), with his reps explaining that the Blue Jackets represent “the best situation, hockey-wise.”

“I’m a bit embarrassed how it happened,” Duclair said to Portzline. “Since my rookie season, the last couple of years have been a bit of a roller coaster. But at the same time, I’ve learned a lot about myself.

“It’s a huge wake-up call to be a free agent at 22 years old, definitely not ideal.”

Much of that article focuses on Duclair hoping to improve, and one can understand why he’d feel that way, especially considering that demand seemed tepid for his services.

The thing is, the Blue Jackets would easily get their money’s worth even if John Tortorella & Co. decide to give Duclair the same limited role he suffered through with the Coyotes and then Blackhawks last season. Consider his successes despite averaging just 13:17 TOI in 2017-18, and generally only getting 13 minutes of ice time so far in his young career.

As much as this seems to be a “prove it” season for Duclair, the Blue Jackets would be wise to keep an eye on his progress. If he reaches the “tremendous potential” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about with Portzline, then Columbus might be wise to sign him to a team-friendly extension as soon as the CBA would allow it.

It’s fair to wonder if Duclair risks getting lost in the shuffle once again, too.

While Columbus isn’t well-stocked with high-end forwards (making the possible exit of Artemi Panarin, one of their rare premium scorers, that much scarier), the Blue Jackets can be a tough team to deal with when their deep group of attackers gets it going. After also adding Riley Nash to a group that includes Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Pierre Luc-Dubois, Nick Foligno, recently extended Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, Duclair is far from guaranteed a big-time role.

(That’s especially true if Columbus’ work is more or less done this summer, if Sonny Milano progresses significantly, and if Brandon Dubinsky is reasonably healthy and on-task.)

Such a scenario makes you wonder if there would have been an even more mutually beneficial situation out there for Duclair. Cap-challenged teams like the Oilers or Penguins could have done worse than to give the intriguing scorer a look, particularly at such a bargain rate. The Montreal Canadiens would have made a lot of sense for the Quebec native, too.

Duclair only signed a one-year contract with Columbus, so for all we know, the above teams may get another chance to land him.

If things are fairer, Duclair would receive far richer offers and greater opportunities next time around. As it stands, though, this is a fantastic, low-risk signing for the Blue Jackets.

More bargains in 2018

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.

Kane leads U.S. into semis, Canada knocks out Russia

Getty Images
2 Comments

HERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals to lift the United States to a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the ice hockey world championship on Thursday while Canada beat Russia 5-4 in overtime.

Switzerland pulled off a surprise by eliminating Finland 3-2 and defending champion Sweden edged out Latvia 3-2.

Kane claimed the third-period winner to take the outright lead in the scoring table on 19 points, a U.S. record, with eight goals and 11 assists and set up a semifinal against Sweden on Saturday.

”It’s my job to produce,” Kane said. ”It’s always nice to contribute offensively.”

The U.S. is looking for its first medal since picking up bronze in 2015.

”We came here to put ourselves in a position to try to win the gold,” Kane said. “We’re on the right path.”

The U.S. took control with a couple of goals in the span of 1:43 midway through the first period in Herning.

Kane beat goaltender Pavel Francouz from the right circle before Nick Bonino fed Cam Atkinson in front of the net to stretch the lead with a backhand shot.

The Czechs hit back in the second period. Michal Repik reduced the advantage on a slap shot and Martin Necas netted the tying goal on a power play.

”It’s a pity,” Czech forward Tomas Plekanec said. ”We created enough chances to win.”

In Copenhagen, Ryan O'Reilly scored 4:57 into overtime to knock out Russia while captain Connor McDavid had three assists, including on the winning goal.

Hunting its third title in four years, Canada will face Switzerland in the semis.

”Canada are a great team, they always are,” defenseman Roman Josi said after his Switzerland team beat Finland for the first time since 1972.

Defenseman Colton Parayko blasted a slap shot past goaltender Igor Shestyorkin on a power play to give Canada a 1-0 lead in the first period before Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doubled the advantage on another power play.

But Alexander Barabanov and Ilya Mikheyev scored in the second period to tie the game.

Kyle Turris made it 3-2 to Canada in the third before Sergei Andronov leveled. Pierre-Luc Dubois put Canada ahead again but Russia answered with a goal from Artyom Anisimov.

Finland looked to be heading for victory after Markus Nutivaara‘s first-period goal, but Switzerland rallied with goals from Enzo Corvi, Joel Vermin and Gregory Hofmann in less than four minutes midway through the second.

”We didn’t start the way we wanted but we reacted in the second period and played very well from then on,” Josi said.

Mikko Rantanen cut the deficit to one goal in the third period.

”This wasn’t what we were looking for,” Finland captain Mikael Granlund said. ”They had the momentum in the second period and we were not able to turn it around.”

Sweden, which won all seven of its preliminary round games, beat Latvia thanks to goals from Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Teodors Blugers and Rudolfs Balcers replied.

US routs Norway 9-3 at hockey worlds, Czechs blank France

AP Images
2 Comments

HERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals for the second straight game and added an assist to lead the United States to a 9-3 victory over Norway for its sixth straight win at the ice hockey world championship on Sunday.

The Czech Republic beat France 6-0 for its second consecutive shutout.

Kane scored with a slap shot from the right circle on a power play to open the scoring and added another power play goal almost from the same spot for a 2-0 lead.

The forward leads the tournament with 15 points for five goals and 10 assists.

“A good performance by the team tonight,” Kane said. “We had a lot of different guys to contribute and chip in, which is good to see, and give us a lot of confidence going into the next game against Finland.”

Dylan Larkin and Cam Atkinson had a goal and a couple assists, Charlie McAvoy got a goal and an assist in another high-scoring victory for the U.S.

“Our goal is to keep winning, to keep getting better,” Atkinson said.

Alec Martinez, Anders Lee, Colin White and Neal Pionk had a goal apiece.

Norway got its goals from Kristian Forsberg, Ken Andre Olimb and Mathis Olimb.

David Pastrnak and Roman Horak had two goals each and Dmitrij Jaskin and Martin Necas contributed one each for the Czechs.

Goaltender David Rittich stopped 10 shots for the shutout.

The United States tops Group B in Herning with 16 points, four more than Finland that plays Germany later Sunday.

Denmark has 11 points in third followed by Canada on 10, which has played one game less. Norway remains on three points.

The Czechs are third in Group A in Copenhagen with 12 points. Sweden leads with 14 points, a point ahead of Russia in second. Switzerland is fourth with nine and plays Sweden later.

U.S. routs South Korea, Czechs blank Belarus at IIHF Worlds

AP Images

ERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals and added three assists as the United States demolished South Korea 13-1 at the ice hockey world championship on Friday for a fifth straight victory.

The Czech Republic shut out Belarus 3-0, and Denmark closed in on a quarterfinal berth after beating Norway, also 3-0.

Also, France defeated newcomer Austria 5-2 to stay in contention.

Charlie McAvoy, playing his first game for the U.S. after being knocked out of the NHL playoffs last weekend, made his presence felt with two goals and two assists. Derek Ryan and Cam Atkinson also scored a couple each.

”It was a long day, got here a couple hours ago,” McAvoy said. ”We have such a good team. It was a great opportunity for me to go out there and just feel the puck and get ready for the rest of tournament.”

When the U.S. won its first five games in 1933, it claimed its only world championship. But there were no more games then.

Jin Hui Ahn scored South Korea’s third goal at the worlds for a 1-0 surprise lead. It was South Korea’s first lead in any of its five games.

Libor Sulak, Roman Horak and Michal Repik scored for the Czechs against Belarus. Goaltender Pavel Francouz stopped all 11 shots.

Defenseman Nicklas Jensen scored twice and Frederik Storm added one all on power plays against Norway for Denmark’s third victory in the first world championship on home ice.

The players sang the national anthem after the match along with the Jyske Bank Boxen arena crowd mostly wearing red and white national jerseys.

Goaltender Frederik Andersen made 21 saves for his first shutout.

”The crowd delivered again,” Andersen said.

The United States move into the sole lead of Group B in Herning, three points ahead of Canada which has a game in hand. Finland was four points behind, followed by Denmark. South Korea has yet to win.

The Czechs shared third place in Group A in Copenhagen with Switzerland, trailing group leader Sweden by three points and Russia by one. Then followed Slovakia, France, Austria, and Belarus.

US edges Latvia in OT, Slovakia tops France at hockey worlds

Getty
2 Comments

HERNING, Denmark (AP) Cam Atkinson scored in overtime to give the United States a 3-2 win over Latvia on Thursday, its fourth straight victory at the ice hockey world championship.

In another tight game, Slovakia kept its hopes alive for a quarterfinal spot by topping France 3-1, with Michal Cajkovsky scoring the final goal into an empty net.

Chris Kreider gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead when he knocked in a loose puck on a power play, but Latvia defenseman Uvis Balinskis ended goalie Keith Kinkaid‘s bid for a third straight shutout with a deflected shot with 2:03 remaining in the first period.

Latvia then went ahead in the middle period through Andris Dzerins, but Colin White tied it for the U.S. with a slap shot that went between the pads of goalie Elvis Merzlikins.

Captain Patrick Kane and forward Alex DeBrincat finished with two assists.

The U.S. jumped to the top of Group B with 10 points followed by Finland on nine. Canada is another point back and had a game in hand against Norway later Thursday.

Slovakia has seven points in fourth place of Group A in Copenhagen. Sweden tops that group with 12, followed by Russia and Switzerland on nine. Russia faced the Czech Republic later Thursday.