Connor Hellebuyck

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
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A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


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

Jets help make 11-year-old’s goaltending dream come true

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If you needed a feel-good story, you can find it in the Winnipeg Jets helping 11-year-old Kylan Jackson live out a hockey dream.

Sportsnet’s video captures the story, and the scene, in wonderful detail.

Jackson dealt with leukemia at a young age, but battled the disease with help from his family. Eventually, “The Dream Factory” worked with Josh Morrissey to help Jackson get a taste of life as a Jets goalie.

There are a lot of great touches in that Sportsnet video. For some reason, Paul Maurice motioning Kylan Jackson over really made me smile:

Jets coach Maurice motions Kylan Jackson over Dream Project

The exchanges between Jackson, Connor Hellebuyck, and Laurent Brossoit ranked among the best moments of the video. Hellebuyck was impressed by Jackson being a quick learner, while Jackson raved about Hellebuyck’s glove save against the Lightning.

[A look at Hellebuyck’s dominant season]

Hellebuyck amusingly admitted that he’s not sure he actually saw the puck. That’s OK though, because just putting his glove up there did the trick:

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Where every team stands right now

NHL Power Rankings
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Even though there is no hockey at the moment but we will keep the NHL Power Rankings rolling along every Monday.

In future weeks during the NHL’s hiatus this will take a more off-beat approach, but for now, we are going to take another look at where every team in the NHL stood before the season was put on hold.

Here is where we are for right now.

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins were well on their way to winning the Presidents’ Trophy and potentially finishing with one of the best records in franchise history. They have it all this season.

2. St. Louis Blues. The defending Stanley Cup champions were looking even better than a year ago and starting to hit their stride in the stretch run. There is also that possibility of a Vladimir Tarasenko return lurking in the background.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even as the injuries mounted they kept winning. A lot. A truly scary team in both the short-and long-term.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers finally find a franchise goalie and then a global pandemic brings everything to a stop.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. They were starting to go on a roll at just the right time, have two great goalies, and were still going to get Mark Stone back.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. They won just three out of 10 after their 11-game winning streak came to an end. Losing Steven Stamkos, and more recently, Victor Hedman, were two big injuries to deal with.

7. Washington Capitals. John Carlson was on pace for a 90-point season, which is still pretty absurd to think about it in today’s NHL for a defenseman.

8. Edmonton Oilers. If nothing else, Leon Draisaitl has shown this season he can not only carry his own line, he can dominate while doing so.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins. Their big question going into the playoffs would be whether or not one of Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray could step up and run with the goaltending job. Lately, neither one had done that.

10. Minnesota Wild. Truly one of the strangest teams in the league this season. At so many different points they seemed finished, only to keep coming back and staying in the race. They are 15-7-1 in their past 23 games and looking like a playoff team.

11. Carolina Hurricanes. The injuries on defense were going to be a lot to overcome, but getting Petr Mrazek back (and hopefully James Reimer) would have been a huge lift.

12. Nashville Predators. Once one of their goalies (in this case Juuse Saros) started making some saves they magically started winning again.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. There is no team in the NHL that has a wider range of possible outcomes than this one. They could win it all. They could lose in Round 1 in five games. They could keep everyone together. They could trade a core piece this summer. Who knows?

14. Winnipeg Jets. Not only should Connor Hellebuyck get serious Vezina Trophy consideration, he should get a few top-five MVP votes for what he has done for this team.

15. Calgary Flames. I feel like this team should be better than it has been, and at the same time, isn’t as bad as I thought it has been.

16. Dallas Stars. The offense would hold them back and be a concern. The goaltending would give them a chance.

17. New York Rangers. There is a foundation in place for this team to be very good, very fast, and for a very long time,.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They were set to get Brock Boeser back, which would have been huge, but the Jacob Markstrom injury was going to be a problem.

19. Florida Panthers. Back-to-back wins against Montreal and St. Louis (an extremely impressive win) helped them stay in it, but this season has mostly been a disappointment.

20. New York Islanders. Speaking of disappointments, after last year’s surprising performance and that 15-game point streak earlier this season the bottom completely fell out on this team. It was not getting any better down the stretch.

21. Chicago Blackhawks. The story of the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks was going to be “too little, too late.”

22. Los Angeles Kings. Say this for the Kings: The players still there never quit on this season. One of the hottest teams in the league going into the hiatus and beating playoff teams regularly.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets. It would have been interesting to see what this team was capable of with better injury luck.

24. Montreal Canadiens. He probably will not get many votes because he is very overlooked, but Philip Danault would be a good Selke Trophy sleeper.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They made a lot of the right moves, things just did not work out. Losing their two goalies definitely hurt. While Adin Hill did find in place of them, a healthy Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta were difference makers.

26. New Jersey Devils. One of the bright spots here was the late season resurgence of Cory Schneider. He has had such a great career it would have been a shame to see him just suddenly lose it all.

27. Anaheim Ducks. They desperately need an influx of offensive talent for next season and beyond.

28. San Jose Sharks. Get them healthy and give them better goaltending and let’s see what this core can do next season.

29. Buffalo Sabres. In a different year on a better team we would be talking about Jack Eichel as an MVP contender.

30. Ottawa Senators. With a little draft lottery luck they could have two top-five picks this year (their pick and San Jose’s pick). That could be franchise changing.

31. Detroit Red Wings. But no team needs the No. 1 overall pick more than the Red Wings.

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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.

The Buzzer: Jets, Kings extend winning streaks; Blackhawks thump Sharks

Kyle Connor #81, Blake Wheeler #26 and Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets
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Three Stars

1) Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks

The goal-scoring numbers have not been there for DeBrincat this season, but a three-assist evening Wednesday helped the Blackhawks defeat the San Jose Sharks, 6-2. His helpers came on three consecutive goals (two on the power play) in the second period as the Blackhawks turned a one-goal deficit into a two-score advantage. DeBrincat’s most highlight-worthy assist came at 16:33 of the middle frame when he found Patrick Kane darting toward the back post. The 22-year-old forward weaved around Marc-Edouard Vlasic before Kane netted his second of the evening. Rookie forward Dominik Kubalik added his 30th of the season in the victory.

2) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets claimed sole possession of the first wild card in the Western Conference with a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers. Connor scored twice in the third period to help the Jets extend their winning streak to four games. Defenseman Neal Pionk blocked a shot from Leon Draisaitl which allowed Connor to bolt toward the Oilers net. Blake Wheeler delivered a perfect pass to set up a breakaway for Connor who gave the Jets a 3-2 lead with a five-hole finish. Connor added an empty-net goal in the final minute to seal the victory for the Jets.

3) Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

After missing five straight games with an upper-body injury, Makar returned to the lineup and pitched in offensively with three assists in the Avs’ 3-2 win against the Rangers. He helped set up power-play goals for Tyson Jost and Vladislav Namestnikov in regulation. Then, during the three-on-three overtime session, he moved around the offensive zone until firing a wrist shot that Compher eventually deflected for the game-winning goal. Makar has recorded 50 points this season and is in a tight race for the Calder Trophy with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes. The Avalanche remain two points behind the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues but have one game in hand.

[RELATED: NHL evaluating options due to Coronavirus]

Highlights of the Night

Kane scored his second of the game after DeBrincat delivered a perfect cross-ice pass.

Connor McDavid returned to action and beat Connor Hellebuyck to the far post.

It only took Bobby Ryan 29 seconds to open the scoring when he buried this feed from Brady Tkachuk.

Playoff Push

Stat of the Night

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 6, San Jose Sharks 2

Winnipeg Jets 4, Edmonton Oilers 2

Colorado Avalanche 3, New York Rangers 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

Los Angles Kings 3, Ottawa Senators 2


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

NHL Power Rankings: Top MVP candidates

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the biggest individual award race — the Hart Trophy for league MVP.

This is always a complicated argument because everyone has a different definition of what consists of “value.” Is it simply the the best player? Does the player have to be on a playoff team to be considered? Those are the questions that bring people to screaming matches the most in this discussion, and this season will almost certainly be the same. Especially since there does not seem to be a runaway favorite at this point.

With these rankings I’m trying to strike a balance between players I think deserve to win, and the players that have the most realistic chance of winning.

Who makes the list?

To the rankings!

The Favorites

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He might be the perfect candidate this season because he checks absolutely every box any MVP voter could possibly have. He is the best player on one of the league’s best teams. He has helped carry that team through injuries. He is one of the league’s top scorers and, at this point, one of the best overall players. There is not a single mark against him or his case at this point.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Recent history suggests players that the scoring title by the margin Draisaitl is on pace to win it by tend to be slam-dunk MVP winners as long as their team makes the playoffs. Barring some kind of incredible meltdown over the next month, the Oilers will be in the playoffs, so he has that going for them. The only factors that might hold him back are the presence of Connor McDavid on his team, and the fact his defensive impact isn’t great. But another 50-goal season and 125 points would certainly get a lot of attention.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. He has a shot at becoming just the third-player in the past 20 years to hit the 60-goal mark while also taking the Rocket Richard award away from Alex Ovechkin. Both would be significant accomplishments. Combined with his all-around player he has rapidly become one of the league’s best players.

4. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. He has been worth every penny the Rangers paid him this summer. But with the team being a real long-shot to make the playoffs at this point his standing is going to take a hit in the eyes of many voters. But he will still get votes (probably a lot of them, too) because he has been the single biggest reason the Rangers have remained in playoff contention as long as they have.

5. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. It is absolutely crazy that after losing out on the MVP award in each of the past two years because the team around him completely stunk, he is going to lose out on the MVP this year because he missed a few games and his teammate (Draisaitl) is having an historically great year.

The second tier contenders

6. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. This guy needs more attention. Pettersson has been a franchise-changing talent in Vancouver, while presence has rapidly accelerated the team’s rebuild. He is quickly turning into a complete force all over the ice. A one-man highlight reel every shift.

7. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. Hellebuyck is the single biggest reason the Jets are in playoff contention right now. He has not only been a workhorse in net, playing a ton of games and facing more shots than any other goalie in the league, he has also been outstanding. The Jets needed an MVP effort from him this season to be competitive, and he has more than delivered.

8. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The reigning league MVP should probably be getting a little more attention than he currently is. He is on track for his third consecutive 100-point season.

9. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Hate him all you want, the list of wingers in the NHL that make a bigger impact than him is small enough to be counted on one hand.

Worthy of consideration

10. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. He faced a lot of criticism for his performance a year ago, but he has been a force for the Penguins this season and helped get them through a never-ending run of injuries. On a per-game level, this is the third-most productive seasons of his career behind only the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons. He finished in the top-two in MVP voting in those two years.

11. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs might be a disappointment as a team based on overall expectations, but Matthews is having one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history and is one of the few players on the roster that hasn’t failed to meet expectations.

12. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. He is having one of the best offensive seasons in NHL history. That alone will almost certainly get him the Norris Trophy, and it will probably get him more than a few MVP votes.

13. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Coming into the season it seemed as if Pacioretty’s days as an elite goal scorer were in the rear-view mirror. Not the case. He is having one of the best seasons of his career and is on track for close to 40-goals while also posting dominant possession numbers. I don’t know that his performance is getting enough attention, though, to put him at the top of the list. Even if it is good enough.

14. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. I don’t think he’s going to win, but he still has a shot to league the lead in goals on a potential division champion. He’s finished in the top-10 in voting four of the past five years and will probably be somewhere in that neighborhood again this season.

15. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars. Bishop is one of the league’s best goalies, and has proven that over several years now. He has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy multiple times and very well could be there again this season. He also has a decent MVP argument given his overall play, combined with the fact the Stars are one of the league’s worst offensive teams among contenders.

16. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. He is very quietly on track for 45 goals this season and is one of the best possession-drivers in the league. He is the face of the Hurricanes’ franchise and the foundation for everything they have built (and are continuing to build).

17.  Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. In a season where almost the entire Blue Jackets roster has been decimated by injury (including Werenski himself for a stretch of games), Werenski has been a rock on their blue line and one of the driving forces of their offense. He’s on a 25-goal pace over 82 games and has helped keep his team in the race.

18. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. If there was any justice he would have a much better chance to win this season. Not only because his season deserves it for the season he is having, but because it is a shame that one of the league’s best, most exciting, and most impactful players is stuck on a franchise that hasn’t given him a chance to win. As it stands, he has virtually zero chance of winning simply because his team stinks. HIs season still deserves recognition.

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.