Eric Gryba

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Bruins sign NHL journeyman Stempniak to one-year contract

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Journeyman forward Lee Stempniak is getting another shot at extending his NHL career after signing a one-year contract with the Boston Bruins.

Under league rules, the Bruins were required to place the 13th-year player on waivers Sunday before he can be assigned to Providence, their AHL affiliate. The move comes some 10 days after Stempniak signed a tryout contract with Providence, where he had two goals and four points in four games.

The 36-year-old has played for 10 teams since breaking into the NHL with St. Louis in 2005-06. He played 19 games for the Bruins in 2015-16, and spent last season with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he had three goals and nine points in 37 games.

Overall, Stempniak has 203 goals and 469 points in 909 games.

The Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers made similar moves in shoring up their goalie depth.

Buffalo placed Adam Wilcox on waivers after signing him to a one-year contract with the intention of returning him to AHL Rochester, where he has a 9-7-3 record. Florida waived Chris Driedger after signing him to a one-year contract with the intention of returning him to AHL Springfield, where he has a 7-6-1 record.

The Islanders waived Jeremy Smith upon signing him to a one-year contract. He has a 16-9-1 record with AHL Bridgeport.

The New Jersey Devils waived defenseman Eric Gryba with the intention of demoting him to AHL Binghamton. The 30-year-old had no points in eight games since being recalled last month.

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It’s New Jersey Devils Day at PHT

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

[Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough | Three questions]

2017-18:

44-29-9, 97 pts. (5th Metropolitan Division; 8th Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-1 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, second round

IN:

Eric Gryba

OUT:

Michael Grabner
Patrick Maroon
Jimmy Hayes
Brian Gibbons
Christoph Bertschy
John Moore
Ken Appleby
Drew Stafford

RE-SIGNED:

Blake Coleman
Stefan Noesen
Steven Santini
Nick Lappin

The New Jersey Devils took a nice step in the right direction last season.

Gifted with some luck even before the season started, the Devils jumped from fifth to first in the draft lottery and selected Nico Hischier with the pick.

From there, the team battled through adversity in the form of a mid-season trade of a fan favorite, an oft-injured starting goalie and the heat of the playoff chase down the stretch.

And at the end of it, New Jersey made it to the playoffs, returning to the promised land for the first time since they lost in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings and they did so on the back of a Hart Trophy-winning season by Taylor Hall, who put the Devils on his back with a 26-game point streak that began on Jan. 2 and carried right on their the beginning of March.

Hischier also rose to the occasion, playing in all 82 games last season and finished second in team scoring with 20 goals and 52 points.

That’s a good year in most books, especially given New Jersey’s recent drought come spring.

The Devils weren’t without fault, however.

There was a large disparity in scoring. Hall finished with 93 points, and the next closest, Hischier, finished a distant 41 points adrift. Third-best ended with 44 points, a 49-gap, and only three players on the team had 20 or more goals, leaving the Devils in the middle of the pack in terms of goals-for as a team.

The Devils shuffled the deck in November, sending Adam Henrique to Anaheim in exchange for Sami Vatanen. The deal filled the needs of both teams at the time. Vatanen, in just 57 games, finished sixth on the team in scoring, but the Devils missed Henrique’s production, especially in the playoffs where they managed just 2.4 goals per game.

A slow offseason means the Devils will continue to drink from their fountain of youth (they have 11 players 25 years of age or younger), and Jesper Bratt shouldn’t be forgotten amongst the Hischiers and the Halls of the team.

Bratt had 13 goals and 35 points during his rookie season last year and the Devils will hope he can take the next step this coming year.

A healthy Marcus Johansson, who was limited to just 29 games due to a bevy of injuries, will also give the roster a shot in the arm, offensively.

New Jersey can tie a lot of it together with a bounce-back year from Cory Schneider in goal. Schneider battled injury and inconsistent play, not winning a game in 2018 until he surfaced in the playoffs.

Schneider is the starter, no doubt. He’s making $6 million a season and has four years left on his deal. His save percentage has gone from .908 in 2016-17 to .907 last year.

It goes without saying, but the Devils need him back to his best, such as the numbers he displayed in 2015-16 with a .924.

Prospect Pool:

• Ty Smith, D, 18, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Smith took a big step in the Western Hockey League last season with 14 goals and 59 assists in 69 games, more than doubling his numbers from his rookie season. His play helped him to the 17th spot in the draft where the Devils took him. He prides himself on his skating ability and is a future stalwart in New Jersey’s rearguard if he continues to progress.

Michael McLeod, C, 20, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) – 2016 first-round pick

Big — he’s 6-foot-2 — and has the ability to move his feet very quickly. McLeod was only slowed last season by an injury at the beginning of the year. He was still able to put up 16 goals and 44 points with the Steelheads in 38 games and had four points in seven games at the world juniors, helping Canada to gold. The Devils haven’t added much on forward this offseason, so a good showing in camp could help McLeod onto the opening night roster.

• John Quenneville, C, 22, Binghamton Devils (AHL) – 2014 first-round pick

Quenneville, like McLeod, will have a shot at making the big club out of camp. The 22-year-old produced another solid year in the AHL with 34 points in 43 games and has the ability to play on either wing as well as his natural center positon, which will only help his chances come the fall.


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

It’s Edmonton Oilers day at PHT

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

2017-18

36-40-6, 78 pts. (6th in Pacific Division, 12th in Western Conference)
Missed playoffs.

IN:

Tobias Rieder
Kyle Brodziak
Mikko Koskinen
Kevin Gravel

OUT:

Anton Slepyshev
Iiro Pakarinen
Eric Gryba
Yohann Auvitu
Laurent Brossoit

RE-SIGNED:

Ty Rattie
Ryan Strome
Drake Caggiula
Matt Benning

[Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough: Darnell Nurse | Three questions]

No team had quite the optimistic forecast for this past season quite like the Edmonton Oilers did.

And no team failed quite as hard as the Oilers did as they shouldered those lofty expectations.

Coming off a season where they took the Anaheim Ducks to seven games in the second round on the back of stellar playing from Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot, nearly everyone figured the Oilers had finally rid themselves of the disappointment that had plagued them for years.

McJesus had led the Edmontonians out of the darkness and into the promised land.

By Christmas this past year, however, things got turned around. The question went from how far they would go in the playoffs to if they’d make the playoffs at all. Much sooner than anyone predicted, the answer came as an emphatic ‘no.’

The team with arguably the best player on earth watched their miserable season come to a merciful end long before the final date on the regular-season calendar.

The Oilers came into the season perhaps the league’s most promising hockey club and left it as its most disappointing.

And it was all made worse for fans in the upper half of Alberta as they watched Taylor Hall guide his New Jersey Devils to said promise land while picking up the Hart Trophy along the way.

One slap in the face after another.

A new year means a new beginning for the Oilers, although the additions of Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak probably aren’t going to inspire notions of the team improving over the offseason.

Darnell Nurse still remains and a restricted free agent, with reports suggesting he isn’t looking to sign long-term right now given how tight the Oilers are to the salary cap. Nurse took a nice step in the right direction this year on the backend, setting new career highs in goals, assists and, of course, points, as he bounced back from an injury-plagued 2016-17 season.

Statistically speaking, McDavid had a wonderful year, posting his best season as a pro after eclipsing the 40-goal mark for the first time and putting up a league-leading 108 points despite the team around him.

What McDavid needs most are consistent linemates.

Postmedia’s Michael Traikos summed it up well last week:

McDavid’s linemates last year ranged from rookies learning the ropes (Kailer Yamamoto and Ty Rattie) to centremen-turned-wingers (Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) to whatever warm bodies Edmonton had lying around. No combination seemed to last more than a month. Nothing clicked.

Find McDavid some solid linemates, and you’ll likely have three players who become the league’s most potent trio on the scoresheet.

The Oilers will usher in the new season with a lineup that won’t look much different, so that won’t be an easy fix.

They will still have an underperforming Milan Lucic (despite general manager Peter Chiarelli’s attempts to trade the overpaid power forward). They still have the same defense that contributed to allowing the fifth most goals against last year. And they still have the same offense, that without McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, would have a missing ad on the side of a milk carton.

McDavid is going to have to work with what he has. The Oilers don’t have the cap room to change that, it appears. Talbot is going to need a better showing than his .908 last season, his worst on record in terms of save percentage, and a season that saw his goals saved above average (GSAA) go from 23.59 to -1.37.

The good news is that a swath of Edmonton’s youngsters took a step forward last season. Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton’s third overall pick in 2016), Ty Rattie and Jujhar Khaira all progressed, as did the aforementioned Nurse, and Andrej Sekera will be fully healthy to start the season on the blue line.

The hope is that the kids will play bigger roles this year, and they just might.

Prospect Pool

Kailer Yamamoto, RW, 19, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Yamamoto could get a full-time gig with the Oilers this season and maybe he’s the guy that can gel with McDavid. Yamamoto put up another solid year in the Western Hockey League with 64 points in 40 games, a year shortened after playing nine games with the Oilers to start the season and his time with Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships, where he earned a bronze medal. Yamamoto is quick, likes to dish the puck and can also find the back of the net. One of McDavid or Draisaitl is going to inherit him.

Evan Bouchard, D, 18, London Knights (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick 

A smooth-skating defenseman that can play all three phases of the game, rush the puck and score? This sounds exactly like what the Oilers blue line could use, and that’s what they got when they drafted Bouchard out of the Ontario Hockey League this past June. Bouchard had 25 goals and 87 points in 67 games with the Knights last season and had five more points in four playoff games. There are rumblings that he might not be automatic to return to junior, but there’s also an argument to be made not to rush the kid to the Show.

Ethan Bear, D, 21, Bakersfield Condors (AHL) – 2015 fifth-round pick

Bear played in 37 games in his first pro season in the American Hockey League. One part of that was due to injury, a concussion that hampered him and the Condors, who missed him in his absence. Bear put up six goals and 18 points last season as the Condor’s top defenseman and saw a lot of time on the blue line on the power play. The second part is that he got an 18-game stint with the Oilers at the end of the season and showed his worth with one goal and four points during that span. His prowess on the power play was also tapped into by the Oilers, who had him playing 1:50 per game with the man-advantage.


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

Islanders lose Kulemin for six months following surgery

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The New York Islanders announced on Monday morning that forward Nikolay Kulemin will be sidelined for six months following successful surgery for an unspecified upper body injury.

Kulemin was injured back on Nov. 7 against the Edmonton Oilers when he was on the receiving end of a particularly rough hit from defenseman Eric Gryba. Kulemin did not return to the game after that play and has not played since.

Now he seems to be done for the season.

You can see the hit that injured him in the video posted above.

Before the injury Kulemin had appeared in 13 games for the Islanders this season scoring one goal to go with two assists. His role had been reduced a bit in the early going this season, logging nearly two fewer minutes per game than he did a season ago when he recorded 23 points in 72 games.

Kulemin’s injury resulted in a recall for talented prospect Joshua Ho-Sang, who went on to score a goal in his first game back with the team.

NHL players got weird for Halloween (beyond McDavid as Trump)

via Patrik Laine's Instagram
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To some, there’s no topping Connor McDavid‘s Internet-disrupting turn as U.S. president Donald Trump this Halloween. Check out this post for the fallout on all of that.

Then again, that might come down to taste/how much you weigh in timely references, as NHL players and teams have really gone all-in on Halloween this year. In fact, there’s little chance that this post will cover every fake-blood-crusted costume and zany bit, so feel free to share more in the comments or via Twitter.

(Also realize not every Halloween dream was realized. Ask Mitch Marner.)

As you might expect, P.K. Subban came up with a clutch costume, and maybe a little nightmare fuel. Just a lot to unpack here:

Dude, what?

Subban’s teammate Roman Josi went pretty generic with a zombie riff, but made up the difference with how elaborate it got:

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🎃

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The instinct was to make fun of Erik Gudbranson for such an outdated costume as Austin Powers, but the follow-through is inspiration for anyone who wants to dust off an aging reference:

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Oh behaaaaave…🤓

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Then again, Eric Gryba went for a KISS theme, so maybe there are lot of old souls in the NHL?

(Aside: are hairy chests making a comeback?)

Hey, Henrik Lundqvist might be off to a tough start, but at least he provides some comic relief:

There’s King Henrik, and then there’s his teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, who embraced a love of “Game of Thrones” as going with “The Night King.”

Kris Letang also got into the “GoT” spirit.

(This is probably a good opportunity to remind you that hockey players have the sort of time and resources many of us lack when it comes to knocking Halloween out of the park.)

Not sure what to say, Vladimir Tarasenko. Not sure what to say.

Most Marc-Andre Fleury costume possible? Arguably.

Nazem Kadri reminds us of an artist on the ice sometimes, so Bob Ross is a good fit. (We’ll assume Maple Leafs teammate Matt Martin took a day off from looking like Brad Pitt.)

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"Make love to the canvas" – Bob Ross

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Finally, Patrik Laine haunts our dreams, instead of mainly scaring goalies with his shot:

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🎃🎃

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(Hey, at least we did a public service and provided none of the “It” costumes. Don’t say we never did anything for you.)

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.