Eric Staal

Five players that could be on the move

We don’t typically see a lot of trade activity early on in the regular season, but with parity at an all-time high across the NHL teams may be tempted to make a splash earlier than normal. The St. Louis Blues, for example, have already done so by acquiring Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes. So, who’s the next one to be moved?

Nobody’s completely out of the playoff race yet, but some general managers have to know that there’s a good chance they won’t be playing meaningful hockey in April. At the same time, there are some good teams that are outside the playoff picture right now, so they may be looking to shake up their roster a little bit.

Let’s take a look at five players that can possibly be on the move in the next little while.

• Jesse Puljujarvi – RW – Edmonton Oilers:

Puljujarvi isn’t playing for the Oilers right now because he wasn’t in love with the contract offer they made him this summer. The 21-year-old had just four goals and nine points in 45 games, but he has a nice combination of size and skill that most teams would kill to have at their disposal. The former fourth overall pick in 2016 has opened the season with Karpat of the Finnish league where he has 11 goals and 18 points in 17 games. Sure, the Finnish League competition isn’t like the NHL, but that’s still an impressive start. The Oilers need some forward depth pretty badly, so they could be tempted to pull the trigger if another team is willing to give them that in return for Puljujarvi’s services.

• Julius Honka – D – Dallas Stars:

Alright, let’s get the Finnish hold outs out of the way. Like Puljujarvi, Honka didn’t sign with the Stars this summer. The 23-year-old is currently playing for Jyp HT Jyvaskyla in Finland. There, he’s accumulated a goal and three assists in six games. The former first-rounder hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet, but he has two goals and 13 points in 83 games across three seasons. Honka is still a bit of project, but he could be a useful asset for a team looking for a puck-mover.

Eric Staal – C – Minnesota Wild: 

This one might be out of left field, but the Wild are old and they aren’t very good. Staal is now 35 years old, he’s picked up a respectable nine points in 13 games and he has this year and next year remaining on his affordable contract that comes with a $3.25 million cap hit. Staal doesn’t have any trade protection, so there’s a chance he could be on the move. Finding a big center that can score roughly 50 points in a season isn’t easy no matter how old they are. If the Wild make him available, teams would come calling.

Chris Kreider – LW – New York Rangers: 

The Rangers’ rebuild is probably right where it should be right now, but will it continue to include a 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent? Probably not. Whenever Kreider plays at 75 games in a season, he scores 20-plus goals. He’s big and has pretty good wheels for a player of his size, so you know other teams will be interested in his services. What will it take to get him? That remains to be seen, but rather than losing him for nothing on July 1st, the Rangers might as well just get something for him. Kreider has two goals and four assists in 10 games this season.

Paul Byron – LW – Montreal Canadiens

Byron is off to a difficult start this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a useful player anymore. The speedy winger has scored 22, 20 and 15 (in just 56 games) goals over his last three years. When healthy, he’s an excellent penalty killer that’s capable of playing up and down in a good team’s lineup. The tricky part, is that he’s in year one of a four-year deal that will pay him $3.4 million per season. The 30-year-old has spent most of his time on the Canadiens’ bottom-two lines this year and he has just two assists in 13 games. Byron is an important leader on his team, which may mean that he doesn’t get moved at all, but the Habs are deep and need to get bigger.

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.

Injuries put a damper on Wild’s progress

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Eric Staal‘s second goal from Tuesday’s win against the Edmonton Oilers feels like it captures the current mood for the Minnesota Wild.

On one hand, it was a very nice play, as Staal looked sharp during a two-goal, one assist performance. The Wild ended up beating the Oilers 3-0; in doing so, they held Connor McDavid pointless. Even with this being a slight lull for McDavid (his three-game pointless streak matches a career-high), that’s impressive stuff by the Wild, particularly Mikko Koivu and Luke Kunin. This now gives what seemed like a desperate, free-falling Wild team two consecutive wins.

On the other hand, an injury happened moments before Staal scored. Jordan Greenway was shaken up by an absolutely thunderous hit before Staal scored:

Unfortunately, that mixture of steps in the right direction with bumps and bruises makes the Wild’s positive developments feel less promising.

While the team announced that Greenway will travel with the Wild to Nashville, Devan Dubnyk has been ruled out of Thursday’s game, and is considered day-to-day. As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, it’s not surprising that Dubnyk is injured. In fact, it’s surprising that the early description is just day-to-day, even with the leeway such a vague descriptor provides. It sure looked like Dubnyk landed hard on the back of his head at the end of that collision.

It also seems that Kevin Fiala has been an unhealthy scratch lately, rather than a healthy one (or maybe it’s a combination of the two, considering the doldrums the Wild were going through?) and he’s been placed on IR.

Most Wild fans probably won’t enjoy a lot of comic relief from the Kaapo Kakko-like name of Kaapo Kähkönen, the goalie who’s been recalled with Dubnyk injured:

The Predators figure to be a tough opponent to contain, as they’ve been scoring with Matt Duchene in the mix, including a 6-1 win against the Ducks on Tuesday. After that, the Wild face a Kings team on Saturday that’s been more competent than some expected.

While the Wild seem to have righted the ship a bit, they’ll face some challenges in making this more than a positive blip, thanks in part to a growing list of injuries.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: Eichel explodes for Sabres; More history for Caps’ Carlson

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

The Sharks ended the first period up 2-0 against the Sabres, so it took quite the surge from Eichel & Co. to win that one 4-3 in OT.

Eichel was involved in all four of Buffalo’s goals, scoring two goals and two assists. That included the game-winner in overtime for the Sabres. The American-born forward ended the night with six shots on goal, a +2 rating, and went 12-10 on faceoffs.

The 22-year-old went two games without a point, but he’s still off to a hot start in 2018-19, as Tuesday pushed Eichel’s totals to 14 points in 10 games.

2. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Minnesota’s showing some signs of life with a two-game winning streak, but some of the joy was muted thanks to Devan Dubnyk leaving the game with an injury after a bad collision.

As ominous as that seems, it has to be a relief for the Wild to see Eric Staal finally have a breakthrough night on Tuesday. Staal scored two goals (including the 1-0 tally, thus the game-winner) and an assist, with those two goals being Staal’s first of the season. The 34-year-old’s been a revelation in Minnesota (peaking with 42 goals and 76 points in 2017-18), and he seemed to give the Wild a pretty sweet deal with his latest contract. Well, it’s a sweet deal if Staal’s game doesn’t sink too much; otherwise, you wonder if they’d be better off moving on and getting younger.

Anyway, this was a nice overall effort from Staal, who also had a +2 rating, five SOG, and went 8-7 on draws.

3. Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

Like the Sabres, the Canucks fell behind early on Tuesday. The Red Wings opened up a 2-0 lead against Vancouver, only for the Canucks to explode with five unanswered goals in the third period.

Horvat contributed three of those goals. While Staal gets the higher star because all of his points came against a goalie (Horvat’s third tally was an empty-netter), it was still a strong night from Horvat.

Similarly to Staal, Horvat came into Tuesday on a quiet start, as Horvat only had two goals and one assists for three points through eight contests. He managed his first career NHL hat trick on Tuesday, pushing him to six points in nine games.

Highlight of the Night

It was already covered here (alongside a fun blooper), but it has to be David Pastrnak‘s between-the-legs goal, right?

Factoids

  • John Carlson cemented his spot alone atop the NHL’s scoring leaders list by generating two goals, pushing him to 20 points on the season as Washington beat Calgary. NHL PR points out some impressive history for Carlson, including that he joined Bobby Orr (twice) and wonderfully old-timey-named Baldy Northcott (in 1932-33) as the only defensemen to lead the league outright in scoring through 20 days. Carlson reached 20 points in 11 games, tying Orr (in 1974-75) as the second-fastest surge to 20 points for a defenseman. Only Paul Coffey hit 20 faster, doing it in 10 games in 1988-89. Sportsnet notes that Carlson’s already off to one of the best Octobers for a defenseman, and the Capitals have three more games left in the month.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 446th NHL win, breaking a tie with Terry Sawchuk for seventh all-time. Henrik Lundqvist is at sixth with 450, while Curtis Joseph ranks at fifth with 454. It should be interesting to see if MAF ends up higher than Lundqvist when they’re both done — which hopefully isn’t anytime soon.
  • Sabres wunderkind Rasmus Dahlin has 10 points through his first 10 games, landing on a short list of defensemen who managed such a short at 20 years old or younger. Another Sabres stat: Eichel scored his sixth overtime goal, already tying the franchise record at 22.

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
BUF 4 – SJS 3 (OT)
FLA 4 – PIT 2
ARI 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
VAN 5 – DET 2
NSH 6 – ANA 1
MIN 3 – EDM 0
LAK 3 – WPG 2
VGK 2 – CHI 1 (SO)
WSH 5 – CGY 3

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Haula highlight this week’s best adds

Welcome to the first Adds/Drops column of the 2019-20 NHL season that actually features me recommending players for you to add/drop in fantasy leagues. The first two columns were preseason previews, but now that the games count, every Monday I’m going to be recommending 10 players who you might want to consider adding and five who you might want to part ways with.

As always, whether you should add/drop any of these players will depend entirely on your situation. You’ll want to evaluate your team needs and what your options are, but this column can help highlight who to look at if you want to make a change.

Players Worth Adding

Trevor Moore, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Moore got his first taste of the NHL last season, scoring two goals and eight points in 25 games. That might not sound impressive, but keep in mind he was only averaging 9:06 minutes per game. This season he’s playing a significantly bigger role and has capitalized on that early on with two goals and three points in three games. He’s not one of the Leafs’ main offensive threats, but he does highlight their depth and is worth taking a chance on.

Oscar Klefbom, Oilers – D: Klefbom typically does decently offensively, but not quite enough to make him worth much consideration in standard leagues. I’m encouraged by how much the Oilers are leaning on him early on though. He averaged 25:27 minutes over his first two contests and is on the top power-play. He’s registered three assists, including two on the power-play, over those first two games. Obviously he’s not going to keep up that pace, but if you’re hurting for defensive help then he might chip in often enough to be a good fill-in.

Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers – RW: The Rangers have an impressive top line duo in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, which has already gotten off to a stunning start. Buchnevich is a significantly less exciting player, but his presence on that line does make him noteworthy.  So far he has two assists in two games while averaging 17:27 minutes, up from his career-high of 15:10 minutes in 2018-19. As long as he’s with Panarin and Zibanejad, Buchnevich will likely be worth owning in most standard leagues.

[Ready for the season? Get the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: When people were talking about rookies going into this season, the focus was often on Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. So far though, Moore and Olofsson are tied for the scoring title. Moore was mentioned above, but Olofsson has even more potential in 2019-20. Olofsson averaged 18:20 minutes per game over his first two contests of 2019-20, which is a crazy amount for a rookie forward to get early on. To put that in perspective, Hughes has averaged 14:48 minutes and Kakko has averaged 14:43 so far. Among other things, Olofsson is playing on the top power-play unit and has scored twice as a result. In short, he’s a great rookie to gamble on.

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Kassian isn’t someone you’re going to want to pick up long-term. He’s been around for a while now and though he does combine grit and skill, he leans far more towards the prior than the latter. The reason why he’s worthy of being on standard fantasy league teams right now is because he’s playing on the second line with Leon Draisaitl. Kassian has a goal and two assists in two games and all of those points have involved Draisaitl. If that line breaks up, then Kassian’s fantasy value could very well plummet, so this is a situation you’ll want to monitor closely.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games last season with Calgary, but the trade to Edmonton should do him a lot of good.  It’s a fresh opportunity and a role he’s more familiar with. With the Flames, Neal fell into a supporting role, averaging 14:57 minutes while he’s averaged 16:50 minutes in two contests with Edmonton. Neal has already scored two goals with the Oilers, which already matches his goal total for the entirety of October 2018.

Sammy Blais, Blues – LW/RW: Blais is one of the players I highlighted during my preseason preview because of how well he had been doing in the exhibition games. He’s carried that momentum into the regular season with two goals and three points in his first two games. Like Moore, Blais’ playing time was very limited in 2018-19, but he’s playing a bigger role this season and is capitalizing on that.

Neal Pionk, Jets – D: Over the summer, Winnipeg lost defensemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot and to add to all that, Dustin Byfuglien isn’t playing because he’s considering retirement. That’s a huge hole in their defense, but they did add one notable defenseman over the summer in Pionk. He came over in the Trouba trade and the Jets have been leaning on him hard, giving him an average of 24:42 minutes over three games, which has contributed to him scoring a goal and an assist. He had a modest (at least by fantasy standards) 26 points in 2018-19, but his expanded role with the Jets coupled with his natural development make him an interesting defenseman this season.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld.]

Erik Haula, Hurricanes – C/LW: Haula broke out in 2017-18 with 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games, but was limited to just 15 contests last season due to injury. It seems many have soured on him in the meantime given that he’s only owned in 15% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s been showing what he can do when healthy. Now with the Hurricanes, he’s scored a goal in each of their first three games while averaging 18:08 minutes.

Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins – C/LW: Galchenyuk had just 19 goals and 41 points in 72 games last season, but he didn’t have much to play off offensively in Arizona. Now that he’s with Pittsburgh, it’s a very different situation. Galchenyuk has seen ice time on the second line with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and if he continues to play with either Malkin or Sidney Crosby, he should improve on those 2018-19 numbers.  So far he has two assists in two games.

Players You May Want To Drop

Gustav Nyquist, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Nyquist is actually off to an okay start with a goal in two games, but I’m discouraged that he’s averaged just 14:13 minutes so far. After the summer the Blue Jackets had, their offensive group isn’t particularly scary, but the plausible silver lining there for Nyquist was that he might be getting a significant role. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case, so I wonder if he will really have much fantasy value.

Eric Staal, Wild – C: Staal has no points, one shot, and a minus-five rating in two games, but as is the case with Nyquist, my bigger concern has been his playing time. He has averaged just 13:02 minutes so far, which is a huge dive from his 18:08 minutes in 2018-19. To put this in perspective, he logged 15:23 minutes or over in 75 of 81 games last season and never got under 13:44 minute in a single contest.  So in other words, each of his first two games of 2019-20 have been lower than any of his games in 2018-19. If Staal’s not going to get top minutes anymore then obviously his value will drop accordingly.  For what it’s worth though, Bruce Boudreau did offer something of a defense.

Read into that as you will, but at the very least you’ll want to monitor this situation closely if you have Staal.

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils – G: Taking Blackwood was a risk to begin with. He doesn’t have much NHL experience and he’ll be competing with Cory Schneider, so it was always a long shot that he would be a favorable option. So far though he’s been particularly rough, posting a 6.58 GAA and .800 save percentage in two games. Obviously it’s still early and he can bounce back, but in a lot of cases, there should be better options available on the free agent market.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blue Jackets – C: Dubois had 27 goals and 61 points in 82 games last season, but he was commonly paired with Panarin. Now that Panarin is in New York, Dubois has lost a valuable linemate and the Blue Jackets didn’t place him with anyone who plays even close to that level. It’s still early of course, but so far Dubois has been limited to no points and one shot in two games. Given how deep centers are to begin with, if you’re going to hold on to a player who is eligible for no other position, you really want them to bring a lot to the table, so even a mild decline on his part would be a significant problem for fantasy owners.

Mats Zuccarello, Wild – RW: Zuccarello did well when he was with the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals and 37 points in 46 games, but it helped that he was averaging 20:01 minutes. Now with Minnesota, he’s gotten just 14:45 minutes per game so far and hasn’t recorded a point. Of course, the points will come eventually, but if the Wild intend to playing him in more of a supporting role, then it’s unlikely that he’ll be as significant an offensive producer as he has been in the past. Keep in mind that when he recorded between 53-61 points in each of three seasons from 2015-16 through 2017-18, he was logging well over 18 minutes per contest.

If you’re looking for more fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld has got you covered, including Michael Finewax’s “The Week Ahead” column.

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Hurricanes need to fill leadership void after Justin Williams steps away

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes once again are looking for leadership – and maybe another captain.

Veteran forward Justin Williams’ decision to step away from the sport leaves them with questions about their captaincy heading into a season in which they will try to build upon their run to the Eastern Conference final.

That means an organization that has gone without a captain – and, for one season, used two of them – must again figure out what it will do with the ”C” this year.

Coach Rod Brind’Amour says he’s not in a rush to hand out a letter.

”It will be a tough hole to fill, but as of now, we’re moving on from Willie as our captain,” forward Jordan Staal said Wednesday, ”and we’ll see where it takes us.”

One of the key questions that hung over the Hurricanes this offseason was whether Williams – a 37-year-old three-time Stanley Cup winner and unrestricted free agent – would re-sign for a 19th NHL season, or if he would retire.

Now that will linger well into the season.

He said earlier this week that he is taking a break from the NHL to start the year because of his ”current indecision” about whether he has the mental and physical commitment to keep playing.

”Be perfectly clear on it: He’s not part of the group. We’re moving on as if he’s not going to be here,” Brind’Amour said. ”If he comes to us in January or February and says, ‘Maybe I want to come back,’ he’ll have a month of practice but it’s not going to catch us by surprise. He’s earned the right to make that decision and for us to somewhat leave that door open, I guess, is a way to look at it.”

That’s the latest twist for Carolina’s drama-filled captaincy that dates back to the Eric Staal trade in February 2016.

The Hurricanes didn’t have anyone wearing the ”C” until 2017-18, when they had defenseman Justin Faulk and Staal share the job with each holding the title for half of what was coach Bill Peters’ final season. After Peters left for Calgary last summer, Brind’Amour tapped his teammate from the Hurricanes’ 2006 Cup-winning team to take the top leadership role and made those two alternates.

Williams thrived in that spot, with his teammates praising the way he held them accountable and engaging fans – and riling up critics – by masterminding the ”Storm Surge” postgame victory celebrations on home ice. Along the way he tallied 23 goals and 30 assists while playing all 82 regular-season games and helping Carolina earn its first playoff berth since 2009.

The Hurricanes upset Washington in their first-round series – with ”Mr. Game 7” assisting on the winning goal in the second overtime of Game 7 – and swept the New York Islanders before they were swept by Boston in the conference final.

This season sets up as a critical crossroads for them. They hope to prove their reconstruction project has staying power and that they weren’t one-year wonders who rode a late-season hot streak into the playoffs.

And with Williams gone for an undetermined amount of time – perhaps permanently – they hope some other players have developed leadership skills that will provide a similarly positive influence over a mostly young team.

”I think as a core, as a group, we’ve got a lot of good kids and a lot of good leaders,” Staal said. ”Usually, as a captain, there’s a lot of guys beside him that are helping him out. I think Willie was a great leader, but as a core, I think there were a lot of great guys that showed up every day ready to work and came into camp (in good) shape and all the stuff that you have to do to create a team that’s going to be competitive every night.”