Mirco Mueller

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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.

With Hughes in Devils camp, it’s easy to overlook Ty Smith

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — With Jack Hughes in the New Jersey Devils’ development camp, it’s easy to overlook Ty Smith.

Hughes was the No. 1 overall selection in the draft last month and much is expected of the playmaking center. It’s almost certain he will be on the Devils’ roster when the regular season opens in October and the packed-crowd at the team’s training rink in the Prudential Center roared on Wednesday when he was introduced before a four-team, 3-on-3 competition.

Much like the other three dozen young players at the weeklong gathering, the 19-year-old Smith received polite applause.

What people tend to forget is Smith was the Devils’ first-round pick a year ago – 17th overall – and he nearly made the roster after a tremendous training camp.

A year later, Smith may be ready to take that next step. The puck-moving defenseman has added about 8 pounds since last year and he is coming off a great season in the Western Hockey League. He had seven goals and a career-high 62 assists, the second-highest single-season total in league history.

Devils coach John Hynes said Smith appears to have matured in the past year, noting his body is thicker and he looks fit.

”He is not a wide-eyed kid here that is taking everything in for the first time,” Hynes said of the WHL defenseman of the year. ”It’s the second time he is coming into the culture of what we are doing. He sees the needs and knows what you are talking about. He seems a lot more confident. I don’t want to say on a mission, but he seems a little more focused as opposed to taking everything in for the first time.”

Hynes expects Smith to be a motivated player when training camp starts in September.

Smith will be trying to break into a veteran defensive unit. It’s led by captain Andy Greene and recently acquired Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. Sami Vatanen, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller and Connor Carrick are returning from last season’s team.

Despite being a little bigger and stronger, Smith doesn’t believe he has lost any quickness or agility.

”I like to get the puck and give the puck to the forwards,” Smith said. ”My dad always tells me ‘Get the puck to the skill and then support it.’ They’ll make the play and then join the rush in the second wave and create offense.”

Smith refuses to speculate when he will play in the NHL. He saw action in the preseason last season and was sent back for another year of junior hockey, helping the Chiefs get to the semifinal round of the WHL playoffs.

”I feel confident in myself, that I can play,” he said. ”Whenever the Devils want me to. It’s up to them. I have to be the best I can possibly be and come out and compete, compete for a job. It’s not easy to make the NHL. It’s up to them.”

NOTES: Hughes’ team won the 3-on-3 competition, posting a 1-0 win over a squad that included Joey Anderson, his roommate for the camp and a player who saw some time with the Devils last season. … Xavier Bernard, a fourth-round pick in 2018, had the only goal in the deciding game. Akira Schmid, a Swiss native who was a fifth-round pick last year, had the shutout.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Binnington, Trouba rank as most interesting salary arbitration cases

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NHL players usually don’t make it all the way through the salary arbitration process, but the deadlines involved often push teams, players, and agents to hash something out — sometimes within hours of a potentially contentious hearing.

Few of the 40 players who elected to go to salary arbitration will actually make it all the way there; Malcolm Subban‘s already off the list as of Tuesday, July 9. Still, with names like Jordan Binnington, Jacob Trouba, David Rittich, and Will Butcher among those who filed, the list is relevant, whether the deadlines speed up the process or the teams face the unenviable task of talking down their respective values without burning bridges.

You can see the list, with dates, at the bottom of this post. It’s notable not just that Binnington is on it, but that he’s set to go on July 20, the first day of a process that runs through Aug. 4.

Before you get to the full list, consider some of the most intriguing players who filed.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Jordan Binnington: As we’ve discussed at PHT, it’s difficult to find easy parallels for the Stanley Cup success story, who will turn 26 on July 11.

Binnington was sensational as a driving force of the Blues’ historic turnaround to their first-ever Stanley Cup, going 24-5-1 (!) with a sparkling .927 save percentage during the regular season. While his postseason save percentage dipped to .914, he was a rock for the Blues, getting stronger as each series went along. That point was made clearest in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, as he made the difference as St. Louis beat the Bruins in Boston.

Binnington’s side could easily lead with the argument: “Well, how much is a Stanley Cup worth to you?”

The Blues’ side isn’t outrageous, either.

Binnington now only has 33 regular-season games (plus 26 playoff games) on his NHL resume, which isn’t much for a soon-to-be 26-year-old. Part of Binnington’s Cinderella story is that he struggled to gain opportunities, even at lower levels. While fairly impressive stats in the AHL and at other levels argue that Binnington probably deserved more looks, St. Louis could still argue his side down based on a small sample size.

It’s tough to imagine the Blues wanting to go too deep into pessimism here, though, and it would probably behoove them to strike a deal before an arbitrator gets to see GIFs of Binnington making breathtaking, Cup-winning saves.

(GIFs should totally be involved in these processes, in my opinion.)

Quite a few Blues runs have been derailed by bad goaltending, leaving fans to wonder what might happen if they finally got that guy who could make stops. Cap management is important, but at some point, you just have to stop messing with a good thing … even if it remains to be seen if Binnington can come close to duplicating this success.

Jacob Trouba: The Rangers gained Trouba’s rights, but being that he’s one of the rare players to go deep into the process, as Trouba did with Jets in 2018, New York probably realizes that it might not be easy to nickel-and-dime the defenseman.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that a contract could be mammoth: something in the seven year range term-wise, with a cap hit that could be well above $7M.

Trouba’s time with Winnipeg has occasionally dulled his stats, as he’s battled Dustin Byfuglien and even Tyler Myers for certain opportunities. Perhaps the Rangers could sand away a hearing with a focus on previous efforts, but with Trouba managing 50 points this past season, that might not go far. Really, the Rangers probably want to lock him up long-term, so it would be surprising if they’d want to risk souring anything with Trouba, especially since the Jets situation spoiled long ago.

The Rangers also have to realize that Trouba is comfortable exploring whatever limited options his RFA rights provide.

David Rittich: Is Rittich the Flames’ goalie of the future, or will he lose out even to Cam Talbot next season? “Big Save Dave” showed some flashes of brilliance, yet he ceded key late starts to Mike Smith in 2018-19, and his .911 save percentage won’t set hearings on fire.

Hearing or not, his next contract should be intriguing. Would Calgary want to try to find a bargain by handing out a little more term, or would both sides be comfortable with a one or two-year “prove it” type deal?

Will Butcher: The Devils would likely hope that arbitrators use less sophisticated stats (Butcher was a -17 in 2018-19) than the fancy variety, as he was impressive from an analytics standpoint, especially compared to Devils teammates.

With 30 points and a healthy 19:16 TOI average, Butcher is clearly an emerging talent. It might be worth the risk to lock him up for more term than what is normally handed out in hearings where a compromise is the goal, rather than a long-term pact.

There are some other interesting names on this list. How much of the Bruins’ precious cap space will be eaten up by Danton Heinen? What goes to current Ranger Pavel Buchnevich, not to mention former Ranger and Trouba trade element Neal Pionk?

Here’s the full list, with dates:

July 20
Joel Armia
Jordan Binnington
Jason Dickinson
Alex Iafallo
Brock McGinn
Malcolm Subban (signed)

July 21
Andrew Copp

July 22
Zach Aston-Reese
Christian Djoos
Ville Husso
MacKenzie Weegar

July 23
Evan Rodrigues

July 24
Neal Pionk
Oskar Sundqvist

July 25
Connor Carrick
Jacob Trouba

July 26
Colton Sissons

July 27
Sam Bennett
Chase DeLeo

July 28
Mirco Mueller

July 29
Pavel Buchnevich
David Rittich

July 30
Scott Laughton

July 31
J.T. Compher

August 1
Remi Elie
Ryan Lomberg
Chandler Stephenson

August 2
Will Butcher
Charles Hudon
Linus Ullmark

August 3
Danton Heinen
Artturi Lehkonen

August 4
Sheldon Dries
Joel Edmundson
Anton Forsberg
Rocco Grimaldi
Jake McCabe
Rinat Valiev

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.

Binnington, Trouba, Heinen among 40 players to file for salary arbitration

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Friday was the deadline for arbitration eligible restricted free agents to file for salary arbitration.

There were 40 players that elected to go that route.

The most notable players to file were St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup winning goalie Jordan Binnington, recently acquired New York Rangers defender Jacob Trouba, and Boston Bruins forward Danton Heinen.

Binnington’s arbitration case would be by far the most interesting one if it reaches that point.

On one hand, he is still a bit of an unknown having played just 59 games (regular season and playoffs combined) in the NHL at the age of 25, so anything the Blues give him on a long-term contract would be a bit of a gamble. But he did help turn the Blues’ season around and backstopped the team to its ever first ever Stanley Cup so he has a pretty strong argument in his corner.

Hearing dates have yet to be set, but teams can continue to work on new contracts with each player in an effort to avoid arbitration.

Most of these players will end up being signed before they have to reach arbitration as neither side ever wants to go through the unpleasantness that those hearings can create.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Anaheim Ducks
Chase De Leo

Boston Bruins
Danton Heinen

Buffalo Sabres
Remi Elie
Jake McCabe
Evan Rodrigues
Linus Ullmark

Calgary Flames
Sam Bennett
Ryan Lomberg
David Rittich
Rinat Valiev

Carolina Hurricanes
Anton Forsberg
Brock McGinn

Colorado Avalanche
J.T. Compher
Sheldon Dries
Ryan Graves

Dallas Stars
Jason Dickinson

Florida Panthers
MacKenzie Weegar

Los Angeles Kings
Alex Iafallo

Montreal Canadiens
Joel Armia
Charles Hudon
Artturi Lehkonen

Nashville Predators
Rocco Grimaldi
Colton Sissons

New Jersey Devils
Will Butcher
Connor Carrick
Mirco Mueller

New York Rangers
Pavel Buchnevich
Jacob Trouba

Philadelphia Flyers
Scott Laughton

Pittsburgh Penguins
Zach Aston-Reese

St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington
Joel Edmundson
Zach Sanford
Oskar Sundqvist

Tampa Bay Lightning
Cedric Paquette (signed after filing)

Vegas Golden Knights
Malcolm Subban

Washington Capitals
Christian Djoos
Chandler Stephenson

Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Copp
Neal Pionk

UPDATE: The NHLPA has released the schedule for these hearings which run from July 20 to Aug. 4.

Devils say Mueller didn’t suffer concussion or neck injury from scary fall

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When New Jersey Devils defenseman Mirco Mueller suffered a frightening fall during Wednesday’s game against the Flames, many feared the worst. He was stretchered off after that incident, at least showing that he was able to give the “thumbs up,” but it was still a pretty scary scene.

From the sound of the latest update, maybe it looked worse than it really was?

Devils coach John Hynes said that, somehow, Mueller didn’t suffer a concussion nor a neck injury from that fall with Michael Frolik. Instead, Hynes described it as “basically a left shoulder injury right now,” according to Amanda Stein of the team’s website.

” … For as bad as the hit looked and what we all thought possibly could happen, there was really good news on that,” Hynes said. “It’s nice to see him not be too injured, and a left shoulder injury coming out of that is a real positive.”

Indeed, it’s pretty hard to believe that Mueller, 23, may only end up dealing with a shoulder issue from that moment. (You can see the collision and fall in the video above this post’s headline.)

Mueller, the 18th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, has been making some headway since being traded to the Devils from the San Jose Sharks in 2017. After generating four points and averaging 16:41 ice time per game in 28 contests last season, Mueller’s managed 10 points in 47 games this season, logging a career-high 18:09 TOI per game in 2018-19. Here’s hoping this injury isn’t too big of a setback for a defenseman who seems to be establishing himself as an NHL regular.

This isn’t the only bit of injury news for the Devils this week, as the team announced that star Taylor Hall underwent knee surgery.

New Jersey hasn’t officially announced that either Mueller or Hall are done for the season, but with little but pride to play for, it would be surprising to see either back before 2019-20.

Honestly, it’s promising that such a possibility is even being considered for Mueller, considering how bad his fall into the boards looked the moment it happened.

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.