Nate Schmidt

PHT Morning Skate: Players that need change of scenery; Who should go after Byfuglien?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Here are seven cup contenders that have yet to make a trade. (TSN)

• The Hockey News provides us with a list of seven players that could benefit from a change of scenery. (The Hockey News)

• Sticking with the seven trend: ESPN shares seven trades they’d like to see happen before the trade deadline. (ESPN)

• The Canadiens and Penguins made a four-player minor-league trade. (NHL.com/Canadiens)

Connor McDavid‘s return from injury puts pressure on GM Ken Holland before the trade deadline. (Sportsnet)

• Ever wonder who the top 10 Latvians are in NHL history are? Here’s your answer. (The Hockey Writers)

Artemi Panarin still doesn’t understand why the Blackhawks traded him away in 2017. (Daily Herald)

• Here’s three teams that should trade for Dustin Byfuglien. (The Score)

• Who could the Blue Jackets move before Monday’s trade deadline? (The Cannon)

Cale Makar and Ryan Graves have been a strong pairing for the Avs. (Mile High Hockey)

• The Alec Martinez pairing could push Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore onto the same pairing. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• How has the Jason Zucker trade affected Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov? (Hockey Wilderness)

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.

Trade: Kings send Alec Martinez to Golden Knights for draft picks

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The Los Angeles Kings continued to sell off veteran players on Wednesday afternoon while the Vegas Golden Knights got their defensive upgrade.

The Kings have traded veteran defenseman Alec Martinez to the Golden Knights in exchange for a 2020 second-round draft pick as well as a 2021 second-round draft pick that had originally belonged to the St. Louis Blues.

Martinez is signed for one more season at a $4 million salary cap hit, while the Kings are retaining zero salary in the move.

Let’s break this down.

For the Golden Knights

They definitely need some help on the back end. Goal prevention has been a big issue for them this season and it’s been a two-part problem. For one, the goaltending has not been great. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t been as consistently good as he has been the past few years, while they still have some major question marks with the depth behind him. But it’s not just on the players in the crease.

They also needed some depth on the blue line in front of them for this season and beyond. Before acquiring Martinez they only had three NHL defensemen under contract for next season (Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, and Brayden McNabb). At 32 years old (and with some injury issues the past two seasons) Martinez is not the same player he was a few years ago when he was a key cog in a championship team in Los Angeles, but he should still be an upgrade to a defense that needs some extra help. He is no longer a player you want to rely on to be a top-pairing player (his offense is all but gone and his defensive impact has declined), but the Golden Knights shouldn’t require that level of play from him. He should sitll be an upgrade for the second or third pair, a role that he is probably best suited for on a contending team at this stage of his career.

[MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

For the Kings

It is simply something that needed to be done.

This is part of the Kings’ ongoing attempt to turn the page on this core and continue selling off veteran players for future assets. Martinez spent 11 seasons with the team and was a significant contributor to a championship team (scoring a Stanley Cup clinching goal in overtime), but he was one of the veteran players on the team that could bring a solid return. And he did.

The two draft picks now give the Kings 20 draft picks over the next two draft classes, including seven in the first two rounds and 11 over the first three rounds. They also had nine picks in the 2019 draft, including four picks among the top-50. The best way to maximize a return on draft picks for a rebuilding team is to give yourself as many chances as possible to find a player. The Kings will have done that with with three classes between 2019 and 2021, while still having a chance to add even more before Monday’s trade deadline (3 p.m. ET).

The Kings have already traded Tyler Toffoli (Vancouver), Jack Campbell, and Kyle Cliffort (both to Toronto) over the past couple of weeks.

MORE KINGS TRADE COVERAGE:
Kings send Tyler Toffoli to Canucks
Kings trade Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford to Maple Leafs
• Kings face key stage of rebuild

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: Mangiapane tricks Ducks; Lightning win record 11th straight

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THREE STARS

1. Andrew Mangiapane, Flames

The Flames’ 6-4 win over the Ducks was powered by Mangiapane’s first career hat trick. Two of his three goals came during a third period where Calgary entered it trailing 3-1 and scored five times en route to the win. He would register an assist on Matthew Tkachuk‘s 20th of the season to add to a career-best four-point night. The hat trick is also the first by a Flames player this season.

2. Antti Raanta, Coyotes

Arizona won for the second straight game behind Conor Garland‘s 20th goal of the season and 28 saves from Raanta. The 2-1 win over the Islanders gives the Coyotes a winning streak for the first time since Dec. 31-Jan. 7 and also puts them into a tie for the final Western Conference wild card spot. Raanta’s been in net for both wins and has stopped 64 of his last 66 shots faced.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning

The Lightning set a franchise record with their 11th consecutive win by topping the Avalanche, 4-3, in overtime. During the extra period, it was Kucherov beating Pavel Francouz five-hold to keep Tampa red-hot. How hot? They are 23-2-1 since Dec. 21.

AVS LOSE RANTANEN

Adding to the bad night against Tampa, the Avalanche lost Mikko Rantanen to an upper-body injury in the second period. He’ll be out for “weeks.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

• Here’s Alex Ovechkin catching up with old teammate Nate Schmidt:

• They don’t see each other often, but the temperature certainly rose when the Avs and Lightning met:

STATS OF THE NIGHT

Jonathan Huberdeau picked up his 50th assist of the season in the win over the Sharks. He now joins Aleksander Barkov as the only two players in Panthers franchise history to record multiple 50-assists seasons.

• Via the NHL, Matthew Tkachuk is now the fourth player in Flames history to record three 20-goal seasons before his 23rd birthday. Sean Monahan (4 times), Robert Reichel (3 times) and Jarome Iginla (3 times) are the only others on the list.

SCORES
Coyotes 2, Islanders 1
Panthers 5, Sharks 3
Flames 6, Ducks 4
Golden Knights 3, Capitals 2
Lightning 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Since losing ’18 Cup Final, Golden Knights look more like Caps

Almost 18 months since the Vegas Golden Knights’ improbable inaugural season ended, they look much more like the team that vanquished them in the Stanley Cup Final.

If you can’t beat ’em, be more like ’em.

Once a ragtag group relying on more will than skill, Vegas is beginning to resemble the Washington Capitals they faced in the 2018 final. The Golden Knights don’t have carbon copies of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, but they added some serious skill in forwards Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone and could easily follow the Capitals’ championship model.

“They’ve done a great job,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think they’ve added another layer. I thought when we beat them, we were a little bit deeper team, especially up front. Then adding Stone, adding Pacioretty, signing Stastny – those are three really good players, so they have a whole new layer of offensive, really solid players on their team. In theory, I think they’re a better team than they were.”

The Golden Knights who went to the final in their expansion season had a first line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith and leaned heaviest on defensemen Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland. All those players remain but have the pressures eased off them, given internal promotions and external additions.

Forward William Carrier, one of more than a dozen players left from the 2018 final, said this is a better team.

“Right now, we’re a more talented team,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s a different team. We’re a more skilled team than we were back then. But back then we had that air about (us) – we were the hardest working team in the league. I want us to get back to that. We were a fast team, we were a quick team that first year and everything went our way. We had a lot of puck luck and a lot of good things that happened that first year.”

Those good things stopped when the Capitals wore down the Golden Knights with their depth and won the series in five games. Then, last spring, Vegas got knocked out in the first round when a blown call in Game 7 against San Jose snowballed into a disastrous third period.

Bouncing back from two tough playoff exits is another lesson the Golden Knights can learn from the Capitals, who kept getting stopped in the second round or earlier before breaking through and winning it all.

“We’ve had some disappointments,” said Kelly McCrimmon, who took over for George McPhee as Knights GM last summer. “That’s your ultimate opportunity to evaluate and to learn and to assess where you need to be better. … There’s things you need to do to get you to the playoffs, there’s things you need to do to get you through the playoffs. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been a playoff team both years, we’ve gained that experience.”

Capitals winger Tom Wilson looks at Vegas as a team built for the playoffs because of its size, skill and toughness. It’s almost like gazing into a mirror.

“They have a really stable team – they can establish all four lines and roll,” Washington’s Jakub Vrana said. “They play hard, and they work hard for every inch of the ice. That’s what’s been winning them games. We do the same thing.”

Blending the work ethic and the grittiness that got Vegas into the final with the talent that could get it over the top is now the challenge. Gallant doesn’t shy away from the comparison to the Capitals, who perfected that mix.

“The work comes before the skill, and when you get your talented guys and your skilled guys working real hard, then that’s when you’re going to have the right team,” Gallant said. “I think the team in Washington, that’s what they do. They’ve got some real talented hockey players, but when they work hard, they’re a great team.”

The next stage in becoming a consistently great team is integrating homegrown players, like Cody Glass and Nicolas Hague, who were picks from the Golden Knights’ first draft in 2017. Vegas is at the salary cap like the NHL’s best teams and isn’t afraid of the big expectations that come with that.

“We don’t feel or act or believe we’re an expansion team,” McCrimmon said. “We’re in Year 3 as a franchise, and like every other team, always trying to get better, always trying to win more games, always trying to be a playoff team and have success.”

FIRST TIMER

Lifelong Maple Leafs fan Ron Ruckstuhl, 52, was diagnosed with Lewy dody disease three years ago and told he had five to seven years to live. In August, son Joshuah sent a tweet to retired NHLer Paul Bissonnette hoping his dad could attend a game in Toronto for the first time.

“I’ve waited 52 years for something like this,” Ron said.

As part of the “NHL First Timer” video series, the league surprised Ruckstuhl at his house earlier this month and took him and sons Joshuah and Ryan to the Leafs’ game Nov. 5 against Los Angeles.

“I’d never seen my dad smile and laugh (like that),” said Joshuah, 28, who is his father’s full-time caregiver. “For a little bit, you didn’t realize he was sick. You could see him forget about being sick for just a little bit.”

The league is releasing video of the occasion Wednesday to mark World Kindness Day.

“This is what it’s all about,” NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said. “To be able to put joy in somebody’s life like Ron’s and to be able to show his story to the world is quite an honor and it makes me proud to be a part of the NHL.”

NO LONE WOLF

Phil Kessel is fitting in just fine with the young Arizona Coyotes and has come a long way from playing in the shadow of – and winning two titles with – Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin in Pittsburgh.

“He fed off those guys in Pittsburgh really well,” said coach Rick Tocchet, who also was an assistant with the Penguins. “Sometimes he was under the radar, and he’d come up with some big goals because (opponents focused on) Malkin or Crosby. Now there’s a little bit more focus on him.”

Tocchet said Kessel has done more leading because he recognizes, at 32, he should. It’s working.

“Phil, the young guys love him and he’s taking pressure off guys,” Tocchet said. “When some guys aren’t scoring, to be honest with you, the media are not on the guy as much because Phil takes that pressure off. So he does take the pressure or the burden off some guys if they’re not scoring.”

PHT Morning Skate: Are Bruins best team? Seabrook’s difficult situation

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Capitals are allowing themselves to be inspired by the World Series Champions, the Washington Nationals. (NHL)

• Joe Haggerty argues that the Boston Bruins are the best team in the NHL. (NBC Sports Boston)

Joel Armia always had potential, but he’s finally starting to produce. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Devils’ goaltending is a problem, but it should get better in the near future. (All About the Jersey)

• There’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding Nolan Patrick‘s health. (NBC Sports Philly)

Mitch Marner is confident that his production will start increasing sooner than later. (Toronto Star)

• Who will the Pens use their cap space on? (Pensburgh)

• Veteran Brent Seabrook is currently in a tough situation with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Here are three St. Louis Blues that can step up to fill the void left by Vladimir Tarasenko. (St. Louis Game-Time)

Troy Terry‘s been playing some better hockey for the Anaheim Ducks. (Anaheim Calling)

• Now that Nate Schmidt is back in the Golden Knights lineup, that should allow Shea Theodore to produce more offense. (Sinbin.Vegas)

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.