Pre-game reading: Who are the top 31 prospects for the 2017 NHL draft?

— Up top, the Washington Capitals are the next contestants on, Who Can Beat the Blue Jackets? 

— Who are the top 31 prospects for the 2017 NHL draft? International Scouting Services has made its latest list, and it’s still topped by Nolan Patrick. “The biggest risers among prospects in the top 10 in ISS’s January draft rankings – compared to December – are Nico Hischier and Casey Mittelstadt. Hischier, a right winger who plays for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, turned heads at the WJC with four goals and seven points in five games for his native Switzerland. As a result, Hischier rose from the No. 8-ranked prospect a month ago all the way to No. 3. Mittelstadt, a centre who’s playing high school hockey in Minnesota and has committed to the University of Minnesota next year, went from No. 12 up to No. 6.” (Yahoo Sports)

— An interesting Q&A with Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who used to be a public defender. “The plus side is you’re helping people. You feel good about that. The sad side is you get de-sensitized to some of the trouble they’re in, over and over. That’s the reality of it. The most sobering place, though, the reality check in becoming a defense attorney, was every time I had to go visit somebody in jail. That’s the eye-opener. It’s bars. It’s chains. It’s fences. It’s locks. It’s confinement. The one thing is, I know I got to leave every time when I left there. Everybody I was visiting wasn’t leaving. That’s pretty tough.” (Sports Illustrated)

— After a tough 2015-16 split between the Hurricanes and Rangers, Eric Staal is having quite the bounce-back season for the Minnesota Wild. “We’re winning a lot of games and I’m having fun. The transition, no question, has gone well for me. We have a long way to go, half a season, but I’m on a good team that has had a good start and is in a great position. It’s fun to come to work.” The 32-year-old really does look like the “Eric Staal he was in the past,” and he’s a big reason the Wild are 23-9-4. (The News & Observer)

— The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup with a helping hand from a number of players that came up from AHL Wilkes-Barre. The Baby Pens play the same system as the big club, and that really helps smooth the transition, according to defenseman David Warsofsky. “It’s a pretty complicated system. If you don’t know it right away, it can be difficult to play. When you keep the same thing at both levels, it helps out a lot.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

— The San Jose Sharks will honor former members of the California Seals on Saturday. The Seals were part of the NHL’s 1967 expansion. Granted, they weren’t a very successful part of it, but they’re the only NHL team in history that Tom Hanks ever sold hotdogs and sodas for, so they had that going for them. (Mercury News)

Enjoy the games!

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    Oilers have a decision to make with Jesse Puljujarvi


    It may soon be time for the Edmonton Oilers to send Jesse Puljujarvi to the AHL.

    Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft, logged just 9:14 of ice time in last night’s 3-1 loss to Columbus. He finished with no shots and a team-worst Corsi of 23 percent at even strength. The 18-year-old winger also took a holding penalty in the first period, which the Blue Jackets turned into a power-play goal.

    Frankly, there were times when he looked a little lost out there.

    Granted, he was hardly the only Oiler who struggled against the NHL’s hottest team. It was not a good night for veteran wingers Benoit Pouliot or Jordan Eberle either.

    But Puljujarvi has only played seven games since the start of December. He only has one goal in 27 games, and he clearly hasn’t earned the trust of head coach Todd McLellan.


    A few weeks ago, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said sending Puljujarvi to the AHL was, indeed, a possibility.

    “This is an age-old dilemma,” said Chiarelli. “You have to balance the development at playing eight minutes (in the NHL) versus 15 minutes or 20 minutes somewhere else.”

    The Oilers have three games left on their road trip — Thursday in Boston, Saturday in New Jersey, and Sunday in Ottawa.

    At practice this morning, Puljujarvi skated on the fourth line with Anton Lander and Mark Letestu.

    The Blackhawks have new lines again, as trade speculation heats up


    Marian Hossa will be back in the Blackhawks’ lineup tomorrow versus Buffalo. After sitting five games due to injury (and watching his team win just once), Hossa practiced today on a line with one familiar face, Jonathan Toews, and one new one, winger Spencer Abbott.

    Abbott was recalled yesterday from AHL Rockford. The undrafted 28-year-old has eight goals in 30 games for the IceHogs. He only has one game of NHL experience, and just 5:16 of ice time, which he got with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013.

    On the thought of playing with Hossa and Toews, Abbott told reporters today, “It’s a little bit nerve-racking.”

    In a related story, there is speculation that GM Stan Bowman is in the market for a winger — including one trade rumor involving Colorado’s Jarome Iginla.

    It’s only January, but Iginla is already being asked about it.

    “The deadline is still a couple of months off, so lots of things can change, but that’s part of the game and part of sports, and it’s also good for an organization, teams at the deadline, whether they’re in or out, to try to get assets back,” said Iginla, per the Globe and Mail. “I know how that works.”

    Of course, as noted by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, Iginla would be a tough add for the Blackhawks given their salary-cap situation.

    How to improve his team, with limited cap space, is just the latest big challenge for Bowman. If the prolific line of Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin is to stay together, the ‘Hawks will need to find someone to play with Toews and Hossa. The captain has skated with a whole host of linemates this season, and he’s only managed six goals and 12 assists in 31 games, putting him on pace for what would be a career-low 42 points.

    And even if the ‘Hawks can find that someone, internally or externally, there would still be questions about the bottom six. Tomorrow against the Sabres, a third line of Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero and Richard Panik is expected, with a fourth line of Andrew Desjardins, Dennis Rasmussen, and Vinnie Hinostroza.

    Read more: Blackhawks banking on improvement from rookies

    Coyotes scouts were ‘unanimous’ in wanting Burmistrov


    Alexander Burmistrov won’t play for the Arizona Coyotes tonight in Vancouver, but the 25-year-old forward could be in the lineup this weekend, once he gets his visa sorted out.

    Coyotes GM John Chayka is looking forward to seeing what he’s got, after Burmistrov was claimed off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on Monday.

    “He’s a guy our scouts for a long time have identified as someone they think has got more potential than what he’s shown,” Chayka said Tuesday, per the Coyotes website. “(Claiming him) was unanimous across the board with our scouts, which is actually fairly rare.”

    That’s interesting, because Burmistrov has yet to score his first goal of the season. He played 23 games for the Jets and managed just two assists.

    Granted, he didn’t get a ton of ice time, and he played mostly with tough guy Chris Thorburn and rookie Brandon Tanev. The Jets didn’t have a top-six spot for him, now that youngsters Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers are cemented in scoring roles.

    “Alex and I had a number of conversations about what he was hoping to have here, I just had other players ahead of him and the role he was looking for wasn’t here,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said, per CBCNews.ca. “So he’ll get a chance then to go and kind of reinvent … maybe not reinvent himself, maybe he gets that opportunity he’s been looking for to go and play with some of the top guys and get some power-play minutes.”

    Burmistrov does have talent. That’s why he was drafted eighth overall in 2008. However, he’s only managed 30 goals in 298 NHL games, and most of those came when he was younger, before he went to the KHL for two years.

    A pending restricted free agent, Burmistrov may be headed back to the KHL if he doesn’t find his game in Arizona. The Coyotes have nothing to lose by giving him a shot. Already 15 points back of a wild-card spot, they’ll need a miracle to make the playoffs.

    Another day, another team: Boucher gets claimed by Canucks


    The Vancouver Canucks have claimed forward Reid Boucher off waivers from the New Jersey Devils.

    Boucher, 23, has already been claimed once this season, by the Nashville Predators. But the Devils claimed him back shortly thereafter, then put him on waivers again, hoping to get him down to the AHL.

    Enter the Canucks, who are currently without winger Jannik Hansen due to injury. They’ve also lost winger Derek Dorsett (neck surgery) for the season. And yet another winger of theirs, Anton Rodin, is still getting back into game shape after tweaking his knee in the preseason.

    Boucher was a prolific scorer in junior, and he’s been a good scorer in the AHL; however, he’s yet to break through at the NHL level. The Michigan native really had to work on his skating after the Devils drafted him in the fourth round back in 2011, and that may still be keeping him back.

    In 85 games for the Devils and Predators, Boucher has 12 goals and 18 assists. Last season, he had 19 goals in just 34 games for Albany.