Joey Alfieri

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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.

Dzingel adds speed, scoring to Hurricanes lineup

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The Carolina Hurricanes have added some speed and scoring to their lineup, as they’ve inked forward Ryan Dzingel to a reasonable two-year, $6.75 million contract.

“Ryan has proven that he can be an impact player offensively, putting up bigger numbers over each of his three full-time NHL seasons,” Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said in a release. “His speed, skill and vision make him an excellent fit for our forward group and our style of play. At 27, he’s just entering his prime and certainly had options coming off a 26-goal season, so we’re happy he’s chosen to be a part of the Carolina Hurricanes.”

The 27-year-old split last season between the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets. He had 22 goals and 22 assists in 57 games with the Sens and he added four goals and 12 points in 21 games with the Jackets after the trade deadline.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Dzingel struggled to adjust to his new team after the trade and he also served as a healthy scratch in the playoffs on a couple of occasions. The Hurricanes are banking on him fitting in to their young, fast lineup. The question is whether or not they can get another couple of 25-goal seasons out of him before this contract expires.

Carolina has already lost Micheal Ferland to Vancouver in free agency and Justin Williams remains unsigned, so it’s unclear if he’ll be returning to the team at this point. That means that Dzingel will play a significant role on this team going forward.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: 10 offseason lessons; Mike Smith has something to prove

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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.

• How can the Blue Jackets get their hands on Golden Knights forward Nikita Gusev? (The Cannon)

• Here’s an in-depth look at what the Bruins are getting in Brett Ritchie. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• Why was the Canadiens power play so bad during the regular season? (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Hurricanes have made some changes to their scouting staff. (News & Observer)

• The Panthers need Aaron Ekblad to emerge as one of the best defenders in the NHL. (The Rat Trick)

Justin Schultz presents an interesting dilemma for the Pittsburgh Penguins, per Adam Gretz. (Pensburgh)

• Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay condo is on the market. It can be yours for a cool $1.695 million dollars. (Detroit News)

• Don’t be surprised if the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres end up being perfect trade partners. (Die by the Blade)

• 10 lessons we learned this offseason. (ESPN)

• The Kings didn’t make any significant moves this offseason, so don’t be surprised if they take a patient approach. (The Hockey News)

• The Toronto Maple Leafs were the only team to invest anything into prospect Justin Brazeau, and he wants to reward them. (Sportsnet)

• Here are the Blues top 10 moments from the 2018-19 season. (Bleedin Blue)

• Could Victor Soderstrom break camp with the Arizona Coyotes? (Five for Howling)

Mike Smith has a lot to prove now that he’s with the Edmonton Oilers. (Oilers Nation)

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.

Five non-playoff teams that could make postseason in 2020

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The New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars all had something in common in 2019. They all went from being non-playoff teams in 2018 to making it to the postseason last year. So if that scenario were to repeat itself next season, who would the new five playoff teams be?

There’s no denying that the current salary cap system has created way too much parity in the NHL over the last few years. It’s not difficult to envision five non-playoff teams sneak into the postseason at all, because a lot of these teams are so evenly matched.

So which non-playoff teams do we expect to make it to the postseason in 2020?

Florida Panthers: The Panthers made a couple of significant acquisitions in free agency this summer, as they added franchise netminder Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Brett Connolly. Signing Bobrovksy was huge because it addressed the team’s biggest need. Roberto Luongo couldn’t stay healthy anymore and James Reimer simply wasn’t getting the job done. The Panthers also have several offensive weapons at their disposal, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck. They could make a lot of noise in 2019-20.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens put up 96 points last year and still missed out on the playoffs, but there were plenty of positives for them to build on. First, Max Domi‘s adjustment to Montreal was seamless. He fit like a glove. Secondly, Carey Price and Shea Weber were able to stay healthy down the stretch. That will be the biggest key for the Habs in 2019-20. Getting sophomore forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi to contribute more offensively could also propel them into a playoff spot.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers got off to a bad start last year for a few reasons, but none more obvious than their mediocre goaltending. Once Carter Hart came into the picture, he managed to settle things down between the pipes. Avoiding a sophomore slump will be key for him if the Flyers are going to get back into the postseason, but they clearly have a talented enough roster to get themselves in.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

New York Rangers: The Rangers have been incredibly aggressive with their roster since sending a letter out to their fans outlining their plan to rebuild. Not only did they luck into getting Kappo Kakko in the NHL Entry Draft, they also found a way to sign the most dynamic free agent on the market, Artemi Panarin. The biggest question mark on this team is on defense, as they have big money committed to Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal and Brendan Smith. In goal, Henrik Lundqvist isn’t the same player he used to be but Alexandar Georgiev has the ability to fill in whenever King Henrik needs a break.

Chicago Blackhawks: Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has made tweaks to his roster this summer. He’s added Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Andrew Shaw via trade and he also signed Robin Lehner in free agency. The core group of players is still around and they can still contribute at a high enough level to help the ‘Hawks get into the postseason. But the West is going to be competitive this year, so the Blackhawks will have to stay pretty consistent throughout the year.

Honorable mention: The New Jersey Devils have added P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes to their roster, so seeing them improve by a wide margin wouldn’t be surprising. There’s still big questions surrounding the team’s defense and goaltending, but they were a playoff team two years ago. They could definitely be one of the biggest surprises in 2019-20. For now, they’re the sixth-likeliest team to go from not being in the playoffs to making it again.

MORE: 5 playoff teams that could miss postseason in 2020

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.

Bruins give Heinen two-year, $5.6 million extension

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The Boston Bruins didn’t make any splashes during free agency mainly because they had to focus on bringing back their own restricted free agents. Well, on Tuesday, they managed to sign one of those players to a new contract.

The team announced the signing of forward Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million extension. The two sides were scheduled to go to arbitration on Aug. 3, but that will no longer be necessary.

The Bruins drafted the 24-year-old in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he’s played two full seasons for Boston. He scored 16 goals and 47 points in 77 games during his rookie year, and 11 goals and 34 points in 77 games last season. He added two goals and eight points in 24 games during the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

Heinen has the ability to slide up and down the lineup and he provides the Bruins with another depth scoring option.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

What does this mean for their current cap situation?

The Bruins now have just over $7.353 million in cap space remaining to sign RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Clearly, that won’t be enough money to get both players signed, but the Bruins currently have 23 players on their active roster, which means they can send a couple of players to the minors to open up more space.

They currently have seven defenseman signed, so adding McAvoy and Carlo would bring them up to nine, which is way too many anyway. Steven Kampfer could head to the minors if everyone starts the season healthy. They could also opt to trade someone like Kevan Miller, too.

Unless injuries strike in training camp, the Bruins will have some tough decisions to make on their blue line (that’s a good problem).

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.