2018 NHL Draft

Panthers strike deal with 2018 draft pick Grigori Denisenko

MIAMI — The Florida Panthers finally have a deal with Russian forward Grigori Denisenko.

The Panthers announced Tuesday that Denisenko has agreed to a three-year entry level contract – though it remains unclear when that contract will be officially signed and begin to take effect, given the uncertainty of the current NHL season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Denisenko was the 15th overall pick by the Panthers in the 2018 draft. The forward has been with Lokomotiv of the KHL, Russia’s top league.

”Grigori is an exciting, dynamic and highly skilled young forward who has been a top player on the international stage and served as captain of Team Russia at the World Juniors,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. ”We are thrilled for his bright future with the Panthers for years to come.”

At the world junior championship earlier this year, Denisenko had a team-best nine points on three goals and six assists in seven games. He helped the Russians win the silver medal.

He had six goals and six assists in 38 games with Lokomotiv this past season.

”We are grateful to our pupil for his contribution to the success of all the teams of the Lokomotiv system and wish good luck across the ocean,” Lokomotiv said in a statement after the agreement was announced.

It’s unknown when Denisenko will arrive in South Florida. The NHL has been shut down for nearly two months because of the pandemic.

Tyler Madden signs 3-year contract with Los Angeles Kings

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LOS ANGELES — Tyler Madden has signed a three-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings.

The forward recently completed his sophomore season at Northeastern University before signing Monday with LA.

Madden was originally selected by the Vancouver Canucks in third round of the 2018 draft, but the Kings acquired his rights last month as part of the Tyler Toffoli trade.

Madden led Northeastern with 37 points this season. His 1.37 points per game ranked fifth in the country and his 19 goals were tied for 11th. Madden was a first-team selection to the Hockey East All-Star team and a two-time nominee for the Hobey Baker Award.

The Deerfield Beach, Florida, native also skated for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. The U.S. captured a silver medal at the tournament.

Madden’s father John, won three Stanley Cups – two with the New Jersey Devils and one with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Adam Boqvist ‘going with the flow’ to start Blackhawks career

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s been a whirlwind week for Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist, as the eighth overall pick from the 2018 NHL Draft has had a trio of firsts.

On Oct. 30, Boqvist recorded his first professional goal during a 6-2 win with the AHL Rockford IceHogs. The following day he was recalled by the Blackhawks, made his NHL debut on Saturday and scored his first goal during Sunday night’s overtime win over the Ducks.

The Blackhawks are currently in the midst of a youth movement — as best as they can given their salary cap situation — and Boqvist has been looked at as a cornerstone on the blue line. Through two games he’s been paired heavily with Duncan Keith at even strength and showed enough in his NHL debut Saturday against the Kings to have head coach Jeremy Colliton put him on the ice for three shifts as the lone defenseman in overtime, playing a little over two minutes of the extra frame. His puck-moving abilities has also allowed him to quarterback the second power play unit.

“He’s been really good,” said Colliton. “Obviously, he does bring that dimension to the power play. He can finish, he’s got a great release. His movement is fantastic back there. He could have scored in overtime [against Los Angeles], too, so clearly he’s having an impact on the game, but I think defensively he’s been quite good. We feel pretty comfortable with him out there. Obviously, we’re trying to protect him when we can, but he’s made a really good impression so far.”

[COVERAGE OF BLACKHAWKS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The 19-year-old London Knights product played only six games in the AHL before being called up. He wasn’t impressed with his own play in Rockford, but he was put in a strong situation in Chicago being paired with a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

It wasn’t the best of starts, however. Boqvist logged 12:57 of even strength ice time against the Kings, and saw a minus-seven shot differential (11-18) when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. But possession was a team-wide issue Saturday night. The rookie improved mightily in that department against the Ducks with a 16-7 shot advantage at even strength when the Falun, Sweden native hopped over the boards, which led to a team-best 69.57 Corsi on the evening.

Improving his stick work, working on gap control, and adjusting to the rigors of the NHL will take time for Boqvist. But for the moment he’s just doing what he knows best.

“I don’t think so much out there,” Boqvist said. “It’s happened so quick and everything. There’s so much in my head right now. I got called up four days ago. So I’m just going to go with the flow.”

Kathryn Tappen will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. Randy Hahn and Jamie Baker will call the Blackhawks-Sharks matchup from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

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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.

Ice-cold Coyotes offense could get boost from Hayton’s debut

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Through their first two games of 2019-20, things seemed a lot like last season for the Arizona Coyotes.

They played strong defense, only allowing three goals total over those two games, but their offense has yet to ignite with Phil Kessel added to the mix, as they mustered a lone goal.

The Coyotes are likely feeling anxious considering the break they’ve had between Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins and Thursday’s upcoming home game against the Vegas Golden Knights. The most excited player of all might be Barrett Hayton, who is getting into the lineup for his first NHL game.

It seems like the 19-year-old is getting a legitimate chance to make an impact, too.

Via NHL.com’s handy collection of Thursday’s projected lines, Hayton is set to start his NHL career with some solid linemates in Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz. (Interestingly, you could argue that all three could line up at center, depending upon the circumstances.)

According to Left Wing Lock, Hayton also might get a look on the Coyotes’ top power play unit with Kessel, Derek Stepan, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Depending upon how you look at it, that’s either a great opportunity for the fifth pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, or a trial by fire. (Or maybe it’s a combination of the two?)

While the Coyotes got mixed reviews for selecting Hayton at that position — at least with many penciling Filip Zadina in as the third best choice available, though he slid to Detroit at sixth — Hayton’s impressed since the Coyotes went out on a bit of a limb to choose him. In 39 games with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, Hayton scored 26 goals and 66 points, exceeding the 60 points he scored in the OHL in 2017-18, even though he played in 63 games that season. Hayton also managed 16 points in 11 playoff games at the junior level in 2018-19.

In September, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked Hayton as the 11th-best prospect in the NHL (sub required), ahead of the likes of the Golden Knights’ Cody Glass (16th) and Zadina (23).

So, it should be interesting to get a first look at where Hayton is at, especially since he’s slated for a top-six role, instead of just barely making it into the lineup on the fourth line.

The Coyotes could use the boost, too, with that lone goal in two games.

Some of that improvement should happen strictly from positive regression, mind you.

Arizona’s been solid-to-good at even-strength so far, with Natural Stat Trick listing them as having 4.28 expected goals vs. 3.3 expected goals allowed at five-on-five. A league-worst 1.67 shooting percentage at even-strength has doomed them through two games (Columbus is second worst at 3.85). Even if the Coyotes might lag a bit behind other teams from a shooting skill standpoint (their 6.61 even-strength percentage was the worst of 2018-19), they should get far more bounces over the long haul of this season, especially if Kessel clicks — and maybe if Hayton can catch on as another gamebreaker.

The Golden Knights aren’t necessarily the easiest opponents to stick with, but either way, it should be interesting to see how Hayton might keep up.

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.

Sabres’ Dahlin says he’s better prepared for second NHL season

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last season didn’t sit well with Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

Unaccustomed to losing and no longer a rookie, Dahlin told The Associated Press on Thursday he feels better prepared and is far more driven to help transform the Sabres into contenders.

”I’m putting more pressure on myself. We’re going to be a winning team and be in the playoffs,” Dahlin said. ”I think everyone is putting more pressure on ourselves now, and we’re ready to go.”

The first player selected in the 2018 draft is so eager to put last year behind him, he was among the first Sabres players to hit the ice at the team’s practice facility, some three weeks before teams open training camp. He arrived in Buffalo from his native Sweden on Tuesday, and would have been back in town a few days earlier if not for travel complications.

The rookie of the year finalist is motivated after how Buffalo unraveled immediately following a 10-game winning streak that had the team briefly sitting first in the overall standings at the end of November. The Sabres then won just 16 of their final 57 games to miss the playoffs for an eighth straight season, the NHL’s longest active drought.

”We played so well in the beginning of the season, so that made you frustrated because we know how good we can play,” he said. ”Yeah, we’re going to get something good going on here.”

Expressing unhappiness and acknowledging frustration is new for Dahlin, who spent much of last year looking mostly at the bright side. When asked late last season if Buffalo’s 49 losses (including overtime and shootouts) were the most he ever endured in one year, Dahlin smiled and responded by saying the team’s 33 wins were also a season-high for him.

A year ago, Dahlin was expressing hope he’d simply make the season-opening roster. Now he’s begun to find his voice as a key member of the team.

”I feel more prepared. I feel more mature,” said Dahlin, who turned 19 in April. ”Like that one year of experience, I know what’s coming this season. I feel more comfortable in my position.”

He said he spent much of the summer adding weight and strength to better handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule and face elite opposition.

Dahlin’s rookie season mirrored much of that of his team when it came to inconsistency. He had a goal and eight assists during the 10-game win streak, but followed with two goals and four assist over his next 17 games.

Though he led Sabres defenseman and finished third among NHL rookies with 44 points (nine goals, 35 assists), he closed the season with a goal and six assists in Buffalo’s final 19 games.

Dahlin showed some rust Thursday, when the usually smooth-skating player took a spill – ”Oh, yeah, I slipped,” he said – while being untouched at the blue line. He bounced back a few moments later, when he drove in from the right point and converted Jason Pominville’s no-look pass for a goal.

Declaring himself ready to go, Dahlin already had his first face-to-face meeting with new coach Ralph Krueger on Wednesday.

”He seems like a really good coach and a good man,” he said of Krueger, who takes over after Phil Housley was fired following two sub-par seasons.