2019 NHL Draft

Looks like Kirby Dach is sticking with Blackhawks

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It looks like the top three picks of the 2019 NHL Draft will also play through at least the 10-game deadline that burns a year off of their entry-level contracts.

In the case of Jack Hughes (first pick, nine games played with the New Jersey Devils, little reason to expect anything but a full season barring injuries) and Kaapo Kakko (second pick, already 10 games played with the New York Rangers), this was all quite expected.

Third overall pick Kirby Dach, however? Now he was a wild card.

The Chicago Blackhawks decided to end any will-he-stay-or-will-he-go drama on Wednesday, stating that Dach will stay at the NHL level for the “foreseeable future.” The team’s official website uses the phrase “for the duration of the season,” if foreseeable future was too vague.

“Stan [Bowman] and I sat with him yesterday and told him he’s going to be here,” Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said on Wednesday. “He’s played well. He’s shown he can help us and he’s only going to get better. I think the player he is now, there’s likely going to be a huge improvement as the year goes on and the player (he is) in February I’m sure is going to be an impact player for us.”

It’s an interesting choice.

Dach, 18, has scored one goal and one assist through six games. That last matter is part of what makes this interesting: the Blackhawks saw enough in six games to make this announcement, when they could have taken some more time before that 10-game cutoff.

On one hand, Dach is acquitting himself quite well. His possession stats are pretty promising, which is heartening even with the sort of cushy deployment (about two-thirds of his shifts start in the offensive zone, via Hockey Reference) you’d expect from a rookie jumping right from the draft to the big time.

On the other hand, Dach is getting fairly modest ice time at just under 12 minutes (11:59) per game. For some perspective, the only players with lower TOI average for Chicago are Zach Smith (9:47) and Brendan Perlini (7:49), the latter of whom was traded.

Would hit-or-miss ice time, even as a nominal third-liner, be the best course for Dach’s development? That’s debatable, especially since Dach could either see more time as he matures, or less time if he falls into the doghouse that many rookies find themselves in, for reasons that range from fair to arbitrary.

(NHL coaches are notorious for giving rookies and young players short leashes, even if veteran replacements are clearly more limited.)

The Blackhawks are at least somewhat focused on the present, rather than going on a conscious tank, so there are other ways to look at Dach: he’s a competent asset already, seemingly, and at the dirt-cheap price of an entry-level deal.

Is it the best way to manage this asset, both from the perspective of developing Dach and also taking the best advantage of those entry-level years? Personally, I’m skeptical, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, it’s an impressive jump from the towering center.

***

With the help of Cap Friendly’s handy entry-level slides listings, here are a few other 10-game deadline situations to ponder:

  • Jack Hughes, nine games played: Check that box.
  • Ville Heinola, eight GP: The 20th pick of 2019 has made a nice impression with the Winnipeg Jets, but there are rumblings that his days are numbered. David Gustafsson is a Jets forward with six games played who may also be worth monitoring.
  • Joel Farabee, five GP: The Flyers forward’s apparently had some bad luck early on.

It’s tough to tell if the Flyers are leaning one way or the other with Farabee, who has an assist in his first five games, and has been getting decent ice time.

  • Oliver Wahlstrom, five GP; Noah Dobson, three GP: These two intriguing Islanders are probably (like Farabee) a little early to be judged one way or another. Then again, the Blackhawks made that call with Dach just six games in, so we’ll see.
  • Barrett Hayton, four GP: With three points in his first four NHL games, it would be surprising if the Coyotes weren’t looking for every excuse to keep him at this level, especially since Arizona could use that extra skill and creativity.

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.

Rangers move Kaapo Kakko to top line

With only 19 goals in seven games and a five-game losing streak heading into Thursday night, the New York Rangers are doing some line shuffling against the Buffalo Sabres in an effort to kickstart their offense.

The most notable change will see prized rookie and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko move to the top line where he will play alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

Artemi Panarin, the team’s big offseason acquisition and one of the few players on the team actually providing some offense this season, will play on the second line next to Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich.

For Kakko, the Rangers are obviously hoping that getting him next to Zibanejad, the team’s leading offensive player since the start of last season, will give him a confidence boost and get him going offensively. He has been off to a slow start with just one goal, one assist, and only 11 shots on goal in his first seven games (and five of those shots came in just one game).

He has been extremely hard on himself this week, voicing frustration with his play to a Finnish news outlet and then doubling down on it with Rangers reporters on Wednesday, saying “I’m playing bad hockey” via the New York Post.

Now he gets a chance to break out of that funk next to the Rangers’ No. 1 center for the first time in his career.

“I mean, forget it, you see Mika Zibanejad as your center, you’re automatically getting a whole new level of confidence,” said Rangers coach David Quinn on Thursday, via the Rangers’ website. “So (Kakko) is in a much better position mentally when he sees that Mika Zibanejad is his center and Chris Kreider is his left wing.”

After starting the season with back-to-back wins (and scoring 10 goals in those games) everything has kind of fallen apart for the Rangers offensively since then. They have not scored more than two goals in a game since Oct. 5 (their second game of the year) and their next four games present quite a daunting list of opponents, starting with the 8-1-1 Sabres on Thursday. After that they play Boston and Tampa Bay at home before going on the road to play the Nashville Predators.

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.

Teenage rookies Hughes, Kakko struggling early in season

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NEW YORK — Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko were the clear favorites all along to be the top two picks in this year’s NHL draft. So far, the 18-year-olds have struggled to generate a lot of offense in the opening weeks of the season.

Kakko, selected second by the New York Rangers after New Jersey took Hughes at No. 1, broke through with his first NHL goal on Saturday. Hughes nearly got his first on Monday.

Now, the two youngsters will get a close-up look at each other on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN) when the Rangers visit the Devils for the metropolitan-area teams’ first matchup of the season.

Despite Hughes’ struggles getting on the scoresheet, Devils coach John Hynes likes the way the teenager is learning and working on improving his game.

”He’s really understanding how hard you need to compete in this game and how much puck battles matter, attention to detail when you don’t have the puck, and he’s making strides in those areas,” Hynes said. ”He’s just a step away from really creating some pretty good offense.”

Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, now part of the Oilers’ front office, cautioned about the high expectations immediately placed on young players who come into the league as top draft picks. He pointed to Edmonton star Connor McDavid, who was a No. 1 pick in 2015.

”It’s harder than people think,” Gretzky said. ”There’s a little bit more pressure on these young guys than people think. Connor’s been in the league a few years, he’s lived up to it. … Young Hughes is going to be a fine hockey player. I’ve watched him play quite a bit. He’s 18 years old, he’s in the right situation.

”It’s just going to take him some time, he’s going to get his feet wet, he’s going to get some growing pains but all in all you can tell his skill level and his passion for the game.”

Gretzky also talked about the adjustments a player like Hughes has to make as he adapts to the professional game and the higher level of competition.

”Now you’re playing against men, you’re playing against the best players in the world,” he said. ”Let’s be honest, we had fun and we were pretty good but these kids today with the level of skill and size and speed, they’re so much better than when we played. That’s not a knock against us. That means the game is growing and getting better all the time.”

With the Devils leading the Panthers 4-2 on Monday, Hughes had a chance to add to the lead. He got a bouncing puck on the left side of the goal, and batted it off the post and over the stick of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was diving back, but the puck went along the goal line and hit the right post and stayed out.

Hughes, who had three goals and an assist in four preseason games, remained without a point in the regular season and New Jersey ended up squandering a three-goal lead in a 6-4 loss to Florida to fall to 0-4-2.

Two days earlier, Kakko got on the scoreboard with a nifty forehand-to-backhand move to give the Rangers an early lead in a 4-1 loss to Edmonton, New York’s first loss after opening the season with two wins.

”It was a special way for him to score,” said linemate Ryan Strome, who set up Kakko on the rush. ”A great goal, a great move. Hopefully the floodgates are open for him. He’s got all the tools to do it, so it should be fun to watch.”

Rookies who have already stood out in the opening weeks of the season include:

Victor Olofsson, RW, Buffalo. The 24-year-old has five goals and two assists in six games and set an NHL record with his first seven goals all coming on the power play. He had two goals and two assists in six games last season. His record-setting goal got the Sabres started in a 4-0 win against Dallas on Monday that improved Buffalo to 5-0-1.

Cale Makar, D, Colorado. Selected No. 4 overall by the Avalanche in the 2017 draft, he has six assists in five games, with four coming on power-play goals. Makar, who will turn 21 on Oct. 30, has helped the Avalanche open the season with five wins for the franchise’s best start since beginning with six wins in 2013-14.

– Sam Lafferty, C, Pittsburgh. With the Penguins missing forwards Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk and Bryan Rust, Lafferty has stepped up with three goals and two assists – all coming in the last two games, road wins against Minnesota and Winnipeg – to help push Pittsburgh to 4-2-0.

Ilya Mikheyev, RW, Toronto. The 25-year-old Russian, signed as a free agent in May, has two goals and three assists in seven games. Mikheyev had a sensational goal Saturday night against Detroit as he drew Jimmy Howard out far from the crease, went to his left and fired it into the wide-open goal.

– Ilya Samsonov, G, Washington. After coming over from the KHL, Samsonov spent last season with Hershey of the AHL. As Braden Holtby‘s backup, the 22-year-old won his first two starts, limiting the Islanders and Stars to one goal each with a .961 save-percentage. In relief duty against Colorado on Monday, he gave up two goals on 21 shots and took his first loss.

STREAKING

The Colorado Avalanche have opened the season with five straight wins. … The Devils have started the season with six straight losses (0-4-2). … Buffalo’s Carter Hutton, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer have won four straight starts to open the season, Carolina’s Petr Mrazek and Boston’s Tuukka have won their first three.

SLUMPING

Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk is 0-5-0 with a 4.44 goals-against average in five starts. … The Devils’ Cory Schneider is 0-3-0 with a 4.08 GAA in four starts, and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick is 0-3-0 with a 6.43 GAA in three starts.

Devils lose again, remain winless: 3 takeaways on slow start

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The New Jersey Devils were one of the biggest stories of the offseason thanks to some aggressive roster moves by general manager Ray Shero.

Along with the return of a healthy Taylor Hall, the Devils won the NHL’s draft lottery and selected Jack Hughes No. 1 overall to add to a young core that already included the No. 1 overall pick from the 2017 class (Nico Hischier). They surrounded their newly formed core with the big summer acquisitions of P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds.

Expectations immediately skyrocketed and there was a ton of optimism around the team.

That optimism might be starting to quickly disappear.

Following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Devils remain winless (0-3-2) through the first five games of the season and you have to wonder how much longer it is going to be until head coach John Hynes’ seat starts to get a little warmer.

What has gone wrong for the Devils so far? Here are three key factors.

1. It has been a slow start for the new faces

Out of all the big offseason acquisitions, Gusev is the only that has found the back of the net through the first five games (he has two goals). Other than that, it has been a giant goose egg for everyone else that was expected to make a difference.  Simmonds and Subban have combined for just two assists, while Hughes is going through some early growing pains with zero points and only 10 shots on goal through the first five games.

When it comes to Hughes you had to expect some struggles at times. He is 18 years old and making a massive jump to the NHL. Not everyone is going to step in and immediately be Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Connor McDavid. And while Subban is off to a slow start and might be starting to slow down a little, he has enough of a track record and is still good enough that you have to think he is going to shake off this slow start.

Adding to the problems offensively is that Hall, Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri have combined for just two goals so far (both belonging to Palmieri). If you wanted to put a positive spin on this for the Devils it’s that their best players haven’t yet played anything close to their best hockey. They are not going to struggle this much forever.

But as long as they do, goals — and wins — are going to be few and far between.

2. The power play has been awful

Calling it awful might actually be an understatement. After their 0-for-4 performance against Boston on Saturday night the Devils are now 0-for-15 on the season. That is zero goals in 30 minutes of power play time, and it is not like they have been unlucky. Entering play on Sunday their power play unit was one of the worst in the league when it comes to generating shot attempts and getting shots on goal.

3. Goaltending is still an issue 

It is not the biggest issue, but it is still an issue and it was the single biggest question mark the team had entering the season. Through five games the Devils have allowed at least three goals in every game, with Saturday’s game in Boston being the first one where they did not allow at least four. While the team in front of them has not been particularly good on any given night, the duo of Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood has an .863 save percentage after Saturday. No matter what is happening around them, your team has no chance with that sort of production from your goalies.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Kakko scores first goal, but Rangers fall to still unbeaten Oilers

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It was a pretty significant afternoon at Madison Square Garden on Saturday as the Edmonton Oilers won their fifth consecutive game to open the 2019-20 season with a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers.

This is the Oilers’ first 5-0 start since the 1985-86 season, while they also set an NHL record with their fifth straight come-from-behind victory to open a season.

This particular comeback wasn’t too daunting as they only needed to overcome a one-goal deficit after falling behind late in the first period. That Rangers goal was scored by prized rookie Kaapo Kakko, his first of what the team hopes will be many goals in his career. It was also a pretty spectacular way to get on the board as the 2019 No. 2 overall pick took a perfect pass from Ryan Strome and finished a slick play to beat Oilers goalie Mike Smith.

Have a look.

That would be the lone highlight of the day for the Rangers.

From there the Oilers’ stars took over with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each tallying multiple points in the win. McDavid finished with a goal and an assist, while Draisaitl scored two goals and added a helper on McDavid’s goal.

The big day continues what have been incredible starts for the Oilers’ top two players. McDavid is now up to 12 points through the first five games, while Draisaitl has 11.

In a lot of ways this season is still very similar to what we have seen from the Oilers in recent years. When McDavid and Draisaitl are at their best they can carry the team on their own, just as they have done through the first five games this season (with a lot of help from offseason acquisition James Neal).

The real test for the Oilers this season will be what happens when their two superstars cool down, because they simply will not keep scoring at a pace like this all season.

Still, these early games count just as much as any other game and it is always important to stack wins and bank points whenever you can, and a 5-0-0 start to a season is always something big to build on.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.