Charlie McAvoy

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres prepares for a faceoff during an NHL game against Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers
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A best on best mythical tournament: 23-and-under team

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next three Thursdays.

The first team to enter the competition will be a roster comprised of players 23 years of age or younger. Think a Team North America in 2020. In recent years, younger players have made an instant impact at the NHL level and this team is filled with already established superstars.

Line Combinations

First line: Sebastian Aho – Connor McDavid – David Pastrnak

Thoughts: Leon Draisaitl has benefitted greatly from playing alongside McDavid this season and the addition of two dynamic goal scorers (Aho, Pastrnak) should produce an explosive top line. Aho’s ability to light the lamp and create plays should be a perfect fit to round out the group.

Second line: Andrei Svechnikov – Auston Matthews – Patrik Laine

Thoughts: Matthews has the puck-handling skill and on-ice vision to be an elite distributor with Laine alongside him. The size of all three forwards will be tough for most defensive pairings to handle.

Third line: Kyle Connor – Jack Eichel – Mikko Rantanen

Thoughts: Can this line match up with the opposition’s best and still produce offensively? The trio has the skill to be a top line for most NHL teams, but these three will be relied upon to play a smart, efficient, two-way game.

Fourth line: Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Mitchell Marner

Thoughts: The inclusion of Larkin over a Mathew Barzal or Elias Pettersson will raise some questions, but he was the best option to be a fourth line center and contribute on the penalty kill. Matthew Tkachuk will provide some toughness and size to add an important element to the group.

First D pairing: Zach Werenski – Cale Makar
Second D pairing: Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
Third D pairing: Rasmus Dahlin – Adam Fox

Thoughts: The second pairing will likely match up against the opposition’s best, but each combination has a strong mix of complementary characteristics. I initially thought it would be tough to find a strong group of mature defensemen in this age range, but these players have established themselves as high-end D-men.

Starting Goalie: Carter Hart
Backup Goalie: Ilya Samsonov

Just Missed: Mathew Barzal, Quinn Hughes, Travis Konecny, Elias Pettersson, Ivan Provorov

Captain: Connor McDavid
Alternate captains: Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy

Analysis

This team should not struggle to score with a ton of fire power in the offensive unit. With two of the top three and six of the top 10 goal scorers from the current season, it will be hard to contain this prolific group of forwards.

Two areas of weakness for this team are its ability to play a strong two-way game in even strength situations and kill off timely penalties. Players of this ilk have the ability to play any style but the question will be if players like Eichel and Marner could buy in to a defensive oriented role.

Additionally, their goaltenders are unproven but have the talent needed to play against the world’s best.

Nevertheless, the amount of skill on this team should help them overcome any obstacles and be a formidable challenge for any opponent. The roster has several established leaders, but young stars of the NHL are always eager to prove they belong in the conversation with the game’s best. Channeling that emotion in the proper way could be the difference between a successful tournament run or an early exit.

Surprising omissions:

Quinn Hughes: The young blueliner has been sensational for the Canucks. He is currently in a tight race with Makar for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. But the team will need size on the backend and cannot carry three undersized defensemen.

Elias Pettersson: The Swedish center is an excellent talent but didn’t fill a need when creating the lineup. While his talent is immense, this is a player that received the short end of the stick in order to build the most complete roster.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

What is the long-term outlook for the Bruins?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Boston Bruins.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Bruins have two big things going for them to maintain a pretty big window for Stanley Cup contention.

The most important is that they have a great core of talent to build around in David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, David Krejci, and Brandon Carlo.

Along with that is the fact they have a significant portion of their team signed long-term on deals that not only have term, but are also below market value. Nobody on the team carries a salary cap hit of greater than $7.25 million (Krejci) while only two players (Krejci and starting goalie Tuukka Rask) count for more than $7 million against the cap in a single season.

The quartet of Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, and McAvoy, for example, takes up less than $25 million in salary cap space per season through the end of the 2021-22 season. That not only keeps a tremendous group of players together, it gives the team the type of salary cap flexibility it needs to build a powerhouse team around them. The Bruins have done exactly that.

Their big challenges this offseason are going to be re-signing UFA defenseman Torey Krug — one of their top blue-liners — and securing a new contract for restricted free agent forward Jake DeBrusk, currently one of their top complementary players. Because they are getting such bargains at the top of their lineup they should have the salary cap space to make it work.

Krug will definitely be the biggest challenge (especially if there is pressure to keep him around the $6.5 million mark that everyone else in their core currently makes) but there is room.

Long-term needs

It might seem like an outrageous thing to say right now given the way the team is built, but it is really tempting to put goaltending as a long-term question.

Right now the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak is as good as it gets in the NHL. They are both outstanding and capable of being No. 1 starters in the league, while Rask has been one of the league’s elites for most of his career. But there is some uncertainty beyond this season. For one, Halak is one of the Bruins’ biggest unrestricted free agents after this season so there is no guarantee that he returns. But there is also the fact that Rask recently hinted at the possibility of potentially retiring after next season (via the Boston Globe). Still a lot of unknowns there and a situation to keep an eye on in the future.

Beyond that, depth might be the other big long-term issue.

If they are unable to re-sign Krug that would love a pretty massive hole on their blue line, and there is going to come a point where Zdeno Chara is no longer part of this team. That is half of your top-four and would be an awful lot to replace at one time if neither one is there beyond this season.

Long-term strengths

It kind of relates to everything mentioned in the core part, but they have some of the league’s best players at forward signed for multiple seasons at below market contracts.

The trio of Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand is one of the best lines in the entire league. Individually, they are all among the top-20 players in the league. Together, they are almost unstoppable.

On the blue line, McAvoy and Carlo are both already outstanding defensemen and are just now starting to hit their prime years in the NHL.

Basically, the Bruins have the most important pieces for sustained success already in place (superstar forwards and young top-pairing defensemen), have them all signed long-term, and they are mostly at points in their career where they should still have several elite seasons ahead of them. The Bruins have been one of the league’s top-four teams for three years in a row now and there is no sign that they are going to drop off from that level anytime soon.

 

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins
Bruins surprises and disappointments

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.

Boston Bruins: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Boston Bruins.

Biggest Surprise

From a big picture perspective we should not really be surprised by the overall performance of David Pastrnak. He has shown over the past couple of years that he was on his way to becoming a top-tier scorer and put up huge numbers in an injury-shortened season a year ago. But it might be at least a little bit of a surprise as to just how much of a leap his offense took this season.

Not only is he in a back-and-forth race with Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard award, he had an outside shot at the 60-goal mark. He is having one of the best individual offensive seasons in Bruins franchise history and has quickly become the best player on a team that still has Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

Pastrnak is no longer just a great top-line player.

He is a superstar.

Beyond that, everything here has pretty much been business as usual for the Bruins. They were a Game 7 away from winning the Stanley Cup a year ago and brought back mostly the same roster. The expectation was for them to be great. They have been. In every possible area.

Biggest Disappointment

You really have to start reaching to find anything that even somewhat resembles a disappointment here because there are not many weaknesses with this team at any level.

Early on you might have been able to say that Charlie McAvoy‘s offense was a let-down. But even that started to correct itself and he was still making a positive impact even without the goals.

Maybe Ondrej Kase has been a disappointment after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks before the trade deadline, but that is such a small sampling of games it would be unfair to actually go as far as to call him a disappointment for their season.

Overall, almost everything here is perfect. Their superstars at the top of the lineup are as good as it gets in the NHL. Their defense is good. They have two outstanding goalies. Their special teams units are both among the top-five in the entire league.

The only thing that has been a flaw this season? The shootout.

They have been awful in the shootout, and it is kind of weird to figure out because they have the goalies and they have the high-end talented forwards that you would think would shine in a skills competition. Instead, the Bruins have gone 0-7 in games decided by shootouts and are one of just two teams in the entire league that has yet to win one. Columbus (only 0-4 at this point) is the other. It is baffling.

Their shootout struggles have been so much that even Brad Marchand, one of the league’s best and most talented players, had this happen.

None of this however has been enough to hurt them because they still have a massive lead for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, the Eastern Conference, and also the Presidents’ Trophy.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins
What is the Bruins’ long-term outlook?

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: Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl gets to 100 points first

Leon Draisaitl first to 100 points in NHL The Buzzer
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Three Stars, featuring Draisaitl getting to 100 points first

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Now, this is how you reach a fantastic milestone, particularly before anyone else during a season.

Draisaitl became the first player in the NHL to reach 100 points when he scored a goal on Saturday, but it turned out he was just getting started. Draisaitl scored two goals and one primary assist to lead the Oilers to a 3-2 win against the Jets, pushing Edmonton to second in the Pacific (for now).

Those three points don’t just push Draisaitl to 100; he finished the night at 102, giving himself a massive lead for the Art Ross Trophy. Will Draisaitl combine a potential Art with a Hart? Either way, he’s the author of back-to-back 100+ point seasons, and looks likely to scorch last season’s career-high of 105 points.

(Draisaitl now has 39 goals, so he’ll need to work hard to reach 50 goals again.)

2. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

Jones tormented the Penguins on Saturday, pitching a 30-save shutout.

Jones has quietly been heating up lately. While, yes, you can spout out “too little, too late,” it might make the Sharks a dangerous spoiler. (That, and the fact that there’s still serious talent on this flawed, disappointing team.)

Jones now has two shutouts in his last five games, with his previous goose egg being a 39-save affair. He’s allowed just seven goals during a five-game span where he was limited to a modest 3-2-0 record.

3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes

Keller delivered in a game the Coyotes really couldn’t afford to cough up. He generated two goals, including the game-winner, and also managed a primary assist for a strong three-point performance.

Keller already has more goals in 2019-20 (17) than he did last season (14), while his 43 points encroach on 47 from 2018-19. He’ll need to hustle to match his rookie season back in 2017-18, where he scored 23 goals and 65 points.

Charlie McAvoy (1G, 2A) and others provided Keller with competition for the third star spot on Saturday.

Highlights of the Night

Mike Hoffman showed great anticipation and burst in creating this turnover. After that, Hoffman displayed remarkable poise and skill in finishing the play with such artful skill:

It wasn’t enough to earn the Panthers a win, but they did gain a “charity point” in falling to Chicago via a shootout.

Blake Wheeler made NHL 20-worthy moves for a splendid assist to Kyle Connor:

The NHL rounded up Draisaitl reaching 100, Jeff Petry‘s overtime goal, and more:

Awful news for Stamkos, Lightning

Speaking of in case you missed it, the Lightning announced that Steven Stamkos is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks after planned core muscle surgery on Monday.

Factoids for Draisaitl reaching 100, and more

  • Draisaitl crossed the 100-point barrier in his 65th game of 2019-20. It’s a rare feat, especially when you look beyond Nikita Kucherov‘s incredible 2018-19 season. Draisaitl and Kucherov rank among 26 different players to score 100+ points by the 65th game of a respective season since 1993-94. (NHL PR)
  • Draisaitl scored both of his goals on the power play. This gives the Oilers 13 games with multiple PPG, the most of any team in the league this season. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Speaking of Kucherov, don’t assume that he can only score with Stamkos. Kucherov now has 101 points in 112 career regular-season games with Stamkos out of the lineup. That stat is uplifting for Lightning fans in the moment, but the sheer number of Stamkos-less games is sad for fans of the game, not just of Tampa Bay. (NHL PR)
  • As this post notes, the Penguins have lost six games in a row. It’s the first time Sidney Crosby has lost six consecutive games since his rookie season. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • The Avalanche beat the Predators to win their eighth road game in a row, setting a new franchise record.
  • Kyle Connor reached 100 goals in his 245th game. He’s the seventh-fast in Jets franchise history to that plateau. (TSN’s Statscentre)

Scores

BOS 4 – NYI 0
TBL 4 – CGY 3
LAK 2 – NJD 1 (OT)
CHI 3 – FLA 2 (SO)
TOR 4 – VAN 2
MTL 4 – CAR 3 (OT)
OTT 4 – DET 3 (SO)
COL 3 – NSH 2
STL 4 – DAL 3 (SO)
ARI 5 – BUF 2
EDM 3 – WIN
SJS 5 – PIT 0

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.

The Buzzer: Draisaitl carries Oilers again; Rinne shines for Predators

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. If the Draisaitl MVP train wasn’t already rolling along, it certainly is now. He scored a goal, assisted on the overtime game-winner on Sunday, and had another three-point game for the Oilers as he opened up a 13-point lead in the NHL scoring race. He is now on a 132-point pace for the season and is showing that he can absolutely drive the Oilers offense without Connor McDavid next to him.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators. The goaltending has not always been there for the Predators this season. It was there for them on Sunday afternoon in a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. Rinne stopped 38 out of 39 shots for the Predators to help them climb to within a single point of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with still several games in hand. Improved play from Rinne down the stretch could be a season-changer for the Predators. Read more about the Predators’ win on Sunday right here.

3. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins. He thought he had a hat trick in the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings, but his first goal was later awarded to Sam Lafferty. So he has to settle for a two-goal, three-point, plus-three day for the Penguins. He has not always looked his sharpest this season — he still brings the energy and physical play — but he is still on close to a 30-goal pace this season. With Sunday’s win the Penguins are now just one point behind the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division with still one game in hand. Read more about the Penguins’ win here.

Other notable performances from Sunday

  • Charlie McAvoy could not find the back of the net for the first few months of the season, and now he has three goals over his past few games. He opened the scoring in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday. Read more about the Bruins’ win right here.
  • On a day where the Devils traded away two key veterans (read about that here and here) Mackenzie Blackwood shined in net, turning aside 52 out of 55 shots in a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Highlights of the Day

The Anaheim Ducks are playing spoiler roll right now and handed the Vancouver Canucks a tough 5-1 loss on Sunday. It was highlighted by this play by Ryan Getzlaf to set up Derek Grant.

Turris scores the winner with just under three minutes to play in regulation.

Artem Anisimov helps the Ottawa Senators pull off the upset win over the Dallas Stars with an overtime goal.

Celebration of the day

Jack Eichel tells the Toronto fans in Buffalo to take a seat. The Sabres scored three goals in 1:31 (including one from Eichel) to get a 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs. Kyle Okposo also scored a goal during that stretch to record his 500th career NHL point.

Factoids

  • Connor Hellebucyk stopped 31 shots to help the Winnipeg Jets get a huge win over the Chicago Blackhawks. It is his 25th win of the season, putting him in second place in the NHL. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin now has the second most points in NHL history for a defenseman before their 20th birthday. [Sabres PR]
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk‘s goal just 12 seconds into Saturday’s game is the third fastest goal to start a game in Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise history. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Boston Bruins 3, New York Rangers 1
Edmonton Oilers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 5, Vancouver Canucks 1
Nashville Predators 2, St. Louis Blues 1
Ottawa Senators 4, Dallas Stars 3 (OT)
New Jersey Devils 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (SO)
Buffalo Sabres 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Winnipeg Jets 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2

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.