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Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
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A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

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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 few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


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.

Distanced Training: Sabres’ Eichel on being home, staying in shape

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The Jac Collinsworth digital series, “Distanced Training: Ready to Get Back in the Game” debuted this week with Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel as one of his first guests.

The multi-episode series will provide fans with the opportunity to experience a day in the life of top professional and collegiate athletes through exclusive home footage. The daily shows will be available across NBC Sports’ digital properties, including NBC Sports’ YouTube channel, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app, and NBC Sports’ social media accounts.

Each 30-minute episode will see Collinsworth exploring how athletes stay physically and mentally sharp as they adapt their training under social distancing guidelines. Throughout the series, he’ll be joined virtually by more than 20 professional, collegiate and Olympic athletes, who will share their weekly home workouts, mental training, and daily spare time activities.

Eichel, along with Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, joined Collinsworth in the premiere episode. You can watch the Eichel interview in the video above, or check out the entire episode here:

Wed., Apr. 1
Episode 1
Jack Eichel
Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota Vikings tight end)

Thurs., Apr. 2
Episode 2
Julian Okwara (Notre Dame defensive lineman)
Paul Rabil (Premier Lacrosse League co-founder and Atlas midfielder)

Fri., Apr. 3
Episode 3
Kendall Coyne Schofield
Michael Schofield (NFL offensive lineman and Super Bowl 50 champion)
James Hinchcliffe (NBC Sports motorsports analyst and INDYCAR driver for Andretti Autosport)

Future featured guests include:
Aric Almirola, NASCAR driver of the No. 10 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing
• U.S. Sevens team co-captain Abby Gustaitis and her husband, NBC Sports analyst and former Aviva Premiership Rugby player, Alex Corbisiero
• NBC Sunday Night Football sideline reporter Michele Tafoya

MORE: Eichel, Bauer team up to donate much-needed medical equipment

PHT Morning Skate: Eichel, Skinner make donations; feel-good stories for NHL teams

NHL News
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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.

• Buffalo Sabres forwards Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner are donating to the COVID-19 fight. (NHL.com)

• Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett laments the team’s lost progress during season pause. (Sportsnet)

• PHPA and ECHL announce relief fund for ECHL players. (ECHL)

• The feel-good stories of the season for all 31 NHL teams. (ESPN)

• Who rules the NHL’s 3-on-3 format? (TSN)

• Does Quinn Hughes beat out Cale Makar for the Rookie of the Year award? (Vancouver Is Awesome)

• Florida Panthers not letting COVID-19 dictate the future. (Panther Parkway)

• Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk is awaiting the next step in his rehabilitation process. (NHL.com)

• The epic decline of fighting in the NHL. (NHL To Seattle)

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: Bauer’s COVID-19 efforts; best NHL rosters

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Liam McHugh, Patrick Sharp, and Keith Jones are joined by special guest Mary-Kay Messier, VP of Global Marketing at Bauer Hockey. Messier describes how the company has quickly pivoted from making hockey helmet visors, to creating medical face shields that will soon be implemented in hospitals across North America to combat the spread of COVID-19. Plus, Sharp’s experience playing a shortened NHL season, and a debate about which teams have the best rosters in the league right now.

0:00-14:00 Interview with Bauer’s Mary-Kay Messier
14:00-19:30 Mixed opinions on resuming play with regular season or playoffs
19:30-20:30 Sharp remembers playing in the shortened 2012-13 season
22:15-24:15 The guys debate which four teams have the best rosters in the NHL

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mary-Kay Messier on Bauer making medical shields to battle coronavirus

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As the fight continues against the coronavirus, there are some companies stepping up to help the brave medical professionals across the globe. Equipment manufacturer Bauer has switched from making hockey gear like visors to protective shields.

Bauer VP of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier joined the Our Line Starts podcast this week to discuss the company’s production transition and how others are aiding them in making protective gear.

You can listen to the rest of this week’s podcast here:

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

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Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

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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.