Kaapo Kakko

PHT Morning Skate: Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award finalists, plus more

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Willie O’Ree Award finalists; bits on Rangers, Bruins, Maple Leafs

• Announcing the finalists for the 2020 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in its third annual rendition: Dampy Brar of Calgary, Alexandria Briggs-Blake of Oxon Hill, Maryland, and John Haferman of Columbus. [NHL.com]

Charlie Coyle‘s agent confirmed that Coyle was held out of Bruins practice Saturday because of an inconclusive COVID-19 test. Coyle was among seven Bruins who were deemed “unfit to play,” with Tuukka Rask, Torey Krug, David Krejci, Chris Wagner, and others also in that situation. In at least Coyle’s case, his agent claims that after that inconclusive test, Coyle’s follow-up test ended up being negative. Considering the speculation swirling around David Pastrnak already, it’s been a turbulent start to Bruins training camp. [NBC Sports Boston]

• Apparently, the Maple Leafs really kicked things up a notch on Sunday. That translated to mimicking actual games more, including a full 60-minute scrimmage with breaks that were a lot like intermission pauses. All of that said, the lineup choices might have been the most exciting. Imagine the anxiety a defenseman would feel having to defend John TavaresAuston MatthewsMitch Marner? Almost seems unfair. [TSN]

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs, really interesting insightful stuff from Jeff Veillette on the team being punished for “investing in themselves.” [Faceoff Circle]

• Larry Brooks writes of Kaapo Kakko bringing a new “swagger” and looking like a new man. Beyond his health risks, that’s a good thought. Because … well, frankly, Kakko quietly suffered through a crummy rookie season. [New York Post]

Like, really bad. Note: it’s not great when you see the old “double walrus” (term I just made up) on someone’s Evolving Hockey RAPM chart:

• More Rangers: after some concern, it sounds like Pavel Buchnevich will be available for the Rangers for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. [Blueshirts Forever]

Other hockey links

• Bryan Burns of the Lightning website zooms through the pros and cons of media “scrums” on Zoom/the Internet versus the traditional way they’ve been done in person. Reporters generally prefer the old way. What about players, and coaches, such as Jon Cooper? They are more of a mixed bag. [Lightning website]

• Deeply sad stuff from Troy Stecher on the recent passing of his father, Peter. The story is also poignant, though, as Troy discusses a loving letter Peter wrote for Troy that Peter never got to send. It’s a worthwhile, if emotional, read all around. [Sportsnet]

• Sin Bin Vegas believes the Golden Knights’ top line of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny needs a nickname. [Sin Bin Vegas]

Mikko Koivu admits that he’s not ready to make a retirement decision. Honestly, that’s good, because I think I speak for many others in hoping a Selke-caliber forward gets another stab at a truly great run. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]

• Oilers Nation’s Cam Lewis believes Edmonton will lean toward starting Mike Smith, not Mikko Koskinen, during the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Lewis points to Smith’s experience, in particular. Personally, I wonder if experience is overrated, at least when you consider how often Smith’s looked shaky with all of that mileage on him at age 38. [Oilers Nation]

• Why is it so difficult for defensemen to win, or even become finalists for, the Lady Byng? [The Hockey News]

• Icethetics goes deep (like, really deep) on whether leaks about a Senators rebranding might be legit. And if so, if those tweaks would be well-advised. [Icethetics]

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.

What is the Rangers’ long-term outlook?

New York Rangers
Getty

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 New York Rangers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

There are a lot of very intriguing pieces in place here and a lot to like about where this team can go in the very near future.

Artemi Panarin is a superstar, while Mika Zibanejad (still signed for two more years after this one) has proven to be a perfect complement for him on the top line.

Kaapo Kakko may have experienced some growing pains in his rookie season, but he still has star potential and they have two outstanding young defensemen in Anthony DeAngelo and Adam Fox to be the foundation of the defense. DeAngelo is a restricted free agent this summer and has played his way into a raise, but the in-season trade of Brady Skjei should give them enough flexibility under the salary cap to easily get a new deal completed with him.

Add in the return of Chris Kreider and a couple outstanding young goalies in Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev and they have some of the most important pieces of a contending team in place — top-line players, including a handful of already elite (and potentially elite) players.

Those are the most difficult pieces to find in any rebuild, and the Rangers have them. They definitely have some work to do around the edges with the depth, but it is a heck of a lot easier to find the complementary pieces than it is to find the core pieces.

Long-Term Needs

It mostly comes down to depth. At forward, center depth could still be a concern in the short-term if Ryan Strome is unable to duplicate his offensive performance this season.

Defensively, they have some big question marks after Fox and DeAngelo.

Marc Staal remains a fraction of what he used to be and still has a fairly significant salary next season. Jacob Trouba was supposed to be a big addition, he was a disappointment this season and still carries a huge salary cap hit for the next six years with a no-movement clause that will kick in this summer. They need him to be significantly better than he has been for that $8 million price tag he carries.

It would also be a huge boost to their long-term outlook if Kakko became a star. That would be a game-changer for them to have another elite winger to help take some of the pressure off of the top-line and give opponents another big-time scoring threat to worry about.

They also need a solution to the Henrik Lundqvist situation.

Long-Term Strengths

Goaltending is a potentially intriguing one due to the presence of Shesterkin and Georgiev. If you are going to phase out a legend the way the Rangers did this season, you better have one hell of an option already in place. As it turns out, the Rangers might have two of them.

Goalie is always the X-factor position in the NHL and can be the biggest difference-maker on the ice. It would be foolish to expect Shesterkin to maintain the .932 save percentage he has had in his first 12 appearances, but the upside is there for both of them to be outstanding NHL goalies. If it plays out that way, the Rangers could have the position set for the next decade.

They also have one of the league’s best offensive players in Panarin to serve as their franchise player, and the potential of Kakko to join him in that class.

Looking even further ahead, they also have two first-round draft picks in the 2020 draft class.

MORE RANGERS:
• Looking at the 2019-20 New York Rangers
Rangers biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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: Shesterkin shining on Broadway; Athanasiou, Wings upset Bruins

Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers covers the puck against the Los Angeles Kings
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

The Blueshirts have been very fortunate to have Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes since 2005 and the goaltender of the future appears to be arriving on Broadway sooner than expected. Shesterkin made 42 saves to help lead the Rangers to a 4-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden Sunday. The young Russian netminder has improved to 5-1-0 in six starts this season and continues to push for more playing time. While Lundqvist is unlikely to be moved at the trade deadline, Shesterkin’s consistent play has allowed Jeff Gorton to consider moving Alexandar Georgiev in the next few weeks. A crowded crease creates playing time concerns for all parties involved, but for the rebuilding Rangers, it’s a good problem to have for the time being.

2) Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit Red Wings

Everyone knew wins would be tough to come by for the Red Wings this season, but the plan was to have a few pieces continue their development. Athanasiou was expected to be one of those players after scoring 30 goals last season. Sunday, he scored his seventh and eighth of the season in Detroit’s surprising 3-1 victory against the Boston Bruins. The 25-year-old broke a 1-1 tie with a short-side snipe midway through the third period. He later added an empty-net goal to seal the victory for the Red Wings.

3) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Blackhawks took an early two-goal lead, but the Jets stormed back in their third consecutive victory. Winnipeg scored five unanswered and moved into sole possession of the first wild card in the West with a 5-2 win against Chicago. Connor scored twice and added an assist, stretching his individual point streak to three games. The speedy winger benefitted from a terrific pass from Andrew Copp to cut Chicago’s two-goal advantage in half. Connor is two goals shy of reaching the 30-goal mark for the third consecutive season.

[NHL ON NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday]

Highlights of the Night

Copp put the right amount of sauce on this pass to set up Connor for a shorthanded goal.

Kaapo Kakko ended a 13-game goal drought after Filip Chytil delivered a beautiful backhanded pass from the corner.

Rickard Rakell slid a puck through the legs of Jack Eichel to set up Ryan Getzlaf midway through the first period.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Detroit Red Wings 3, Boston Bruins

Anaheim Ducks 3, Buffalo Sabres 2

New York Rangers 4, Los Angeles Kings 1

Winnipeg Jets 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Colorado Avalanche 3, Minnesota Wild 2

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


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.

The Buzzer: A very bad night for the Maple Leafs

Bad night for Maple Leafs The Buzzer
Getty Images
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Three Stars

1. Mark Pysyk, Florida Panthers

Pysyk played a big role in the Panthers’ toppling the Maple Leafs on Monday, including icing the game. Pysyk managed a hat trick in the win, hustling for an empty-netter.

Scanning Pysyk’s Hockey Reference page makes it clear that this is his first hat trick. While the blueliner sports a pretty modest point total this season (13 in 40 games), seven of those points are goals. Pysyk’s seven goals easily rank as a career-high.

2. Mike Matheson, Florida Panthers

While Pysyk racked up three goals, Matheson generated three assists. Matheson produced primary assists on two of those three helpers.

Matheson also fired three shots on goal, enjoyed a +3 rating, and delivered a hit and blocked shot.

Mike Hoffman deserves a mention, too. He generated a goal and an assist, helping Florida storm back from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3 as much as the two defensemen listed.

3. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars

Could this be the sign of a breakthrough? Joe Pavelski scored two power-play goals in 16 seconds as the Stars beat the Rangers on Monday. With that, he now has a two-game goal streak (3G).

In the past, that would just be a hot streak during a strong season. Instead, those three goals represent a significant portion of his 2019-20 totals (11G, 22 points in 52 games).

Pavelski languished with just seven points in 23 games between December and January. The Stars likely thought that Pavelski might hit a wall at some point during his three-year contract, but they have to hope that he looks more worthy of his $7M AAV down the stretch.

Of course, the Stars could help matters by opening things up a bit, though.

Highlights from Monday’s three games

The light schedule opens the door for clips from all of the games. To begin, we have the Maple Leafs’ meltdown against the Panthers, which began with a troubling injury to Frederik Andersen.

The Stars beat the Rangers 5-3, with some controversy surrounding the circumstances leading to Pavelski’s two goals.

Finally, the Flyers smothered the Red Wings 3-0. Brian Elliott only needed to make 16 saves for the shutout.

Factoids

  • The Red Wings remain winless (0-14-1) against Metropolitan Division teams. It’s no secret they’re bad, but … sheesh.
  • The Panthers generated their fifth hat trick as a team. That leads the NHL this season, and also ties their franchise record, according to NHL PR. That same NHL PR feed notes that the Panthers tied the Capitals for the league lead with four multi-goal, third period comeback wins.
  • Kaapo Kakko reached 17 points on Monday. With that, Kakko passes Manny Malhotra’s 16 points for the most by any Rangers player at age 18, according to the Rangers. If you’re like me, you’re still surprised Malhotra was drafted so high (seventh overall in 1998), considering how much of a specialist Malhotra would become.

Monday’s NHL scores

FLA 5 – TOR 3
DAL 5 – NYR 3
PHI 3 – DET 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.

Rangers’ Chytil blasts through Ducks defense for great goal

Chytil goal
Getty Images

Times have been tough for young Rangers players, but a beautiful Filip Chytil goal highlights their promise. Chytil showed speed, hands, and finishing ability in slicing through the Anaheim Ducks’ defense on Sunday.

Again, that goal stands in contrast to some troubling updates for some of the Rangers’ prospects/young players. Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Lias Andersson wants out via a trade. Also, the Rangers didn’t just lose their third consecutive game on Friday; 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko also suffered an injury.

So, yeah, Chytil scoring this splendid goal could soothe some uneasy feelings. Either way, enjoy this beauty of a goal:

Could this Chytil goal start another hot streak?

Chytil burst onto the scene once the Rangers called him up in late October.

The 20-year-old scored a goal in each of his first two games, setting off a hot run of six goals and one assist in eight games. By late November, Chytil generated 10 points (including eight goals) in an impressive 16 contests.

For whatever reason, Chytil froze up with the weather starting in December. Before scoring that sensational Sunday goal, Chytil managed just one assist in nine games this month. Call it a chicken-and-the-egg situation, but either way, his ice time has dropped from 16:37 per night in November to less than 14 minutes per game in December heading into this afternoon.

Later in the game, Chytil suffered a scary fall. The early word is that Chytil might avoid an injury:

Kreider value rising?

While fans watch young players develop, other GMs are eyeing potential trade targets — at least if the Rangers end up as sellers.

Chris Kreider looms as the most obvious person to watch, even if the Rangers hang in there. He’s a pending UFA, so Kreider simply might not fit into their long-term plans. Games like Sunday could pump up Kreider’s trade value, as he has two goals (and counting?) against the Ducks.

The Rangers beat the Ducks 5-1.

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.