Mitchell Marner

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.

The Buzzer: Fiala stays hot; Rust’s hat trick gets Pens back on track

Kevin Fiala #22 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates after scoring a goal
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Three Stars

1) Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

His third NHL hat trick helped the Penguins end a six-game slide as they defeated the Ottawa Senators, 7-3. Rust broke a 1-1 tie late in the opening period with a perfectly placed wrist shot from the high slot. He netted his second at 13:29 of the third when he buried a loose puck in front after crashing the net. No. 17 would complete his hat trick late in the third after forcing a turnover near the blue line then firing a wrist shot between the goaltenders’ pads. Evgeni Malkin had four assists and Sidney Crosby recorded his 800th career helper as the Penguins restored order in Pittsburgh with an important victory.

2) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

When you think of elite goal scorers, Connor does not immediately jump to the top of the list for many. However, the 23-year old is tied for sixth in the NHL scoring race and is closing in on his first career 40-goal season. Connor scored twice and added an assist in the Jets’ 3-1 win against the Sabres at Bell MTS Place. He has scored in four consecutive games and registered his sixth multi-goal game of the season as the Jets picked up their second win in the previous two games. Connor netted his first of the evening when he buried a perfect feed from Blake Wheeler at 13:59 of the first period. He notched his second of the game in the middle frame when he quickly pounced on a loose puck in front and buried the rebound.

The Jets remain in a heated wild-card race in the Western Conference, but Connor’s consistent offensive production should help Winnipeg reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

3) Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild

Fiala scored in his fifth straight game to lead the Wild to a crucial 3-1 victory against the Nashville Predators. The Swiss forward has five goals and six assists in the previous five games. Minnesota is only one point from both Western Conference Wild Card spots and has played two less games than the Jets who occupy the position currently. Fiala’s 23 points since February 4 are second most in the NHL, trailing the scorching-hot Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk won a foot race and converted a breakaway to break a 10-game scoring drought as the Bruins topped the Lightning, 2-1.

Mitch Marner put the puck between his legs then slid a backhanded shot past Martin Jones to even the score at 2-2.

Fiala maneuvered around Ryan Ellis with a patient toe drag and then evened the score at 1-1 with a nifty wrist shot.

Charles Hudon’s wicked wrist shot helped the Montreal Canadiens cruise past the New York Islanders, 6-2.

Patrick Kane helped Dylan Strome notch his second goal with a perfect cross-ice pass in the Blackhawks’ 6-2 win.

Craig Smith snagged a puck with his glove then rifled a bouncing puck into the back of the net.

Push for the Playoffs

Stats of the Night

Injury news

Scores

Montreal Canadiens 6, New York Islanders 2
St. Louis Blues 3, New York Rangers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Ottawa Senators 3
Boston Bruins 2, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Minnesota Wild 3, Nashville Predators 1
Winnipeg Jets 3, Buffalo Sabres 1
Chicago Blackhawks 6, Anaheim Ducks 2
Edmonton Oilers 2, Dallas Stars 1 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 3, New Jersey Devils 0
San Jose Sharks 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2


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.

Patrick Kane beats Mitch Marner in tiebreaker to win first Shooting Stars event

To jeers from the St. Louis faithful, Patrick Kane won the first rendition of the “Shooting Stars” competition at the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Event.

Now, the crowd wasn’t booing just because Kane plays for the Blues’ rival Blackhawks in the Central Division. Some might have been grumbling because of some rules confusion. In particular, shooters going for 10 points often felt like they hit the mark, only to realize that they were foiled by the arc. That happened most dramatically when Mitch Marner thought he hit 10 during the tiebreaker round against Kane (and Ryan O'Reilly?). Once it was clear Marner got nothing, Kane pulled off the equivalent to getting a field goal to win in NFL overtime.

Shooting Stars brings some fun. It also is the sort of activity where you can get a pop from the crowd by bringing in retired stars. The audience received two such treats, as Keith Tkachuk joined his ragamuffin sons Brady and Matthew Tkachuk for an attempt. Brett Hull also took to the stage on behest of Ryan O’Reilly.

People worked the crowd beyond that. As often as Matthew Tkachuk plays the role of pro wrestling villain, he drew some easy cheers by showing off a Cardinals jersey. (To be fair, Matthew spent plenty of time in the area, so he might be a “shoot” Cardinals fan, to use pro wrestling parlance.)

So … maybe this one needs some fine-tuning, but it was really fun, including strong showings from Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight. Hockey combining Dude Perfect trick shot videos with Skee-Ball seems like a winner. Now they just need to print out tickets so people can earn worthless nicknacks.

Results

Patrick Kane – 22, “2” in tiebreaker

Mitch Marner – 22, narrowly missed 10 in tiebreaker
Matthew Tkachuk – 20
Marie-Philip Poulin – 15
Hilary Knight – 14
Ryan O’Reilly – 14
David Perron – 14
Tyler Seguin – 14
David Pastrnak – 10
Brady Tkachuk – 6

Mitch Marner out at least four weeks for Maple Leafs

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When a 5-4 loss against the Chicago Blackhawks isn’t the worst news of the night, you know the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a bit of trouble.

In a statement released during Sunday’s game, Toronto said that Mitch Marner underwent an MRI Sunday after sustaining an ankle injury in Saturday’s game against Philadelphia and is expected to be out of the lineup for a minimum of four weeks, at which point he will be reassessed.

Marner was injured after the opening faceoff of the second period when he fell on his right leg. He would return later in the contest to test his ankle but shortly after the trial went back to the locker room for good.

Toronto will get a minor boost to its lineup with Zach Hyman set to return from offseason surgery sometime next week. Prior to the Marner injury, the Leafs had a potential salary cap issue looming which forced the team to place forward Nic Petan and defenseman Martin Marincin on waivers earlier this week, but both went unclaimed. However, if Marner were to be placed on Long Term IR, the issue could resolve itself for the time being.

But that is the only minor positive to the injury. Marner had 18 points in as many games and was a key cog alongside John Tavares at the top of the lineup. Jason Spezza had the first crack next to the Leafs captain Sunday against the Blackhawks, but that position is expected to be a revolving door until the right trio presents itself.

“Really disappointed for Mitch, disappointed for our hockey team,” coach Mike Babcock told reporters after the game. “In saying that, someone else is going to get an opportunity. As coaches, we’ve got to figure it out. We have to get our lines — I mean, we had a different line for each period [against Chicago] — we have to get our lines right to maximize the group we have and get the right people in the right spots.”

With seven of the its next eight games on the road, Toronto will need significant contributions from its entire roster in order to replicate Marner’s production, and keep the Maple Leafs on the inside looking out in regard to the playoff race.

The Leafs are well aware of how vital playoff positioning is, having lost in the first round in the previous two seasons against the Boston Bruins as the road team. In the Atlantic Division, six of the eight teams are above .500, and the race to the finish will be highly competitive.

If the Maple Leafs struggle to win games with Marner sidelined, the long-term ramifications could be unfavorable playoff positioning or potentially missing the postseason altogether.

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.

Maple Leafs take Game 1 against Bruins on the road

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The Maple Leafs limped into the playoffs with a 4-7-3 record to round out the season and rob any chance of Game 1 of their long anticipated series against Boston being played in Toronto. In the end though, it didn’t matter. After working through some late season injuries, the Maple Leafs had all hands on deck and combined they delivered a 4-1 victory over Boston.

While this game certainly wasn’t a blowout by any stretch of the imagination, it was close to the ideal scenario for the Maple Leafs. Most importantly, goaltender Frederik Andersen was great. There were some concerns about fatigue with him late in the season and he didn’t look good in the 2018 series against Boston, but this game would have been very different if he was just okay.

The only time Andersen was beat Thursday night was on a superb power-play goal from Brad Marchand to Patrice Bergeron. That marker gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead and had the potential to set the tone, but Mitchell Marner changed the story.

Marner evened the contest before the first period ended and provided the turning point when he got on a breakaway while the Maple Leafs were shorthanded. He drew a penalty shot that led to Toronto’s game-winning goal.

That narrow 2-1 edge stuck for most of the second period until William Nylander provided Toronto with some much needed breathing room, thanks in part to a laser pass from Nazem Kadri.

Boston ended up out shooting Toronto 21-14 in the second period alone, but the Maple Leafs scored the only two goals in that frame. That 3-1 lead would stick until John Tavares finished Boston off with an empty netter.

The Maple Leafs now have something they never possessed in the 2018 series against the Bruins: The lead. In 2018, the Bruins won the first two games in Boston and while Toronto battled back to force a Game 7, the Maple Leafs never possessed the series lead. Now we’ll see if Toronto can build on its early success or if Boston will come right back in Game 2. Certainly, Boston is too good of a team to be dismissed after just one loss.

Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.