Nikita Kucherov

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
Getty Images

A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

Leave a comment

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.

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Measuring stick’ game for Bruins, Lightning

Kucherov Bruins Lightning NBCSN preview
Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

A game between two of the best teams in the NHL is always worth noting, whether the Lightning (87 points) really have a chance to catch the Bruins (94), or not. When you consider that the two teams are expected to be on a collision course for a possible second-round playoff matchup (despite, again, easily ranking among the NHL’s best), it only makes each matchup more interesting.

With Tuesday’s meeting in Tampa Bay on NBCSN and Saturday’s bout in Boston, the Lightning and Bruins get two chances to see how they measure up against each other. Which … again, also translates to how they measure up among the best of the best.

“I look at it more as ‘We haven’t seen them in a long time’ and Tampa has been a really strong team since I’ve been here,” Bruce Cassidy said, via NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty. “For us, it’s a measuring stick maybe. Here’s one of the best teams in our division — and I’d put us in that category as well — and let’s see what they’ve got. It’s less about that if we win this, we can start counting down [to a divisional title].”

Torey Krug believes the games will have a “playoff-type feel” to them. Fittingly enough, there are also reasons why the Lightning and Bruins will be going through a “feeling-out process,” including Tuesday on NBCSN.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Lightning, Bruins continue to deal with trade deadline transitions

Want an idea of how hectic it can be when you’re traded? Consider that life doesn’t just hit the pause button for someone like Blake Coleman, whose baby girl arrived just around the time he went from the Devils to the Lightning.

These games provide a chance for the Bruins and Lightning to see how new additions and alignments might work in strength vs. strength situations. Actually, they also get the chance to see if other things work, like sending a more defensive-minded unit after one of those “strengths.”

Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are charged with finding their footing with the Lightning, not exactly an easy roster to crack. Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie face similar challenges easing in with the Bruins.

Now, there’s some relief in that all four forwards weren’t expected to be team-altering players. No doubt, Kase could really tie the room together, and the Bolts paid big enough for Coleman and Goodrow to expect strong play. But these aren’t the sort of additions teams expect to revolutionize an offense or patch up a shaky defense.

Instead, the goal is for the rich to get richer, and these rosters are about as talent-rich as you’re going to see in the salary cap era.

[Push for the Playoffs]

Can Kucherov stay hot without Stamkos?

Of course, the Lightning are poorer with Stamkos out for the rest of the regular season, and probably a chunk of the playoffs.

It’s far from ideal timing, although Tampa Bay at least gets time to tune up without him. (It probably would’ve been nice to know about this loss before the trade deadline, though, mind you.)

While the Lightning boast other stars like Brayden Point and Victor Hedman, many eyes will be on reigning Art and Hart winner Nikita Kucherov. Lightning fans should be soothed to know that Kucherov can flourish without Stamkos, even if it’s only natural for there to be some drop-off.

The Lightning possess a 57-32-13 record in 112 games played with Kucherov but without Stamkos. So there’s experience there, even if they don’t want to perpetuate such experiences.

It will be fascinating to see if Kucherov can stay hot, because he’s on a torrid run. Kucherov is currently on a personal 19-game point streak with 14 goals and 31 points during that span. Overall, Kucherov has generated 80 points in 63 games.

Bruins begin tough stretch with Tuesday’s NBCSN game vs. Lightning

Two matches against the Lightning in one week already sounds like a tall order for Boston. The challenges go further than that:

If the Lightning took both of this week’s games in regulation, and also took advantage of their game in hand against Boston, then you can see how the Bruins’ buffer could shrink in no time. Virtually every team on this schedule faces even greater urgency than the B’s, so this will be a gut-check stretch.

A … measuring stick, if you will. It should be a good one between the Bruins and Lightning on NBCSN Tuesday.

NBC Sports will take fans inside the sounds and passion of hockey with a one-hour special – “Wired: Stadium Series – Kings vs. Avalanche” – this Wednesday at 12 a.m. ET on NBCSN, immediately following coverage of Ducks-Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Following Wednesday’s premiere, the show will be available on demand on the NBC Sports app. The special will also encore on NBCSN on Thursday, March 5, at 10:30 p.m. ET following NHL Overtime, and on Wednesday, March 11, at 6 p.m. ET.

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: Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl gets to 100 points first

Leon Draisaitl first to 100 points in NHL The Buzzer
Getty Images

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: Benn’s hat trick; Draisaitl keeps rolling for Oilers

NHL Scores
Getty

Three Stars

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. It hasn’t been the best season for Benn but he is refusing to go down quietly and now finds himself as the Stars’ leading goal scorer (18) this season thanks to his hat trick on Tuesday night in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. He has scored nine of those goals in the 15 games since January 1, and is just one goal away from the 300-mark for his career. He is now on pace for 26 goals this season.

2. Mike Matheson and Mark Pysyk, Florida Panthers. It might be cheating to include two players as one entry in the three stars section, but look, these two guys deserve some recognition here. The Panthers dressed eight defensemen on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils and played two of them — Matheson and Pysyk — at forward on a line with Noel Acciari. All that line did was score three goals (one for each player) in a 5-3 win, while Matheson and Pysyk each had a goal, two assists, and finished as a plus-three. Pysyk has previously played forward for the Panthers this season and had a hat trick a couple of weeks ago.

3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. No Connor McDavid, no problem for Draisaitl and the Oilers on Tuesday. The Oilers were 5-3 winners over the Chicago Blackhawks and it was Draisaitl leading the way with a four-point night (one goal, three assists) as he extended his current lead in the NHL scoring race to eight points over McDavid. He is now at 89 points on the season and on pace for 129 points this season. He had 105 points a year ago. If he continues that level of play during McDavid’s absence and helps get the Oilers back in the playoffs it might be enough to take the MVP award away from his teammate.

Along with Draisaitl, 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto also had another big game for the Oilers, scoring two goals in the win. He is now up to seven goals and 14 points in his first 15 games this season after joining the team in late December.

Other Notable Performances From Tuesday

  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 37 shots for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to extend their winning streak despite a growing injury list. Read all about it here.
  • Alex Stalock stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Minnesota Wild as they shut out the Vegas Golden Knights. Kevin Fiala also had a big game for the Wild to extend his point streak to five games.
  • Another strong game for rookie New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin as he stopped turned aside 42 shots in a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Chris Kreider also scored two goals in the win.
  • Mathew Barzal had three assists for the New York Islanders as they won a wild game over the Philadelphia Flyers. Read all about it here.
  • Philipp Grubauer stopped 36 shots for the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night

Mikko Rantanen scored an absolutely beautiful goal late in the first period against the Ottawa Senators, starting it off with a spin move at the blue line.

Here is one of Mathew Barzal’s three assists on Tuesday night, setting up Jordan Eberle for a first period goal to give the Islanders a 3-0 lead. He just flipped it to himself and created a shot like it was nothing.

Not long after a potential Arizona Coyotes game winner was overturned for goaltender interference, Kasperi Kapanen scored the winner for the Toronto Maple Leafs by batting a puck out of mid-air, sending himself on a breakaway, and scoring the goal.

Moment of the Night

Jacob Trouba returned to Winnipeg for the first time as a visiting player on Tuesday night. He did this before the game.

 

Factoids

  • Kucherov extended his point streak to 12 games before leaving with an injury. It is the longest current point streak in the NHL and the fifth-longest in Tampa Bay Lightning franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin is now tied for the most assists (76) by a teenage defenseman in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Hughes became just the third 18-year-old to record at least 20 points in a season for the New Jersey Devils. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, Detroit Red Wings 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Arizona Coyote 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 5, Philadelphia Flyers 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (OT)
Minnesota Wild 4, Vegas Golden Knights 0
New York Rangers 4, Winnipeg Jets 1
Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Ottawa Senators 0
Edmonton Oilers 5, Chicago Blackhawks 3
St. Louis Blues-Anaheim Ducks (Postponed)

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.

Lightning stay hot but lose Kucherov, Cirelli to injuries

Lightning
Getty

PITTSBURGH — Thanks to a 37-save effort from Andrei Vasilevskiy and a game-winning goal from Yanni Gourde to snap what had been a 35-game goal drought, the Tampa Bay Lightning extended their winning current winning streak to eight games with a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.

The Lightning are now 20-3-3 over the past 26 games and are rapidly gaining ground in the Presidents’ Trophy race, now sitting just one point back of the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the league.

The only concerning news for the Lightning on Tuesday is that they lost two more key forwards to injuries as Nikita Kucherov and Anthony Cirelli both exited the game with lower-body injuries and did not return. Coach Jon Cooper had no update on the status of either player after the game, only to say they are being evaluated.

The Lightning were already playing shorthanded on Tuesday with as Steven Stamkos, Ryan McDonagh and Jan Ruuta were already sidelined.

As if that was not enough, the Lightning were also playing the second half of a back-to-back, on the road, against one of the league’s best teams in Pittsburgh and still managed to come away with two points.

Kucherov assisted on Mikhail Sergachev‘s power play goal in the second period before exiting the game.

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.