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.

2020 NHL Draft, Combine, Awards have been postponed

2020 NHL Draft postponed Combine Awards
via NHL
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While the 2019-20 season remains on “pause,” the NHL announced that the 2020 NHL Draft, Combine, and Awards have all been postponed.

The league explains that the “location, timing, and format” of the 2020 NHL Draft (and corresponding lottery) will be announced once details have been finalized. This makes sense, as The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports that the league and team executives are battering around different ideas about how to handle the lottery (sub required).

(Sadly, Custance’s report also mostly shoots down the most-fun ideas, like a tournament among cellar dwellers to decide who gets the top pick. Perhaps that would be too exciting?)

The Combine was originally set for June 1-6 in Buffalo, the awards ceremony was going to take place in Las Vegas once again on June 18, while the 2020 NHL Draft was originally set for June 26-27 in Montreal.

If the NHL parallels other sports leagues, these events will likely be handled mostly online and in scaled-down formats, but we’ll wait and see.

Lamenting the Draft, Combine, Awards being postponed

Those looking for the biggest losers of this announcement will focus on:

  • Scouts, and other people who want to know if someone can or cannot do pull-ups.
  • People who love to laugh at awkward Combine photos, assuming that sweaty event doesn’t happen at all.

Actually, quick question. Which genre of Combine photo is more amusing? Do you rate the various funny faces while lifting shots the highest?

NHL Draft Lottery postponed no Combine lifting faces Lias Andersson
Sorry, Lias Andersson. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

… Or those V02 tests from earlier Combines, where the shenanigans went from cheeky to cruel once they got rid of those masks? (Waits for bad Bane impressions.)

NHL Draft Lottery postponed no Combine Bane Leon Draisaitl
Sorry, too, to Leon Draisaitl (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Actually, the answer is probably c) wild hockey hair photos.

NHL Draft Lottery postponed no Combine Timothy Liljegren
Timothy Liljegren somehow not touching one of those static energy machines at a science museum (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
  • Also losing: anyone wondering if Kenan Thompson would be back for another strong Awards performance. Would his rivalry with the Lightning have continued? We may never know.

Anyway, we still await bigger announcements regarding the 2019-20 NHL season, but now we know that the Draft, Combine, and Awards will be postponed. (Again, it’s fair to wonder how the Combine can really function. Rigorous workouts on Skype or Zoom? I’m running out of streaming platforms here, gang.)

Let’s be honest, shutting down the Awards in Vegas was kind of a no-brainer for public health, if nothing else. Trust me on that one.

MORE:

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.

PHT remembers video games: NHL Championship 2000, featuring Mike Modano

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Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game, preferably one less obvious than the “Swingers”-immortalized “NHL 94.” Due to technological limitations (anyone have a SNES or Sega Genesis lying around, along with working cartridges?), many reviews will lean closer to recollections. Either way, hopefully these are fun — and maybe inspire people to scour a flea market or two when it becomes safe to do so.

Let’s take a walk down Unreliable Memory Lane for a moment.

It’s Christmas, probably in 1999, but — if I’m being honest — maybe 2000. As any spoiled hockey fan, I asked for EA Sports’ NHL 2000 for Playstation. Instead, what I got was … NHL Championship 2000?

“What is this strange game with Mike Modano on the cover?” I probably asked myself, while sweeping even-worse-than-quarantined hair from my pimply teenage face. On the outside, there was approval for the gift, but on the inside … grumbles.

And yet … it was good! At least, that’s how I remember it.

[Video games not enough? “Hockey Week in America” might provide your hockey fix.]

To be honest, when a weekly video game review/recollection idea surfaced, I wondered if “That Fox Mike Modano game” was an outright hallucination. After all, life tends to zap memories, even if we’re not all experiencing elaborate flashbacks like “The Dude.”

But, no, the game existed. Hurrah. It’s even available used, with amusing Amazon reviews and all.

Enjoy this shot of the front cover for NHL Championship 2000, via that listing:

NHL Championship 2000 front
via Fox Sports Interactive/Amazon

But it’s really the back cover that could bring back a flood of nostalgia for gaming nerds like me of a certain age:

NHL Championship 2000 back
via Fox Sports Interactive/Amazon

Magically, there’s gameplay footage on Youtube, as you can see in the video embedded above this post’s headline.

NHL Championship 2000 received solid reviews

Yes, it is indeed tempting to mock “Sports Games. FOX Attitude.” Yet, the long-departed Fox Interactive might respond, “Where’s the lie?”

The game incorporated the Fox NHL theme very nicely, including that hockey stick by way of “Spoonman” percussion. Such integration was ahead of its time even then, as modern NHL games continue to aim at TV-like presentation, sometimes with as many missed shots as top-shelf productions.

I must say, after watching some gameplay footage, the game looked surprisingly solid. Primitive video game reviews back that up to a decent degree, too.

This IGN review is jarring at times (“the eloquent Terry Bradshaw” is something you should try to drop into casual conversation), but it backs up my memories that NHL Championship 2000 was surprisingly good. That review also notes a relic of that era: multiple NHL-licensed video games … in the same year.

This is the third hockey game I’ve played for the 2000 season. At one point, I thought nothing would top EA Sports’ NHL 2000, but Fox Sports Interactive has come through in the clutch. My expectations for this game were lower than imaginable. I mean, this is the same company that brought us College Hoops 99, one of the worst games ever developed for the N64. All biases aside, they have undoubtedly created an amazing product for the PS.

As far as I can tell, the NHL Championship series was a one-and-done affair with the 2000 edition. It’s possible that a different NHL game series adapted its engine, but I couldn’t find any information to back that up. (There’s not a ton out there on “Fox Sports Interactive,” in general.)

[Keith Jones isn’t passing his time with video games. Larry David movies, though? You bet.]

Bygone era of multiple licensed NHL video games

These days, video gaming hockey fans don’t have a ton to choose from. EA’s series (most recently NHL 20) can be a little derisive, but I’ve found that it generally crosses some of the boxes. At minimum, it hasn’t been a disaster like, say, pro wrestling video games.

The NHL2K series enjoyed quite the run during the Playstation2/Original Xbox era, but never really countered the NHL series’ institution of “The Skill Stick.” NHL2K11 was the last game in the series, while NHL2K10 was the last one that appeared on contemporary platforms. (NHL 2K11 was on Wii and IOS).

Since then, it’s been EA’s NHL games or something off the beaten path, such as “Super Blood Hockey.”

Perhaps another wave of hockey video games will come that will parallel NHL Championship 2000 and those feelings of “Was there really a game with Mike Modano on the cover?” As it stands, it seems most likely that such times will remain distant memories, like glow pucks.

Hey, some memories are better than others.

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.

 

PHT Morning Skate: Animal Crossing and Hockey, of course; Shea Weber robocalls

Animal Crossing hockey NHL Morning Skate
via Reddit user "Goomba Face"
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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.

Animal Crossing and Hockey? Of course.

Despite being a video game nerd (more on that later on Tuesday, actually), I’ve figured that Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t quite for me. Yet, with people piling up adorable, relaxing-looking photo after photo on social media, I’m starting to wonder. Making matters worse/better is the invasion of hockey-type stuffs.

Russian Machine Never Breaks’ Rachel Cohen provided a nice little roundup of Animal Crossing-hockey connections, which maybe we should call Animal Cross-Checking?

Perfectly named Reddit user “Goomba Face” created a collection of NHL jerseys (and sometimes extras) for you to adorn your adorable avatars with.

Cohen went the extra mile and drew NHL mascots in the style of how they’d look like as Animal Crossing villagers (your little town is built to draw in various cute critters, from what I gather).

Inevitable COVID-19 related links

• In many corners of the world and Internet, people are taking COVID-19 seriously. Yet, there are also many embarrassing people who are flaunting warnings about social distancing, or reacting in downright tragic ways.

It’s nice to see people in the hockey world take the coronavirus outbreak seriously, and do their part in helping others. In a surreal but kind of sweet twist, Shea Weber is contributing robocalls to help inform the Montreal public. (Montreal CTV News)

• As a reminder, NBC News presents running updates for the pandemic. Please take this seriously, everyone. (NBC News)

• Olympic Talk explains that the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to 2021. (Olympic Talk)

• The Blues addressed the fact that a relative of a team employee tested positive for COVID-19. (Blues)

General hockey links

• Great stuff on 20-year-old Kiara Scott, who became the first woman hired as scout for an OHL team. Scott hopes to eventually work for an NHL team. It’s part of William Douglas’ “Color of Hockey” feature at NHL.com, which is absolutely worth your time. (NHL.com)

• As part of The Score’s “Without Hockey” series, John Matisz looks at how the Lightning’s chance at redemption was put on hold. No doubt, they were a strong contender to win it all after dealing with early bumps in the road. (The Score)

• This one might hit you like a laser-beam slapper: an argument for the return of “FoxTrax”-inspired Glow Pucks. (Forever Blueshirts)

• How the Sabres can remodel their roster during the offseason. Should the Sabres try to send stealth Selke candidate Anthony Cirelli an offer sheet? (Die By The Blade)

• Rating Penguins jersey designs, from worst to first. I knew the “gradient” Penguins look would be low, but I’ll probably always have a soft spot for that tacky little thing. (Hockey By Design)

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.

NHL Power Rankings: The most underrated players

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus to individual players. Specifically, the most underrated players in the NHL right now.

We are trying to keep this to players that are legitimately underrated, overlooked, and do not get the proper amount of attention they probably deserve.

So we are just going to put this out here at the front front: You will not see Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom or Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov on this list. They are staples on every underrated list or ranking that is compiled and both have reached a point where everyone knows exactly how great they are (pretty great).

Who does make this list?

To the rankings!

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers. While everyone falls all over themselves to talk about how underrated Barkov is, the Panthers’ other star forward is actually still fairly overlooked. Especially when you consider just how productive he has been, and for how long he has played at that level. Huberdeau has been a monster offensively for four seasons now and one of the league’s top scorers. Since the start of the 2016-17 season he’s in the top-15 among in points per game among all players with at least 100 games played, and has climbed into the top-10 over the past two seasons.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s probably a lot of people that would put him at the top of a most overrated list, and it’s truly one of the more baffling narratives in the league right now. Nylander is a constant lightning-rod for criticism and is always the first player that gets mentioned as being dangled as trade bait. What makes it so baffling is that he is an outstanding hockey player. Outside of the 2018-19 season (disrupted by his RFA saga) he has been a possession-driving, 60-point winger every year of his career, is still only 23 years old, and is on pace for close to 40 goals this season. Here’s a hot take for you: His $6.9 million salary cap hit will look like a steal before the contract expires. 

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have a pretty good core of players that get their share of recognition — Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler specifically. Even Conor Hellebuyck is getting the proper level of respect this season and is going to be a Vezina Trophy front-runner. But Connor just quietly slides under the radar casually hits the 30-goal mark every season. His pace this season would have put him close to the 45-goal mark.

4. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators. Ellis is underrated in the sense that he seems to be generally regarded as a really good defenseman and another in a long line of outstanding defenders to come through the Nashville pipeline. He is much more than that. He is actually one of the best all-around defensemen in the entire league.

5. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Over the summer I thought the Canucks were insane to trade a future first-round draft pick for Miller given where they were in their rebuild. It is not looking all that crazy right now. If anything, it is looking pretty outstanding. He was always a good player with upside in New York and Tampa Bay, but Miller has blossomed in Vancouver and become a bonafide top-line player.

6. Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning. As if the Lightning were not already dominant enough, they had another young talent come through their system to make an impact. Cirelli is only 22 years old and is already one of the league’s best defensive forwards while also showing 25-30 goal, 60-point potential.

7. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars. Klingberg is an interesting case because he’s received some serious Norris consideration on occasion (sixth-place finish two different times), but he still probably doesn’t get enough recognition for how good he has consistently been in Dallas. He is one of the top offensive-defensemen in the league and is much better defensively than he tends to get credit for. Heck, he’s better in every area than he tends to get credit for.

8. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin might be starting to get into that Backstrom-Barkov area of underrated where he’s referred to as “underrated” so often that he is no longer underrated. But he is not quite there yet. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard or put up huge offensive numbers, but he is one of the best pure shutdown defensemen in the league.

9. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens. Gallagher is generally viewed as a pest, but he is also on track for his third straight 30-goal season, is strong defensively, and is always one of the best possession players in the league. You may not like him when he plays against your team, but you would love him if he played for it.

10. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. He is a recent No. 1 overall pick and just signed a huge contract extension so there is a certain level of expectation that comes with all of that. Maybe you think he has not matched it. But that is probably setting an unfair bar. Not every top pick is going to immediately enter the NHL and become a superstar at a Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid kind of level. Sometimes it takes a few years. In the short-term, Hischier has already proven to have 20-goal, 50-point ability while playing a strong defensive game. There’s a lot more upside here, too. Don’t let the draft status and contract term trick you into thinking he hasn’t been good. He has been. He is also only going to get better.

Honorable mentions: Jeff Petry (Montreal Canadiens), Brian Dumoulin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Evgenii Dadonov (Florida Panthers), Tomas Tatar (Montreal Canadiens), Roope Hintz (Dallas Stars), Conor Garland (Arizona Coyotes), Jakub Vrana (Washington Capitals), Torey Krug (Boston Bruins), Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars), Jared Spurgeon (Minnesota Wild)

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.