Category: NHL (page 1 of 12)

Dahlin tops Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters

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By Mike G. Morreale NHL.com

Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin of Frolunda in Sweden is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters for the 2018 NHL Draft, to be held at American Airlines Center in Dallas on June 22-23.

Central Scouting revealed its final list of the top International skaters and goaltenders, and top North American skaters and goaltenders, on Monday.

Dahlin (6-foot-2, 181 pounds), a left-handed shot, could become the first Sweden-born player chosen No. 1 since Mats Sundin by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989. He would be the first defenseman chosen No. 1 since Aaron Ekblad by the Florida Panthers in 2014.

“Dahlin is an exceptionally talented prospect who will be able to contribute, influence and impact a team’s fortunes much in the way that defensemen Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) have in the NHL,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “If you wanted to pick one player from the 2018 draft who could potentially be viewed as a generational talent, Rasmus would be the only candidate. There is that much respect for him and his abilities.”

Dahlin, who turned 18 on Friday, had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists), a plus-4 rating, 30 hits, 36 blocked shots and 84 shots on goal while averaging 19:02 of ice time in 41 games in the Swedish Hockey League. He had three points (one goal, two assists) and a plus-3 rating in six SHL playoff games.

He was named the best defenseman at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship after he had six points, all assists, 25 shots on goal and a plus-7 rating while averaging 23:08 of ice time in seven games to help Sweden win the silver medal. He also was the youngest player on Sweden’s roster for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics by seven years.

“Dahlin is in a class of his own,” said Goran Stubb, director of NHL European Scouting. “He’s fulfilled everything that was expected of him as a regular with Frolunda. He’s a smart two-way defenseman with a great set of tools, including skating, puck handling, vision, intelligence and shot.

“He’s not overly physical on the ice but he doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff.”

Dahlin opted to sit out the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, which runs April 19-29, in order to prepare for the NHL Scouting Combine in June. He played 74 games in 2017-18, including regular-season and playoff games for Frolunda, and with Sweden in international tournaments.

Rounding out the top five among European skaters are No. 2 defenseman Adam Boqvist (5-11, 168) of Brynas’ team in Sweden’s junior league; No. 3 right wing Vitali Kravtsov (6-2, 170) of Chelyabinsk in Russia; No. 4 right wing Martin Kaut (6-1, 176) of Pardubice in the Czech Republic; and No. 5 defenseman Adam Ginning (6-3, 196) of Linkoping in Sweden.

Boqvist, 17, is a right-shot defenseman who had 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) and a plus-6 rating in 25 games with Brynas in the junior league, and one assist in 15 games with Brynas in the SHL. He’s the younger brother of New Jersey Devils forward prospect Jesper Boqvist (No. 36, 2017 draft).

[RANKINGS (PDF): North American Skaters | North American Goalies | International Skaters | International Goalies]

“Boqvist is an extremely skilled defenseman with excellent vision and tons of talent,” Stubb said. “He has good on-ice awareness, a good shot and is a finesse-type player who plays bigger than he is.”

Kravtsov, 18, was No. 10 on Central Scouting’s midterm list. He made a big jump after major strides in the second half of the season for Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. He had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 35 regular-season games, and 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 16 KHL playoff games.

“He’s gained more weight and is a powerful skater with balance and speed,” Stubb said. “He’s also gritty at times and has a no-quit attitude. A prototypical power-forward.”

Kaut, 18, had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 38 games in the Czech Republic’s top professional league.

Ginning, 18, a left-shot defenseman, had two points (one goal, one assist) in 28 SHL games.

Lukas Dostal (6-1, 158) of Treibic in the Czech Republic’s second division, is the No. 1 on Central Scouting’s final list of International goaltenders. Dostal, 17, had a 2.43 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 20 games.

“He has good overall net coverage with strong angle and positional play,” Stubb said. “When he is hot, he’s really good. But like many other young and inexperienced goalies, he’s a bit inconsistent from game to game. But he does play with a lot of desire, determination and confidence.”

NHL Playoff Preview: A first glance at the eight first-round matchups

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By Jared Clinton – The Hockey News

The first round of the post-season gets underway Wednesday, but before we dive deep into each series, take a quick look at what to expect when the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

It took until the last game of the season for the playoff matchups to be set, but the Boston Bruins’ loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers locked the two final post-season series into place. And with that, the hockey world can prepare for the two-plus month journey to the Stanley Cup with a look at the first-round matchups that will decide which teams extend their seasons and which will be joining the non-playoff clubs for some late-spring tee times:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

METROPOLITAN DIVISION
Washington Capitals (1) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (WC1)

In other years, the Capitals entering the post-season as a top seed would come with big expectations. That’s not the case this time around, and that’s entirely the result of Washington fooling prognosticators time and again with earlier-than-expected playoff exits. It also doesn’t help matters for the Capitals that they’re entering a series against a Blue Jackets team that was one of the hottest in the NHL over the past month. The good news for Washington, however, is that the season series finished 3-1 in favor of the Capitals despite the fact the Blue Jackets held a significant edge in shots in each outing. This is a series that could come down to a battle of stars — Alex Ovechkin vs. Artemi Panarin — and goaltending.

Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (3)
We wanted more Battle of Pennsylvania, and we’re getting more Battle of Pennsylvania. There’s little doubt this is going to be one of the most heated series of the first round as there’s no love lost between the Penguins and Flyers. As for who wins the battle, though, the season series would seem to suggest this is going to be lopsided. Pittsburgh scored five goals in each of the head-to-heads during the regular season en route to a 4-0 sweep of the season series, but two of those contests were overtime wins and the Penguins’ defense is going to be tasked with shutting down a Claude Giroux who has returned to world-beating form. The playoffs can be a different animal, and in a series with this much emotion, no result would be shocking.

ATLANTIC DIVISION
Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs. New Jersey Devils (WC2)

Based purely on seeding and regular season performance, the assumption would be that this is the Lightning’s series to lose. Thing is, that’s exactly what Tampa Bay did during the regular season. Three times the Lighting and Devils squared off during the regular season. Three times New Jersey came out on top. In fact, Tampa Bay is the only Eastern Conference team who lost every one of their outings against New Jersey this season, so maybe this is the best possible draw for the Devils. Even with that said, though, one worries about an inexperienced New Jersey group taking on a Tampa Bay team that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs, and the sure-to-be increased focus on Taylor Hall means the Devils may have to find another hero to drive them to victory.

Boston Bruins (2) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (3)
Seven points may have separated the two teams during the regular season, but the margin was even thinner than that. Both Boston and Toronto traded 4-1 victories at separate points during the campaign, while the other two contests were decided by a single goal — and both of those outings were Bruins losses. It should be noted, however, that two of those games came in the first half of the season, before Boston became one of the NHL’s juggernauts. In the second half, the Bruins went a remarkable 29-10-6 and were two points off the league lead from January onward. Toronto wasn’t far off, finishing seventh in the second half, but a healthy Boston lineup is as scary and as deep as any in the league.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL DIVISION
Nashville Predators (1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (WC2)

The Avalanche won a crucial game, a winner-take-all battle with the St. Louis Blues, to earn the right to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, sneaking in as the second wild-card team also comes with the task of playing the Predators in the first round. Nashville was nearly unstoppable in the second half of the campaign and Ryan Ellis’ return rounded out an already lethal blueline to give the Predators arguably the most complete lineup of any team in the post-season. The season series doesn’t offer Colorado much hope here, sadly. Four losses, three by two or more goals and one that was decided in overtime. If Nathan MacKinnon is shut down by Nashville’s defense corps, this series could be a quick one.

Winnipeg Jets (2) vs. Minnesota Wild (3)
Winnipeg comes into this series as the regular season’s second-best, a group that’s deep offensively and defensively and one that has received stellar goaltending throughout the campaign. But getting by Minnesota, their cross-border rivals, is going to be no easy task. Sure, the Jets won the season series, but two of their three victories were of the one-goal variety and the Wild carried play at even strength. Winnipeg’s home-ice advantage might help decide the series, though, as Minnesota finished the season two games below .500 on the road, giving them the second-worst road record of any Western Conference playoff team. The Jets, meanwhile, had more wins at home than any other team in the NHL.

PACIFIC DIVISION
Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (WC1)

The Golden Knights’ success this season led them to top spot in the Pacific Division and sees them enter their first-ever playoff series as the betting favorites. The long look makes it clear why, too. Vegas had the league’s fifth-most potent offense, eighth-most staunch defense and both special teams units ranked just outside the top third in the NHL. Over the final quarter of the campaign, however, the Kings scored only one fewer goal, allowed 11 fewer against, had a power play that operated at only a slightly lower rate of success and boasted the NHL’s second-best penalty kill. Los Angeles also went 15-8-3 to Las Vegas’ 14-9-3 from mid-February onward. This might be a top seed-versus-wild-card club battle, but the on-ice play will be much tighter than the standings suggest.

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (3)
If the season series is any indication, hockey fans in California are going to have some late nights watching the Ducks and Sharks. Of the four outings played between the two teams, three went to extra time and all three needed to go beyond overtime to decide a winner. That’s how razor-thin the margin between these two clubs has been all season. It should be noted, however, that Anaheim has yet to face this post-deadline San Jose group, which has seen a significant boost in offense since the arrival of Evander Kane. The Sharks were the sixth-highest scoring team after the trade freeze, fifth-best defensively and one of the better possession teams in the NHL. That said, getting pucks past a healthy John Gibson with any consistency is going to be a tough task, and goaltending is a definite edge for Anaheim. Buckle up for this one.

Khaira opening doors for a billion Indians

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By Ryan O’R’ Leary – IIHF.com

When does the name on the back of a hockey sweater go far beyond simply identifying a player?

Well, in the case of Edmonton Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira, the phenomenon takes place when the letters stitched on his orange and blue Oilers jersey represent billions of people hidden in the game of hockey.

The 23-year-old son of Punjabi immigrants – who were volleyball stars in their own right – has finally found a meaningful role with the Oilers after bouncing between the pro club and its AHL affiliate for the past few years.

Perhaps more importantly, he’s only the third player of Punjabi descent to play in the NHL, joining pioneer Robin Bawa and Manny Malholtra as the only other players from the region to play at hockey’s highest level.

Though Khaira’s story is extraordinary, the family’s immigration story is not. They settled in Surrey, British Columbia along with a number of other Punjabi families.

In fact, Surrey boasts one of the largest South Asian populations in all of Canada with folks from the region making up 30.7% of the city’s demographic.

Sukhjinder and Komal Khaira were hardworking, blue-collar people toiling as a gravel truck driver and speech language pathologist. As they worked hard to provide for the family, Jujhar turned to Canada’s sport for assimilation.

There’s a natural attraction to ice hockey for Indian immigrants for a couple of reasons. The first and least surprising is field hockey.

It’s everywhere in India and the national team is one of the most dominant in the world. Although the game is played on ice in Canada, the speed and specificity of the game entices immigrants looking for a taste of home.

“There is something that attracted recent immigrants to the game and that has to do with the link of field hockey, which is big in India, and ice hockey,” said Hockey Night in Punjabi host Randip Janda.

“Indian people are used to fast-paced, physical games, so hockey was a natural draw.”

The second reason is sociological. Hockey is so ubiquitous in Canadian society that new arrivals gravitate to the sport as a means of creating common ground. And according to Bhupinder Hundal, play-by-play announcer for Hockey Night in Punjabi, hockey passion in the Punjabi community has been growing for a long time.

“It’s [the passion] been there for a long time, a couple decades or more, but now you see it really bubbling up,” he said.

“Within the South Asian community there has been a passionate, loyal hockey fan base across the country and now it’s all coming together.”

Hero Status

Whether he likes it or not, Jujhar Khaira is the face of hockey for more than a billion people.

And if you ask Janda, there isn’t a more perfect idol for the number of young Punjabi’s looking to play hockey.

“He’s not necessarily the most skilled player, he does have some, but he works harder than everyone else,” said Janda.

“That’s a game-changer because it shows all the other kids like him that you can do it through sheer hard work.”

In Surrey, a hockey rink today looks much different than it did even 20 years ago. The youth ranks are filled with players of different backgrounds and the ice is much more reflective of the community.

“Hockey has traditionally been very conservative and lacking diversity,” said Janda. “It’s been hard not to be white and make the NHL.”

But now, in light of Khaira’s success, all of those kids have a tangible idol they can try to emulate.

“For so many of those kids, they’re more than just hockey viewers, now they’re participants.”

Khaira, who has 21 points in 65 games with the Oilers this year, isn’t the only Punjabi succeeding at the higher levels of hockey.

Look no further than his brother, Sahvan, who plays defence for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL. There’s also Akash Bains of the Everett Silvertips.

“Look around the BCHL and you’ll see five or six Punjab names on each roster,” said Janda.

“The game in the Punjabi community is stronger than ever before.”

Though there’s just one Punjabi player in the NHL, Janda projects it’ll take a five to ten years before we see the true impact of Jujhar Khaira’s fame.

“In a couple years we’ll be seeing Khaira jerseys all over the local rinks,” he said. “All of those kids are saying, if Jujhar can do it, why can’t I?”

Spreading the Game

In recent years there’s been an interesting addition to the Hockey Night In Canada Broadcast.

Since 2014, Hockey Night in Punjabi has been a staple in thousands of immigrant households cross Canada. Each week they broadcast a hockey double-header in their native Punjabi tongue.

“What we’ve been able to do is tap into the passion that exists,” Hundal said. “But we’ve added an element of flare and excitement to it that really makes it resonate with a cross-section of Punjabi speaking people.”

“We bring something to the table that really connects.”

The broadcast reached peak notoriety during the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals, when Harnarayan Singh’s infamous “Bonino-Bonino-Bonino” call of Nick Bonino’s overtime, series winning goal went viral.

While that moment might’ve exposed the larger hockey community to HNIP’s existence, it’s the mark they’ve left on the Punjabi community each Saturday night that makes them most proud.

According to Hundal, the cities with the largest South Asian communities across Canada are Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary, so heavy airtime is devoted to those teams. That quintet of cities makes up roughly 90% of the entire Punjabi population in Canada.

They’ve also penetrated into American cities such as Chicago and Pittsburgh and see a ton of web traffic from Punjabi hockey fans living overseas.

Back in Canada, Hundal says the data suggests that the broadcast has reached more than 55% of all Punjabi homes.

“We’ve been able to connect with so many people in the community,” Hundal added.

“People can gather around their TV and watch their favorite team in their language and that creates a special feeling.”

Both Janda and Hundal point to the fact that the broadcast has connected multiple generations of Punjabis to the game of hockey in a way they weren’t before.

The broadcast is also seeing a boost now that Khaira has found a permanent role with the Oilers – giving HNIP a familiar face to feature and one that Indian people everywhere can celebrate.

“He’s representing the hopes and dreams of so many young South Asians,” Hundal said emphatically.

“To see someone that looks like him play in the NHL goes a long way.”

India

According to the IIHF Survey of Players there are just 1,293 Indians currently registered to play hockey back home in India and roughly one-quarter are women.

The country’s hockey is based in the northern parts of India such as Ladakh where it gets cold enough that hockey can be played on natural ice for a few months during the winter.

So, in light of this data, is India the next frontier for hockey?

Well, Janda says yes, but with a caveat.

“India is definitely the next global destination for hockey, but it’s such a new game there,” he said.

“It’s really starting from square one, even with simple things like geography, weather and infrastructure.”

Infrastructure is a financial thing, but if you’ve read the news lately you know that India is rising in that category. According to an October report from the World Economic Forum, India is the seventh largest economy in the world and is projected to trail only China by the year 2050.

Finding a player base shouldn’t be an issue. The country boasts 1.3 billion people and as stated earlier, hockey is already semi-engrained.

Understanding that India is hockey’s next frontier, Canadian legend Haley Wickenheiser launched the India2YYC Initiative project.

The project is two-pronged. First, Wickenheiser and former NHLer Andrew Ference led an envoy of hockey officials to Ladakh, India, to coach female players and expose more to the game in January.

“It’s just about more than [hockey]. It’s about empowering women and children, and it’s about giving them confidence. It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself and making a difference in another part of the world,” Wickenheiser told the CBC.

Secondly, Wickenheiser will welcome those same participants to The Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival in November 2018 to further their development and exposure to the game.

“Hockey is just a vehicle we use, but the lessons and the interactions, the emotions, go way past playing a sport. But by playing the sport we all connect.”

Wickenheiser’s initiative is an important one, but it’s still early days. India isn’t an ice hockey country yet, but the opportunity is there.

And given Khaira’s success and the impact of Hockey Night in Punjabi, it seems there is momentum for the game in India.

Sheffield Steelers’ Kirk takes step closer to living the NHL ‘dream

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Eighteen-year-old Liam Kirk is hoping to become the first
British-born and British-trained player to earn a place with a team
in the National Hockey League.

By Phil Harrison – Yorkshire Post

For several months now teenager Liam Kirk has had to deal with being British ice hockey’s great hope.

Since the turn of the year interest in the 18-year-old Sheffield Steelers’ forward has intensified from teams in the National Hockey League, the world’s premier competition.

Scouts from more than 20 NHL teams have taken the time to follow up word-of-mouth recommendations and video of the Rotherham-born forward in action. They made the trip to the UK to see first-hand what all the talk is about to report back to their bosses in North America.

Clearly there is significant interest in his future. On Thursday Kirk was informed that he was being extended an invitation to the NHL’s annual Scouting Combine event in Buffalo, New York, in May.

There Kirk will have the opportunity to talk with all 31 teams as well as go through a series of rigorous skill and physical tests from which the teams will then take the information to inform their decision-making when it comes to the NHL Entry Draft event in Dallas on June 22-23.

Steelers coach Paul Thompson says he will be “flabbergasted” if Kirk – ranked as a ‘C’ Prospect, thereby placing him in the fourth, fifth and sixth round of picks – is not drafted.

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Liam Kirk in action for Sheffield Steers against Cardiff.

Should he find himself as one of the chosen ones and subsequently go on to play in the NHL – or ‘The Show’ as it is often referred to – it will make Kirk the first British-born and British- trained player to do so.

Other British-born players have played in the NHL over the years, but they have largely done so after their training and development took place outside of the UK.

In recent memory, Tony Hand and Colin Shields were two British-born and trained players to be drafted although neither made it through to the top.

Therefore being drafted does not guarantee anything, as a number of Kirk’s current Steelers’ team-mates will testify, but there is a clear determination in the youngster to seize the opportunity he has in front of him, with one aim being a role model for other British youngsters playing what is, for many in the UK, a minority sport.

Every year British youngsters head away from the UK to improve their game, either to Europe or North America. But Kirk, despite opportunities to go abroad, has remained in Britain, his performances for GB junior teams first bringing him to the attention of Thompson at Sheffield.

After a week’s training with the Steelers, Thompson knew he wanted to sign up Kirk, along with fellow teenage prospect Cole Shudra.

Both were given three-year apprenticeships – this season being joined by Bradford-born forward Kieran Brown on a similar deal – and it is Kirk who has emerged the quickest, with the Steelers resigned to seeing the youngster continue his career and hockey education elsewhere, most probably in North America.

For Kirk, the speculation and headlines that have followed him around in recent months are something he has taken in his stride.

“When you’re a kid from Britain playing hockey people laugh at you if you mention the idea of playing in the NHL, or even getting drafted,” said Kirk, who has had conversations in recent weeks with representatives from the Chicago Blackhawks, the San Jose Sharks, the Detroit Red Wings and the Edmonton Oilers, among others.

“So all I’ve done is try to keep improving in the hope of making it a reality. Everybody has dreams and that is one of mine.

“It’s the same for a kid starting out playing football, they want to play in the Premier League – it’s no different for me as a hockey player.

“It is a dream of mine, but I don’t see it as pressure, just an exciting opportunity. I’ve just got to keep playing hockey.

“It’s one thing to be playing in a great league like the EIHL in the UK, but to get the chance to go and play in the best league in the world is what you dream of as a kid, so I’ve just got to keep working hard to try and make it happen.”

Kirk’s progression is something of which Thompson is rightly proud and, although the youngster’s intended three-year apprenticeship will essentially remain incomplete, the former GB head coach insists Kirk is fully deserving of his opportunity.

“Since the turn of the year Liam really has elevated his game to another level,” said Thompson. “He’s been fantastic, every time he’s on the ice there is something happening – he’s using his speed and all his skill – and he is, without doubt, one of our top forwards right now.

“He has thrived on the extra responsibility we have given him, but he has earned that responsibility. We always play people on the back of how they are performing and Liam has taken that responsibility and added to it and improved every day.”

This season Kirk has posted 16 points in 59 appearances, nine of them goals. But it is not just the production from one so young in a senior league that has brought him to the attention of team bosses in North America; it is more his mature, skilful performances.

NHL director of central scouting Dan Marr believes that Kirk’s achievement in creating a regular spot on the Steelers’ roster this season, with his ice time increasing as the season has progressed, has made him a player worth investigating further.

Essentially, it is the job of Marr and his staff to compile the Entry Draft List and tell clubs which players they are going to be recommending, leaving it up to the team bosses to decide who they wish to look at in more depth.

“There have been a number of clubs who have gone over to watch him play,” said Marr, “and what he has shown is that he has got some very natural instincts for the game – he’s always able to read the play and be in the right place at the right time. That type of hockey sense is hard to teach.

“He’s also got very good awareness with his vision which, again, is down to his hockey sense.

“But he’s certainly shown that he’s got the playing skills and the finesse skills of passing and being a playmaker and he has good offensive instincts.”

Marr said Kirk would get a further chance to impress NHL teams at the Scouting Combine prior to the draft, but said his performances for the GB national team at next month’s World Championships would also provide him with a chance to shine.

“There will be a lot of scouts attending that event to see him play,” added Marr.

“Any exposure he gets by playing with the GB national team is a feather in the cap for any 18-year-old.

“What makes Liam unique is that he is doing it in a non-traditional hockey market, as far as a market where NHL prospects are scouted.

“Liam seems to really have a passion for the game and is doing what it takes to get to where he’s hopefully going to thrive at it one day.

“I think he’s very excited that he could be somebody who hails from Great Britain and goes on to play in the NHL.

“That ambition in itself will garner respect from the NHL personnel because you certainly want to have those kind of driven and motivated people in your organisation.”

Georgiev impresses with Rangers, joins wave of Russian goalies to NHL

By Kevin Woodley – NHL.com

New York Rangers rookie Alexandar Georgiev is the latest in a line of Russian goaltenders to turn heads in the NHL.

He is 3-2-0 with a .929 save percentage in his first six NHL games, including a win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.

It wasn’t always that way for Georgiev as a goalie; just as goalies from the Russian system have not always been in fashion in the NHL.

here have been nine such goalies picked in the NHL Draft the past four years, compared to 22 from Russia or the former Soviet Union in the previous 30 years.

In the NHL, Russian goalies are among the elite at the position. Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets became the first Russian to win the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL in 2013, Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche was the Vezina runner-up to Tuukka Rask in 2014, and Bobrovsky won it again in 2017. Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning is considered a Vezina front-runner this season, leading the League in wins (40).

Three of the top goaltending prospects in the world are Russian: Ilya Samsonov of the Washington Capitals, Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders and Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers.

Things have changed greatly for these goalies in the past decade, and Georgiev is a great example of their development.

Georgiev doesn’t have the fondest memory of his first experiences stopping pucks as a 7-year-old in Russia.

Maybe it’s because he rarely got to stop any.

Georgiev, 22, was born in Bulgaria but moved with his family to Russia soon after (he is a dual citizen and has played for Russia internationally). When he started playing goalie, he was placed with players three years older.

“The guys would be practicing and I would be off to the side doing shuffles from one end to the other and back the whole hour. I was crying after some practices, it was so tough,” said Georgiev, who eventually worked his way into practice after mastering fundamentals. “I would be happy to make one save in that practice. I would celebrate because those guys were so ahead of me.”

Georgiev’s path from Russia to the Rangers was hardly a straight line. It may not have been possible without an early detour to Finland to find more modernized coaching.

“By the time I was 10, the goalie coaches in Russia were not up to date, so they would teach you stuff [Vladislav] Tretiak would do, like skate saves,” Georgiev said, referring to the legendary Soviet goalie. “It probably improved my skating a lot, but at that point we started looking for something abroad also and my dad found a goalie school run in Finland by (former Columbus Blue Jackets goalie) Fredrik Norrena.”

Beijing 2022 possible for NHL, but long way off

Image result for beijing olympics logo

By The Canadian Press

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says participation in the 2022 Olympics in China is possible but not essential to the league’s efforts to grow the sport in the world’s largest country.

The NHL was criticized by the International Olympic Committee and fans for not allowing NHL players to compete in the recent Olympics in South Korea.

After letting them play in the previous five Olympics, the NHL said it didn’t want to disrupt the midseason schedule or risk players to serious injury this year.

The China games, however, could be different as the NHL eyes an untapped market of 1.4 billion people.

“I’m not making any news today, I will say certainly it’s a possibility,” Daly said while speaking at the annual SXSW Interactive conference on a panel about the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China. “We have (a couple) of years to kind of make that decision … I don’t think it’s a critical element to our being able to grow the sport in China … I don’t think it’s an essential.”

Daily said the NHL owners thought long and hard before deciding not to allow NHL players to compete in the Olympics in South Korea.

“In South Korea, we felt ultimately there were a lot more negatives than positives than going,” Daley said. “I expect we’ll go through the exact same process (before 2022) … There may be more positives to participating in Beijing.”

The NHL clearly has a business eye on China.

The league and teams have held regular youth and coaching clinics in Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities. Last September, the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks played the league’s first exhibition game in China. The NHL also has an agreement with Bloomage International Group, a Chinese-based company with a focus on developing sports in the country.

“There’s a lot of potential NHL fans there, a lot of potential NHL players there,” Daly said.

There’s also competition. The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, has already established a professional team in China, the Kunlun Red Star, before the 2016-2017 season.

“Right now China is one of, if not the, hottest markets in the world. Everyone wants to get in there,” said David Proper, executive vice-president of media and international strategy for the NHL.

Yet hockey still barely registers in China. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, China has less than 12,000 registered junior players and less than 500 rinks around the country.

“China is a hip market, but there is zero infrastructure,” said Jessica Guo, deputy general manager for Bloomage.

As host for the next Winter Games, the Chinese government is making a push to increase participation in all winter sports. The NHL has approached the government about introducing hockey-based games into middle school physical education programs, Proper said.

The NHL’s goal in China is to “build a permanent presence, building a hockey infrastructure, a hockey culture,” Daly said. “That’s not just rinks. It’s equipment and coaching. Unlike other countries we’ve played games in, this is a new market for hockey. We realize our obligation is to build the base.”

Finns to the NHL in a flash: Heiskanen, Tolvanen are ready

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By The Associated Press

Miro Heiskanen and Eeli Tolvanen are must-see entertainment at the Olympics, even for their Finnish teammates.

Heiskanen and Tolvanen are the only 2017 first-round draft picks playing in the tournament, an opportunity to show what their very-near NHL futures might look like. Heiskanen, a puck-moving defenseman who was the third pick of the Dallas Stars, and Tolvanen, a scoring winger who was the 30th pick of the Nashville Predators, have substantial roles for Finland and are expected to play in the NHL next season, if not sooner.

”It’s a great thing to get a chance to play with them before they go in the bigger league,” captain Lasse Kukkonen said. ”I think it’s going to be fun.”

Heiskanen and Tolvanen are 18-year-olds who joke around in the locker room and bring what coach Lauri Marjamaki called a ”freshness” to the team full of European-based veterans. Tolvanen will play on the first line alongside Petri Kontiola and get first power-play time, and Heiskanen will be counted on to pump in some goals from the blue line.

That’s not too much of an expectation. Two of the youngest players in the tournament, along with projected 2018 top pick Rasmus Dahlin of Sweden, Heiskanen and Tolvanen have drawn rave reviews for how they fit in with and against older players.

”It’s amazing to see how well they play at a young age, but if you watch them on the ice you could never tell,” Kukkonen said.

Heiskanen has 11 goals and eight assists in 25 games with HIFK in the Finnish Elite League, while Tolvanen has 17 goals and 17 assists in 47 games with Jokerit in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Playing against grown men seems to make them thrive. Heiskanen said older teammates ”are smarter, and it’s maybe easier to play with those guys,” and Tolvanen considers it a challenge.

”I’ve always been the youngest guy on the team,” Tolvanen said. ”It’s just more fun playing against older guys because you know they’re stronger, maybe faster than you are, so you have to compete every day and you have to give your best every night.”

The Stars and defending Western Conference-champion Predators know they have something special in Heiskanen and Tolvanen. Rumors have swirled about Tolvanen joining the Predators this season, but he’s concerned first about the Olympics and the rest of the KHL season.

”I don’t think that’s a thing I have to worry (about) right now,” Tolvanen said. ”I just have to live in the moment and live day by day. I still have playoffs with Jokerit, so let’s see after the playoffs what I’m going to do.”

Tolvanen said his game resembles that of St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko and compared Heiskanen’s to Norris Trophy-winning Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. Those are lofty comparisons, but Finns who have played in the NHL like what they see so far.

”(Heiskanen) really plays like a seasoned veteran,” former Calgary Flames goaltender Karri Ramo said. ”I play with Tolvanen and he’s been excellent. … His overall game’s been improving all the time. He’s going to be a big part of this team and a big part of Jokerit.”

Nashville already is overflowing with young forwards – Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Kevin Fiala – and looks primed for another deep playoff run. Any team looking to trade with the Predators ahead of the Feb. 26 deadline will undoubtedly ask about Tolvanen, but he and Heiskanen might be NHL-ready and able to help now.

”He’s a great kid,” Marjamaki said. ”Eeli’s so talented (of a) guy and versatile player. I like his hockey sense, he’s pretty good skating and (has a) unbelievable shot.”

Heiskanen, who is feeling good now after dealing with the effects of a concussion in the fall, figures making the jump to the NHL is possible next season as long as he trains hard this summer. Playing with him in pre-Olympic tournaments made quite the impression on Tolvanen, who is on board with Heiskanen taking his talents to the next level.

”He’s an amazing player,” Tolvanen said. ”He’s really fun to play with because he can see you and he has the ability to score goals, so I think that’s a D-man I want on my team.”

Dallas’ Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn should like the sound of that.

For his part, Tolvanen also said he’s ready to make the leap to the NHL after proving himself in the KHL, and Kukkonen is eager to witness what the two kids can do when they get to North America.

”The sky’s the limit,” Kukkonen said. ”We’ve seen both guys doing big things already, and they only keep getting better, so I think they’re going to be top players in the world once they get a little bit older.”

Capitals to Host UAE Women’s National Hockey Team Feb. 7-12

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By Washington Capitals

In conjunction with the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates and Etihad Airways, the Washington Capitals will host Fatima Al Ali and the United Arab Emirates Women’s National Hockey Team in Washington, D.C., from Wednesday, Feb. 7 to Monday, Feb. 12. 

The team will attend the Capitals’ Thursday, Feb. 8 and Friday, Feb. 9 practices and receive a tour of the facility. On Feb. 8 the team will join select Capitals players on ice at the conclusion of the Capitals’ practice. On Feb. 9, the UAE team will participate in a scrimmage with the Washington Pride at Capital One Arena. The game will be streamed on Monumental Sports Network. Prior to the Capitals Feb. 9 game versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, the entire team will participate in a ceremonial puck drop as part of the Capitals’ Hockey Is for Everyone Month Women’s Theme Night.  

The visit is part of a special delegation to the United States and Canada that will see the team also visit the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago and the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa, Canada.

During the 2016-17 season, the Capitals relationship with the team developed when Capitals alumnus Peter Bondra met team member Al Ali while in Abu Dhabi hosting a youth hockey clinic. After noticing her stickhandling, the Capitals and Etihad Airways surprised Al Ali with an invitation to Washington.

In addition to other activities throughout the week, the team will also spend time sightseeing, participate in a scrimmage with the Washington Pride of the Junior Women’s Hockey League and visit the United Arab Emirates Embassy.

The team’s visit coincides with Hockey is for Everyone Month (HIFE). HIFE is the official youth development program of the National Hockey League (NHL) and a component of The Biggest Assist Happens off the Ice™, the NHL’s social responsibility program that builds on the League’s long-standing tradition of addressing important social issues in North America and around the world.

As the exclusive airline partner of the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics and Capital One Arena, Etihad Airways works collaboratively with MSE on several community initiatives to promote and celebrate the international nature of sport in Washington, D.C., Abu Dhabi and throughout the world.

Maple Leafs commemorating NHL’s 100-year history in Toronto

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By Mike Zeisberger – NHL.com

With steady sleet coming down Monday afternoon, two poodles were slogging along a slush-covered path at Arena Gardens park, trying to pull their master in opposite directions. Just across the road, construction workers were trudging in ankle-deep muck, carrying materials being used to build yet another Toronto high-rise.

Believe it or not, this is the backdrop to where one of hockey’s most historic buildings once stood.

Here at 78 Mutual Street in Toronto’s Garden District, a plaque signifies that this patch of snow-covered grass, a playground for the puppies, was the onetime location of the rink known as Arena Gardens.

Built in 1912, Arena Gardens became the home five years later for the Arenas, the Toronto entry in the fledgling NHL. Only the third Canadian rink with artificial ice at the time, it would house the League’s Toronto team from 1917-18, the NHL’s first season, to 1931, when Maple Leaf Gardens was built.

Toronto Arena Gardens

On Tuesday, 1.3 miles from Arena Gardens park, the Toronto Maple Leafs will celebrate 100 years of NHL hockey in the city by wearing stylized Arenas uniforms in an afternoon game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Air Canada Centre (2 p.m. ET; SNO, FS-CR, NHL.TV).

On Dec. 19, 1917, the Arenas lost 10-9 to the Montreal Wanderers in the first game in NHL history (it started earlier than the Ottawa Senators-Montreal Canadiens game in Ottawa).

Exactly a century later, the Toronto franchise will open a new chapter in its illustrious history with a contest against the Hurricanes that is being billed as the Next Century Game. Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said the wearing of the Arenas jersey will be a one-time occurrence in honor of the occasion.

The game is part of a celebration of NHL hockey in the city. To that end, Mayor John Tory has declared Tuesday to be Toronto Maple Leafs Day.

“The Maple Leafs are part of the heart and soul of our city, and this 100th birthday event is the perfect moment to come together to celebrate what they mean to us,” Tory said. “Generations of fans, young and old, are all excited for what the future holds for our Leafs and Dec. 19 will be a moment that the team and fans alike are sure to remember for years to come.”

 

The roots of Toronto’s NHL franchise run deep.

After that loss to the Wanderers at Montreal’s Westmount Arena on the League’s opening night, the Arenas won their home opener at Arena Gardens three days later, 11-4 against the Ottawa Senators.

The Arenas went on to win the Stanley Cup that season, defeating the Vancouver Millionaires in five games. It was the first of 13 Cup championships won by the franchise: one by the Arenas, one by the Toronto St. Patricks and 11 by the Maple Leafs.

The team was called the Arenas until 1919, when the name was switched to the St. Patricks. In 1927, Conn Smythe purchased the team and renamed it the Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs have not won the Cup since 1967, an open wound for their long-suffering fans for a half-century. But after qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring for the second time in 12 seasons, Toronto is off to a strong start (20-13-1, 41 points) that has supporters believing it is heading in the right direction.

For Mike Babcock, the 31 months since he was hired as Maple Leafs coach in May 2015 have been an education in their history.

“I know a lot more now than I did then,” Babcock, who grew up a Boston Bruins fan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, said Monday.

“Anytime you are involved with an Original Six franchise, there is tons of history and great players who have gone before you. And you want to represent them well. 

“We want to get this franchise back to its rightful place. We want to get better each and every game. We understand it’s a process. 

“I think we have a product right now our fans can be proud of, and we want to make it better.”

As Babcock spoke after practice on Monday, three Toronto-area natives on the Maple Leafs were shedding their equipment.

Forwards Connor Brown, Mitchell Marner and Zach Hyman, whose cubicles are located beside each other in the dressing room, said they don’t know much about the Arenas. At the same time, they’ve embraced playing for their hometown team and the history that comes along with it.

Toronto Arenas defenseman Harry Cameron in 1918-19, the second uniform of the franchise that started the year before as the Torontos, became the Arenas, then the Toronto St. Pats and, in 1927, the Maple Leafs.

“I’m aware about how the team was called the Arenas and St. Pats but other than that not much about the specifics,” said Brown, a 23-year-old from the suburb of Etobicoke. “But being from Toronto, the team has such a rich heritage. That’s why it’s going to be so cool to wear that [Arenas] jersey.”

Marner, 20, was born in Markham, Ontario, and grew up in Thornhill, just outside of Toronto. He is a rabid Toronto sports fan and a big supporter of the Canadian Football League’s Argonauts, who won the Grey Cup three weeks ago.

“It’s cool to play for this franchise,” Marner said. “Growing up in this area, you kind of got the feeIing what it would be like to be a Maple Leaf. It’s pretty special.”

So, too, will be the atmosphere Tuesday at Air Canada Centre, where thousands of tickets have been allotted to kids, a new generation of Maple Leaf fans.

“All those youngsters in the arena, it’s going to be nice and loud,” Marner said. “It’s going to be really enjoyable.”

Hyman, born and bred in Toronto, has family roots in the local hockey scene. His dad, Stuart, once the head of dozens of minor hockey teams in the Toronto area, is chairman of the Markham Royals of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

“I’d seen the Arenas jersey before so it will be an honor to celebrate 100 years like that,” said Hyman, 25. “It’s awesome. It shows what this franchise and the city means to hockey.

“I mean, how much more important can a team be than the one that played the first-ever game?”

Less than an hour after Maple Leafs practice had ended, Babcock was on an adjoining sheet of ice at the facility running drills for a bunch of wide-eyed 10-year-olds. These were the AA Atom Don Mills Mustangs, who won a contest allowing them to be coached by Babcock for one practice.

“They’ll never forget this,” one father told another as they watched their sons. “If they weren’t already they’ll be Leafs fans for life after this.”

As Toronto’s NHL franchise enters its second century, this is the young fan base the Maple Leafs hope will prove to be its foundation in the future.

A franchise that first sprouted a century ago at 78 Mutual Street.

Rockets owner wants NHL team in Houston

By Cory Wilkins – Thescore.com

Houston, we want a hockey team.

Tilman Fertitta – the new owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets following a record $2.2-billion sale – is interested in adding another sports franchise to his portfolio.

“I would put an NHL team here tomorrow,” Fertitta told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “This one has got to work. But I’d love to have the other dates in the building.

“Do I want to see Toyota Center filled up 300 nights a year? Definitely. We’ll do whatever we can do, but whatever we do has to make sense … Will we be aggressive? Yes. That’s my nature.”

The NHL recently completed an expansion phase, adding its 31st franchise in Las Vegas, while deferring a bid from Quebec City. No other expansion applications, including Houston, were submitted to the league.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke on expansion as recently as Wednesday on Fox Sports, stating, “Could it happen some point? Yes, but it’s nothing we are focused on right now,” per Sportnset’s John Shannon.

Adding a team in Houston – the fourth-most populous city in the United States – would be a first for the NHL, however hockey itself is not unfamiliar with the area. The city was previously home to the WHA’s Houston Aeros from 1972-78 and a minor-pro team of the same name from 1994-2013.

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Gordie Marty, Mark Howe & Marty Howe Signed Houston Aeros WHA

Houston would also provide some intriguing benefits to the NHL. Not only would the city offer a major television market, but Houston is also a natural Texas rival to the Dallas Stars, and the team could also bring some balance to the Central Division – currently home to seven teams, while the other three divisions carry eight clubs.

The NHL was previously linked to Houston in 2015, when Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who chairs the NHL board of governors, told Nicholas Goss of NESN, “I’d love to see (a team) in Houston, but we can’t get into that building.”

With Rockets’ ownership now changing hands, it could open the door for the NHL’s entry into Houston and the Toyota Center. The 2003-built arena seats 17,800 for hockey and is home to only one major-league tenant.

“We have to make sure hockey fans in Houston, Texas and Houstonians will come out and support an NHL team,” Fertitta added. “When the Aeros left they were drawing 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 a game. If we have an NHL team, we have to put 16,000 in that stadium every night, 17,000, 18,000.

“If I go out and get an NHL team, I’m going to ask the citizens of Houston to make sure they commit to help me do it. None of this is successful without the fans out there.”

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