Category: NHL (page 1 of 12)

Winners and losers from Day 1 of the NHL Draft

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By Hannah Stuart – thescore.com

The NHL draft kicked off Friday night with a touching tribute to the Humboldt Broncos. Team president Kevin Garinger accepted the 2018 E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence, given annually to the prospect “who best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism as selected by NHL Central Scouting,” on behalf of the Broncos team.

After tears were wiped away, things got weird.

Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka went off the board and took Barrett Hayton of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds fifth overall. The league’s other 30 GMs seemingly took that as permission to do whatever they pleased, and the resulting chaos left quite a bit of confusion in its wake.

Joe Veleno, the first player to obtain exceptional status and play in the QMJHL at age 15, fell to the Detroit Red Wings at 30th overall (he’d been ranked consistently in the top 10 by many for most of the season). Bode Wilde and Serron Noel fell out of the first round entirely. Suffice to say no one could’ve predicted exactly how the 2018 first round played out.

Here are our winners and losers after Day 1.

Winners

Washington Capitals: Before the draft began, the Capitals traded Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer to the Avalanche for Colorado’s second-rounder at 47th overall. The trade dumps Orpik’s cap hit and leaves Washington room to sign pending unrestricted free-agent defenseman John Carlson, which is expected to happen over the weekend. That’s great news for a team that wants to try to win a second straight Stanley Cup.

Colorado Avalanche (conditionally): According to Joe Sakic, the Avalanche intend to either trade or buy out Orpik. If that happens, they got Grubauer for a second-round pick and that trade, one for one, looks good for them, too.

Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin is a literal game-changer for the franchise. Yow.

Detroit Red Wings: Boy, things are looking up for Red Wings general manager Ken Holland after last year’s forgettable draft. Taking Michael Rasmussen when several better players were still on the board was widely criticized. He didn’t make that mistake this year. Filip Zadina fell to sixth overall, and Holland practically swan-dove onto the stage to select him. Later, Veleno fell to 30th, and you can bet Holland didn’t miss there, either. A great first day for him and Detroit.

New York Islanders: With back-to-back picks at 11 and 12, the Islanders selected Oliver Wahlstrom (who should not have fallen to 11th) and Noah Dobson (who probably shouldn’t have dropped to 12th). Take a minute and imagine Wahlstrom playing with Mat Barzal.

Ryan Merkley: Lots of pre-draft chatter had Merkley’s boom-or-bust style and reports of attitude problems knocking him out of the first round. The San Jose Sharks took a chance on him at 21st overall, and if he turns into the player his ceiling suggests he could be, the Sharks will reap major benefits.

Losers

Arizona Coyotes: John Chayka knows what he’s doing in a lot of situations, but taking center Barrett Hayton at fifth overall was a head-scratcher. While Hayton is a solid player, he’s not a game-breaking, top-10 talent. Who knows, though, a few years down the road, we could be proven wrong.

Ottawa Senators: Let’s make one thing clear: the Senators aren’t on this list because they drafted Brady Tkachuk. Tkachuk, while not the best player available at fourth overall, is a very good player. But it feels like by choosing to keep this year’s pick, with the uncertainty surrounding Erik Karlsson and with chances being good the Senators are worse next year, Ottawa’s sealed its fate. Next year’s first-round pick goes to the Avalanche, and the Senators are really going to regret it if that pick somehow turns into Jack Hughes. Colorado sure hopes it does.

Philadelphia Flyers: This one is a maybe, because their first pick at 14th overall, Joel Farabee, is a fantastic player. But their second pick is suspect. Jay O’Brien would be a good mid-second-round pick, but the Flyers grabbed him at 19. While no one outside the draft floor knows the chatter that took place, surely O’Brien wasn’t such a hot commodity that the Flyers couldn’t trade down and still get him.

Woo hoping to make history at 2018 Draft

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By Mike G. Morreale NHL.com

Jett Woo of Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League could become the second player of Chinese descent to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.

Woo, 17, is a right-shot defenseman listed at No. 28 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters for the 2018 NHL Draft. He was born and trained in Winnipeg; his father, Larry, is of Chinese descent and his mother, Dolly, is of German ancestry.

Jett has spent a lot of time learning about his Chinese grandparents and said he hopes to have an opportunity someday to play an NHL game in China. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames will play in the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games Sept. 15-19 in Shenzen and Beijing.

“The way that hockey is shaping up, really anyone, anywhere, can play right now if you stick with it and work hard enough,” said Woo, who said he’s never been to China. “It’s something that’s really cool and I’m really proud to be playing hockey, proud to be of Chinese descent. Having those two things so close to me is something I really cherish and am thankful for.”

Woo would be the second player of Chinese descent selected in the NHL Draft; the New York Islanders picked Lawrenceville School defenseman Andong Song in the sixth round (No. 172) of the 2015 NHL Draft.

Woo said he recalls spending time with his grandparents at their house in Winnipeg, learning about their culture and their cuisine. Woo’s grandparents were born in Canton, China and owned a small restaurant chain in Winnipeg called Marigold. His grandfather has since passed away.

“My dad’s whole side is Chinese so growing up we’d spend days at my grandparents’ house eating Chinese food,” Woo said. “We actually owned a chain of restaurants and were either eating there or getting takeout.”

Even though Woo is looking to break new ground in the NHL, he is considered a throwback-type hockey player.

“If you don’t have your head up, look out,” John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said. “He reminds me of former St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. He usually gets one or two big hits every night, but his skill level has improved this season. He has a good shot, makes plays, and his skating has gotten considerably better.”

Woo (6-foot, 205 pounds) had 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 44 games, and had three points (two goals, one assist) in 14 WHL playoff games.

He’s become a fan favorite in his three seasons with Moose Jaw, and fans at Mosaic Place, Moose Jaw’s arena, serenade him with a loud “Woo,” reminiscent of professional wrestler Ric Flair, after big hits.

“It’s neat to hear those chants,” he said. “I have to give credit to my parents for having the name. It’s cool to have the attention around that and to see different reactions when you go to different places. But to have people chanting your name … it’s a lot of fun.”

Larry Woo played forward for Victoria and Swift Current in the WHL and then for four seasons for the University of Manitoba. Larry and Dolly named Jett, the oldest of their three children, after Chinese film star Jet Li.

“I’m not exactly sure if my dad is a big fan of Jet Li … he might be,” Woo said. “I know that’s where my name came from. I know my grandparents liked the name. With dad having the opportunity to come to Winnipeg and then ending up going to Hollywood, it all ended up working well for him.”

Larry Woo played Park Kim in the movie “Goon” in 2011, and its sequel, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” in 2017.

“Dad was probably one of the biggest influences I had in hockey,” Jett said. “He was the one driving me to the rink and was my coach growing up, so he had a lot of say on the bench or on the long rides home. He and my mom were there for me. I’m always looking for them for advice and having that extra person to lean on.”

Woo wears No. 4 to honor Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, and said he’s also a big fan of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber because of his intimidating presence.

“I feel having that extra grit kind of helps me in the game,” he said. “I always bring it back to Shea Weber. One time I watched a game of his and a player was coming down on his side but cut across to the other defenseman and I think it was because he didn’t want to take Shea Weber 1-on-1. That’s something I want to bring to the game; be that guy that opponents are scared to play against.

“I take pride in making defense a priority whether that be competing for every puck or being the first guy at the net boxing out, or making a good first-pass up ice. That, along with playing physical, smart and deciding whether to have stick on puck or to go right at the guy and have body-on-body contact, are the things I feel I do well.”

At long last, Ovechkin and Capitals are Stanley Cup champs

Greg Beacham The Associated Press

Alex Ovechkin put both hands to his head and screamed while he left the bench and skated into the thick of the Washington Capitals’ joyous celebration.

And right before Ovechkin hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Washington captain put both hands on his head again in a gesture of disbelieving ecstasy.

You can believe it, Ovi. So can the Washington fans whose championship drought is finally over.

After striving through 13 of his franchise’s 43 seasons, the Russian superstar and the long-suffering Capitals are sitting on top of hockey for the very first time.

“It doesn’t matter what happened before,” Ovechkin said through his gap-toothed grin. “We just won it.”

Lars Eller scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:37 to play, and the Capitals claimed their first NHL title with a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Ovechkin capped his playoff MVP campaign with an early power-play goal, and Devante Smith-Pelly tied it with a full-stretch goal midway through the final period of the Capitals’ fourth consecutive victory over the Golden Knights.

“We did it,” said Ovechkin, whose 15 playoff goals set a franchise record. “That’s all that matters. Look at the smiles on my teammates. This is something you’ll never forget. This moment, I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’m so happy. It’s unbelievable.”

Vegas’ incredible expansion season finally ended, and so did the Capitals’ wait for a title since their debut in 1974. But after so many years of crushing disappointment for a team with a lengthy history of postseason failure, these Caps confidently won their fourth consecutive closeout game with a tenacious third-period comeback in Vegas.

Ovechkin and his teammates are Washington’s first championship hockey team — and their city’s first champion in a major pro sport since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in early 1992.

“It doesn’t come easy,” said goalie Braden Holtby, who made 28 saves while outplaying three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury in the opposite net one final time. “It took years. Years of heartbreak. Years of breaking things down and trying again, breaking things down and trying again, and this group never gave up. And we finally did it.”

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Alex Ovechkin (8) and his Washington Capitals teammates celebrate
after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 to win their first Stanley Cup.

After Ovechkin accepted the Conn Smythe Trophy, he received the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Ovechkin shouted “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” before skating away and hoisting the prize over his head for a victory lap in front of thousands of red-clad fans.

When a succession of teammates finally got the Cup back to Ovi, he handed it to Ted Leonsis, the Caps’ owner since 1999.

“I’m so happy for the group that has gone through the misery,” said Washington coach Barry Trotz, a first-time champ in his 19th season behind an NHL bench and a potential free agent without a contract for next season.

The Caps couldn’t win a Cup without a little late weirdness, however: The game clock stopped working on the T-Mobile Arena scoreboards during the final minutes, and the Capitals angrily protested while they played on. Vegas never got close to a tying goal despite both teams getting an extra chance to rest while the officials checked on the timing. The clock finally hit zeros, allowing the Caps to storm the ice behind their net for a frenzied celebration.

Reilly Smith scored a go-ahead goal late in the second period for the Golden Knights, who won seven of their first eight home playoff games before dropping the last two.

“When you get this close to the Cup, it’s hard,” Fleury said. “Doesn’t happen too often. It’s very disappointing.”

The defeat ended the storybook inaugural season of the Golden Knights, who became the NHL’s 31st franchise last fall and immediately launched into arguably the greatest debut in modern pro sports history. Few expected the division title they delivered, and fewer still thought Vegas could challenge for a championship.

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Alex Ovechkin is congratulated by Vegas goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury.

Nate Schmidt and David Perron also scored deflection goals for Vegas in the second period, but Fleury’s 29 saves included a stopped puck that dropped underneath him where Eller could sweep it home for the Cup-winning goal.

“It means everything,” Eller said. “You couldn’t write the story better. If you’re going to win on the road, I couldn’t imagine a better place to do it.”

Forward T.J. Oshie spent a moment in the celebration looking up for his father, Tim, who he said was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“He doesn’t remember a lot of stuff, but he’s going to remember this,” Oshie said. “I’ve never seen a team come together like we did here. I’ve never seen the commitment from start to finish like we had here.”

Washington’s win was its 10th on the road in this postseason, tying the NHL playoff record and illustrating the superior toughness of this team. While past editions of the Caps created their team’s reputation for postseason flops in part by losing five playoff series in which they had won three of the first four games, Ovechkin’s latest group promptly closed out all four of its series this year on the very first try.

The Caps also came back from series deficits in all four rounds and clinched all four series on the road.

The remarkable Golden Knights hadn’t lost four consecutive games in their entire inaugural season before the Caps rolled them.

“It’s going to be a tough couple days,” Vegas defenceman Deryk Engelland said. “You never want it to end like this.”

The Capitals had thousands of fans in the Vegas crowd and a building full of supporters watching back home along with countless thousands outside in the crowded D.C. streets. They got a barn-burner of a finale befitting this thrilling series, with wild shifts of momentum before that bizarre clock incident that didn’t appear to affect the outcome much.

The Capitals’ triumph also adds another chapter to a stretch of sweet relief for long-suffering, loyal sports fans across North America. The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl in February, and baseball’s Houston Astros won their first World Series last November.

First-time titles are all the rage, and Ovechkin and the Caps have paid their dues for this one.

Ovechkin, who turns 33 later this year, has been among the most exciting and productive players in his sport since joining the Caps in 2005. Yet for all of his goal-scoring prowess and athletic swagger, the Great Eight had never won an Olympic gold medal or a Stanley Cup title.

But after becoming the fifth player in the last quarter-century to score at least 15 goals in a postseason, Ovechkin is a champion at last. He also became the first Russian captain to raise the Cup in NHL history.

The title is also validation for Holtby, who has spent his entire NHL career in Washington. After several seasons of being measured unfavorably against Fleury and other goaltending greats despite his 2016 Vezina Trophy, the Saskatchewan native also has his long-sought ring — and his unbelievable stick save on Alex Tuch in Game 2 will ring forever in Caps history.

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Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly acrobatically scores in the
third period of Game 5 on Thursday.

Ovechkin put the Caps up 2-1 in the crazy second period of Game 5 when he set up in his customary spot in the left faceoff circle and put Nicklas Backstrom’s cross-ice pass into a sliver of open net. But after Perron tied it with a deflection goal while falling into Holtby’s net, Smith scored into an open net after Ovechkin went to the penalty box for tripping.

Washington pressed early in the third, but didn’t connect until Brooks Orpik flung the puck at the net against the run of play. Smith-Pelly barely controlled the puck and stretched out to fling it toward the net while falling face-forward, and it slipped inside Fleury’s post for the veteran forward’s seventh goal of the postseason — matching his total from the entire regular season.

“I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a little kid,” Smith-Pelly said. “The team, with so much change, you didn’t know what to expect. We knew we could do something special, and we did.”

Moments later, the Knights struggled to keep up with the Caps’ puck movement and left Brett Connolly open for a shot. Fleury stopped it, but the puck fell to the ice underneath him — and Eller fought off Luca Sbisa and slapped the puck into the net for the game winner.

Final 2018 Draft rankings: these go to 120

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By Ryan Kennedy – The Hockey News

Our prospect expert goes deep on the class of 2018. Naturally, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is on the top of the pile, but what happens after that?

Releasing my final rankings for a draft is always difficult. The list grows organically throughout the season, building as more players catch my eye and put themselves on the radars of NHL teams. There is always the temptation to tinker up until the last second and even then, I wonder: should I wait a little longer, in case new information or buzz comes out about a particular player?

This season, it’s defenseman Noah Dobson, who is coming off a Memorial Cup championship with Acadie-Bathurst, where he played incredibly well. Should he get a bump, while the rest of his competition watched on TV? And what happens when I get a peek at the lists of other draft pundits? Peer pressure is real, my friends.

In the end, I have stood pat. The ensuing rankings follow THN’s Draft Preview (on sale now!) and if you want more information on the top 100 picks, I highly recommend the purchase. I reference it constantly once it comes out and I love seeing it in the hands of scouts and other writers at the combine and the draft itself. The rankings are basically Best Player Available; consider this a conservative forecast of what will happen, should no crazy trades upend things.

As a web bonus, I’ve added another 20 picks again this year. These are kids that just missed the cut, or simply slot in as mid-rounders. As for the sleepers and dark horses, stay tuned: I will have another blog on my faves in the coming week. Other than that, things are pretty straightforward. The section to really keep an eye on would be late first round/early second round, as that tends to be the most chaotic. Some teams go safe, some take risks, so you’ll see a mix of said players in the 25-40 range. They’re all pretty close anyway.

Goalies are another theme to watch. Because netminders are so hard to forecast, their actual slots don’t always reflect their talent. So you’re going to see goalies higher on this list than they might be taken because otherwise there wouldn’t be many of them here. Judge the goalies against themselves; obviously my surer things are highest on the list.

With all that in mind, let’s get to the fun part. With the first pick in the 2018 NHL draft, the Buffalo Sabres are proud to select…

 

1. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda (SHL): The no-brainer pick. Dahlin has franchise defenseman potential and his combination of size, speed, smarts and skill check off all the boxes. Enjoy him, Sabres fans.  

2. Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Barrie (OHL): No slouch himself, Svechnikov’s abbreviated season (due to injury and international play) in Barrie showed off a ton of upside. He’s a big-bodied sniper who goes to the net.

3. Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston U. (Hockey East): The third and fourth picks are a coin flip, but Tkachuk is just too pro to ignore. He’s got size, nastiness, talent and you can trust him when the game’s on the line.  

4. Filip Zadina, LW, Halifax (QMJHL): Another fantastic winger, Zadina has game-breaking qualities and proved it at the world juniors. His scoring power and energy are impossible not to enjoy.

5. Adam Boqvist, D, Brynas (Swe.): He doesn’t have the size of Dahlin, but he does have the mobility, smarts and puck skills. Boqvist can also take care of his own end, making him a great investment.  

6. Quinn Hughes, D, Michigan (BigTen): There is so much talent in Hughes’ game. He can hang on to the puck like few others and his skating is elite. He won’t be in college much longer, that’s for sure.

7. Evan Bouchard, D, London (OHL): In a pack of slick skaters, Bouchard brings other tools. He’s big, he’s got a great shot and may be the best passer in the entire draft class.

8. Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL): When it comes to scoring, Wahlstrom is elite. He’s already got an NHL shot and he’s a student of the game. Watch for him at Boston College next year.

9. Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL): The potential in the big puckmover became even more apparent at the Memorial Cup, where Dobson soared. The sky is the limit with this kid.

10. Ty Smith, D, Spokane (WHL): Another mobile defenseman, Smith doesn’t have a ton of size, but it rarely seems to matter. Plays against top lines and defends better than many of his peers in this draft class.

11. Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)  

12. Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

13. Joel Farabee, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

14. Isac Lundestrom, C, Lulea (SHL)   

15. Bode Wilde, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL)  

16. Ty Dellandrea, C, Flint (OHL)   

17. Rasmus Sandin, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)   

18. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Assat (Fin.)    

19. Akil Thomas, RW, Niagara (OHL)

20. Ryan McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)

21. Jett Woo, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)  

22. Grigori Denisenko, LW, Loko (Rus.)

23. Jacob Olofsson, C, Timra (Swe.)

24. Vitali Kravtsov, LW, Traktor (KHL)

25. Rasmus Kupari, C, Karpat (Fin.)   

26. K’Andre Miller, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL)   

27. Martin Kaut, RW, Dynamo Pardubice (Cze.)

28. Dominik Bokk, RW, Vaxjo (SHL)   

29. Serron Noel, RW, Oshawa (OHL)   

30. Sampo Ranta, LW, Sioux City (USHL)   

31. Mattias Samuelsson, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

32. Ryan Merkley, D, Guelph (OHL)  

33. Benoit-Olivier Groulx, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)   

34. Jared McIsaac, D, Halifax (QMJHL)  

35. Scott Perunovich, D, Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)  

36. Jonatan Berggren, C, Skelleftea (SHL)

37. Jakub Lauko, C, Pirati Chomutov (Cze.)

38. Filip Johansson, D, Leksand (Swe.)   

39. Jacob Bernard-Docker, D, Okotoks (AJHL)   

40. Adam Ginning, D, Linkoping (Swe.)

41. Jonny Tychonick, D, Penticton (BCHL)  

42. Nicolas Beaudin, D, Drummondville (QMJHL)   

43. Filip Hallander, C, Timra (Swe.)

44. Liam Foudy, C, London (OHL)   

45. Calen Addison, D, Lethbridge (WHL)

46. Allan McShane, C, Oshawa (OHL)   

47. Jesse Ylonen, RW, Espoo (Fin.)   

48. Jack Drury, C, Waterloo (USHL)   

49. Jakub Skarek, G, Dukla Jihlava (Cze.)  

50. Justus Annunen, G, Karpat Oulu (Fin.)  

51. Nils Lundkvist, D, Lulea (Swe.)

52. Blake McLaughlin, C, Chicago (USHL)   

53. Alexander Khovanov, C, Moncton (QMJHL)

54. Alexander Alexeyev, D, Red Deer (WHL)

55. Slava Demin, D, Wenatchee (BCHL)

56. Albin Eriksson, LW, Skelleftea (SHL)

57. Dmitri Zavgorodny, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)  

58. Kevin Bahl, D, Ottawa (OHL)  

59. Olof Lindbom, G, Djurgarden (Swe.)

60. Jack McBain, C, Toronto (OJHL)   

61. Jay O’Brien, C, Thayer (Mass. HS)  

62. Alexis Gravel, G, Halifax (QMJHL)

63. Curtis Douglas, C, Windsor (OHL)

64. Matej Pekar, C, Muskegon (USHL)

65. Kirill Marchenko, LW, Yugra (KHL)

66. Cam Hillis, C, Guelph (OHL)

67. Sean Durzi, D, Owen Sound (OHL)

68. Axel Andersson, D, Djurgarden (Swe.)

69. Riley Sutter, RW, Everett (WHL)

70. Anderson MacDonald, LW, Moncton (QMJHL)  

71. Egor Sokolov, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

72. Jordan Harris, D, Kimball-Union (NH. HS)

73. Olivier Rodrigue, G, Drummondville (QMJHL)

74. Eric Florchuk, C, Saskatoon (WHL)

75. Oscar Back, C, Farjestad (Swe.)

76. Luke Burzan, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)

77. David Gustafsson, C, HV71 (SHL)

78. Jan Jenik, C, Liberec (Cze.)

79. Philipp Kurashev, C, Quebec (QMJHL)

80. Jachym Kondelik, C, Muskegon (USHL)

81. Logan Hutsko, RW, Boston College (Hockey East)

82. Jared Moe, G, Waterloo (USHL)

83. Gabriel Fortier, C, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)

84. Keegan Karki, G, Muskegon (USHL)

85. Tyler Madden, C, Tri-City (USHL)

86. Blade Jenkins, C, Saginaw (OHL)

87. Alec Regula, D, London (OHL)

88. Joey Keane, D, Barrie (OHL)

89. Jake Wise, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

90. Xavier Bouchard, D, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)

91. Cole Fonstad, C, Prince Albert (WHL)

92. Vladislav Kotkov, RW, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)

93. Niklas Nordgren, RW, HIFK (Fin.)

94. Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup, LW, Fargo (USHL)

95. Milos Roman, C, Vancouver (WHL)

96. Lukas Dostal, G, Kometa Brno (Cze.)

97. Curtis Hall, C, Youngstown (USHL)

98. Kevin Mandolese, G, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

99. Jake Pivonka, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

100. Ryan O’Reilly, RW, Madison (USHL)

101. Luke Henman, C, Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL)

102. Akira Schmid, G, Langnau (Swi.)

103. Martin Fehervary, D, HV71 (Swe.)

104. Jack Perbix, C, Elk River (Minn. HS)

105. Declan Chisholm, D, Peterborough (OHL)

106. Alexander Romanov, D, CSKA (Rus.)

107. Arttu Nevasaari, RW, Karpat (Fin.)

108. Ruslan Iskhakov, RW, CSKA (Rus.)

109. Adam McCormick, D, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

110. Nico Gross, D, Oshawa (OHL)

111. Ivan Morozov, C, Yugra (Rus.)

112. Giovanni Vallati, D, Kitchener (OHL)

113. Angus Crookshank, LW, Langley (BCHL)

114. Samuel Fagemo, LW, Frolunda (Swe.)

115. Jack Jensen, C, Eden Prairie (Minn. HS)

116. Lenni Killinen, RW, Espoo United (Fin.)

117. Mitchell Hoelscher, C, Ottawa (OHL)

118. Yegor Zamula, D, Calgary (WHL)

119. Jacob Ingham, G, Mississauga (OHL)

120. Mathias Emilio Pettersen, C, Muskegon (USHL)

Golden Knights vs. Capitals Stanley Cup Final preview

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By Shawn P. Roarke – NHL.com

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Washington Capitals

Golden Knights: 12-3 (defeated Los Angeles Kings 4-0 in first round, San Jose Sharks 4-2 in second round, Winnipeg Jets 4-1 in third round)

Capitals: 12-7 (defeated Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 in first round, Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in second round, Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in third round)

Season series: VGK 2-0-0; WSH 0-2-0

The skinny

There will be a new team name on the Stanley Cup when the 2018 Stanley Cup Final is finished.

Will it be the Washington Capitals, who have waited 43 long seasons and were swept, by the Detroit Red Wings, in their only other Final appearance, in 1998?

They have earned the right, winning each series after trailing, including losing the first two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and three straight games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

“We worked so hard for this to be able to be in the Final and all it took was 11 years, but now we’re there,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, who joined the Capitals for the 2007-08 season. “So, it’s a great feeling, especially the way we did it, the way we played the game. It was outstanding from everybody.”

Or will it be the upstart Vegas Golden Knights finishing an expansion season like no other by winning the championship in their first season?

Vegas has been dominant, sweeping the Los Angeles Kings, eliminating the San Jose Sharks in six games and defeating the Winnipeg Jets in five.

“[Washington has] bought in,” Vegas forward James Neal said. “They’re playing as a team. They’re willing to do anything to win. They’re physical. They can score goals. They have skill. We played a very similar team in Winnipeg. That being said, we’re going to have to be hard on their top guys.”

The subplots are as juicy as the main story line.

Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is having a career postseason and, when with the Pittsburgh Penguins, made life miserable for the Capitals before being selected by the Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. Fleury helped the Penguins eliminate the Capitals the past two seasons and three times since 2009.

Fleury is trying to win the Stanley Cup for a third straight season and fourth time in his career.

George McPhee, the general manager of the Golden Knights, was Capitals GM from 1997 to 2014. He drafted many of Washington’s top players, including forwards Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Backstrom; defenseman John Carlson; and goaltender Braden Holtby.

Nate Schmidt, the No. 1 defenseman for Vegas, was a No. 7 defenseman for Washington until he was picked in the expansion draft. Golden Knights forward Cody Eakin was drafted by the Capitals.

So, though there is familiarity between these two teams, the 2018 Stanley Cup Final will be like no other.

“The last 10 years have been dominated by a couple of teams [in the Final], but you’ve seen what [the Golden Knights] were able to do in the regular season and these playoffs,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. “They’re going to be a tough test. I think we’re going to be a tough test as well. I personally can’t wait to get there and play head to head.”

When it is finished, one team will have completed its trek to a first championship in the most dramatic of ways.

Game breaker

Capitals: Ovechkin, Washington’s first-line left wing, is having a postseason to remember, impacting games with his skill and physicality. He has been a big part of each signature win. In the first round, he scored two goals in the clinching Game 6 against the Blue Jackets. In the second round, against the Penguins, he had an assist on the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6. In Game 7 against the Lightning, the Washington captain scored 1:02 into the game, starting what became a 4-0 win. Ovechkin has NHL career playoff highs of 12 goals and 22 points.

Golden Knights: Jonathan Marchessault, a first-line forward, has 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 15 postseason games, with at least one point in 10 games. After a lackluster first round (two assists), Marchessault has been a difference-maker almost every game. He had three points in the series opener against the Sharks and three more in a Game 3 win. Against the Jets in the Western Conference Final, Marchessault had two assists in a Game 1 loss before scoring twice in Game 2, including the game-winner, and twice more in Game 3.

X-factor

Capitals: Forward Tom Wilson took over the Eastern Conference Final at times. He can score, he can hit, he can turn the tide with his enthusiasm and energy. He showed that repeatedly against the Lightning, and Game 7 was a microcosm. His hit on forward Chris Kunitz on Wilson’s first shift of the game caused a turnover that keyed Washington’s counter attack, which ended with Ovechkin’s goal. Wilson finished the game with three hits and the series with 29.

Golden Knights: Forward David Perron has not scored this postseason but does have the ability to change a game with his skill. Perron, who missed two games against the Kings because of injury and two games against the Jets because of illness, has seven assists in 11 games after getting 66 points (16 goals, 50 assists) in 70 games during the regular season.

Goaltending

Capitals: Nothing got past Holtby with the Eastern Conference on the line. He had back-to-back shutouts in the final two games against the Lightning, who were the highest-scoring team in the regular season at 3.54 goals per game. He has not allowed a goal in 159:27, having made 60 straight saves. Holtby is 12-6 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

Golden Knights: Fleury has been the best goalie in the playoffs by a wide margin and is a front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy give to the postseason MVP. He has a .947 save percentage with a 1.68 GAA in 15 games. His even-strength save percentage is .956, the best in history among goalies with at least 15 games in a single postseason.

Numbers to know

Capitals: A 10.5 percent shooting percentage is the best among the four teams that made it to the conference finals, 1.4 percent better than the Golden Knights. Washington is averaging 31.7 hits per game and its 603 hits are the most by any team in the playoffs, eight more than Vegas having played four more games.

Golden Knights: Vegas has killed 82.5 percent of the power plays it has faced, the best success rate among the final four teams. Its top line — Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith — has 47 points in 15 games.

They said it

“I think our group here really understands what it means to be a team and how to win. Maybe in the past we’ve had more skill or been better on paper or whatever. But this team, everyone knows their role and everyone wants to pitch in and everyone is comfortable with each other. I haven’t been on a team like this where, in any situation, we’re confident and confident in each other, don’t get down on each other. It’s a strong group, and that’s extremely hard to come by and something that we’re going need to have going forward to be our best and be a strong team.” — Capitals goalie Braden Holtby on the difference between this team and those in the past

 

“It’s a big credit to the people who created this entire organization a year before we even got picked up. They did all the work to make us feel like, as soon as we put a step in Vegas, we felt like home. We felt welcome. They were clear about how we have to play if we want to be successful. I feel like every guy has understood that and played a role in that. When you have 20 guys or more that understand their role and play only for the team, it’s a successful team even if we don’t have the biggest superstar in the League, besides our goalie.” — Golden Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Will win if …

Capitals: Win the special-teams battle and physically dominate the Golden Knights the way they did the Lightning late in the Eastern Conference Final. The Golden Knights are the best penalty-killing team they have faced and are not shy about using the body to dictate the way the game is played.

Golden Knights: Find some depth scoring and show some discipline. The top two scoring lines for Vegas have 25 goals, the rest of the forwards have 10. A second-tier forward is going to have to get hot. As for discipline, the Golden Knights know how dangerous Ovechkin and Carlson are on the power play.

How they look

Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson

Jakub Vrana — Nicklas Backstrom — T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky — Lars Eller — Brett Connolly

Chandler Stephenson — Jay Beagle — Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov — Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny — John Carlson

Brooks Orpik — Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Alex Chiasson, Pheonix Copley, Shane Gersich, Jakub Jerabek, Nathan Walker

Injured: None

Golden Knights projected lineup

Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith

James Neal — Erik Haula — David Perron

Ryan Carpenter — Cody Eakin — Alex Tuch

Tomas Nosek — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmidt

Shea Theodore — Deryk Engelland

Luca Sbisa — Colin Miller

Marc-Andre Fleury

Maxime Lagace

Scratched: Brad Hunt, Oscar Lindberg, Jon Merrill, Tomas Tatar

Injured: William Carrier (undisclosed), Malcolm Subban (undisclosed)

Capitals defeat Lightning in Game 7 to reach first Stanley Cup Final since 1998

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By Kevin Allen – USA Today

Last fall, defenseman Matt Niskanen could foresee unprecedented success for this Washington Capitals team for the oddest of reasons.

“I said to my wife, ‘On paper, we’re not as good this year, but watch, this will be the year we do something,’ ” he recalled. “Just the way it works. Hockey is a funny sport.”

The Capitals had both tears and laughter Wednesday night when they downed the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to earn the franchise’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1998.

Washington will face the Vegas Golden Knights in an unlikely best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final starting Monday in Las Vegas.

The Capitals are trying to win their first Stanley Cup in their 44-year history and the Golden Knights have qualified for the Final in their first NHL season.

“I’m happy for the fans because they’ve been through some tough times with us and teams of the past,” Washington winger T.J. Oshie said.

 Nobody on the Capitals was happier than captain Alex Ovechkin, 32, who had never been beyond the second round of the playoffs before this season. He has often been blamed for the Capitals’ poor playoff performances in recent years.

But Washington’s playoff misery started long before Ovechkin’s arrival in 2005. Before downing the Lightning, the Capitals were 4-11 in Game 7s. In their one Stanley Cup Final appearance 20 years ago, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

When he was interviewed on television, immediately after beating the Lightning, Ovechkin said he was having trouble sorting through his emotions.

But then he put everything into perspective by saying: “Finally.”

“I think everybody is happy, but we still have unfinished (business),” Ovechkin said. “I’m emotional. I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

Ovechkin, the NHL’s most dangerous scorer in this era, is considered to be among the greatest players never to have won a Stanley Cup.

Andre Burakovsky, born in Austria and raised in Sweden, was Washington’s offensive hero with a pair of goals, but it was Ovechkin who launched the win by scoring the first goal of the game just 1:02 in. He also led his team with five hits in Game 7.

With 12 goals, 10 assists and 66 hits, Ovechkin has been beastly in the postseason. He is one of the top Conn Smythe Trophy candidates going into the Final.

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NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly presents the Prince of
Wales Trophy to Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin

Just by the way Ovechkin has talked about this team, it was clear that he believed the Capitals had the right mix to be successful even though general manager Brian MacLellan made several changes last summer to ease salary cap concerns. The Capitals were supposed to take a half-step back, but ended up taking a step forward in terms of being ready for the playoffs.

Coach Barry Trotz, whose contract expires at the completion of the season, has been vocal about how much he believed in this team. He apparently told his players that again before Game 7.

“When a coach comes in without a cheat sheet in his hand and speaks from the heart and you see in his eyes that he believes what he’s saying it gives you a lift,” Oshie said. “It shows you he’s all in, and the only thing left is for us to do our job. We did that.” 

The hallmark of this Capitals team is their ability to dig deep when they need to the most. They trailed 3-2 in this series, and then won Games 6 and 7 on shutouts by Braden Holtby. He has gone more than 157 minutes without giving up a goal.

“Holts was fantastic back there,” Oshie said. “Back to back shutouts against a team like that on this stage is special.”

This team has been special, according to the Capitals. “We have a good mix of everything. We have some old players with experience,” Washington center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’ve got some new, young players, which is great. I feel like everyone has been stepping up during the playoffs. We were doing all right during the regular season, but I feel like we’ve been playing even better as a team in the playoffs.”

He shared a moment with Ovechkin as the team celebrated on the ice.

“After it was done, I felt like you don’t even have to say so much,” Backstrom said. “You just have to look at each other. We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Now we’re in the finals and we’re going to do everything we can to do something special here for us, for the team and for the city.”

Golden Knights, in first NHL season, do the unthinkable in reaching Stanley Cup Final

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By Kevin Allen – USA TODAY

In a city where Frank Sinatra crooned, the Rat Pack roamed, Sugar Ray Leonard fought and Liberace headlined, the Golden Knights are proving to be one of the most celebrated acts in Las Vegas history.

The expansion Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday to win the Western Conference final in five games and earn an improbable berth to the Stanley Cup Final.

Fourth-liner Ryan Reaves, a Winnipeg native who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a complicated three-team deal, scored the game-winning goal in the second period.

If the Golden Knights triumph against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals, they would be considered one of the most unlikely champions in sports history.

We are talking Buster Douglas taking down Mike Tyson, the 1969 New York “Miracle Mets” or No. 8-seed Villanova beating Georgetown to win the 1985 NCAA championship.

Historically, expansion teams are set up to initially fail. In the modern era, the Golden Knights, who went 51-24-7 in the regular season, are the first expansion team in the four major sports to post a winning record. The last two NHL expansion teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, won 28 and 25 games, respectively, in 2000-01.

Most experts predicted the Golden Knights would finish among the league’s worst teams. Nobody believed they could finish with the fifth-best record.

The Golden Knights might be the best team story in the NHL since the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers rewrote the record book in the 1980s with four Stanley Cups in five seasons.

It is a feel-good tale. The Las Vegas community and the team bonded before the first puck was dropped because of the Oct. 1 tragedy that saw 58 people die in a mass shooting during a concert in the city. 

As team members supported the victims’ families and first responders, the connection with fans grew stronger. On opening night, Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland made an emotional, inspirational speech at center ice that will never be forgotten.

The community was strong, and it turned out the team was strong on the ice. With speed, passion and aggressiveness, the Golden Knights have played a perfect style for this era of hockey.

The Golden Knights have become just as unique in their presentation of the game, using theatrics and creativity at T-Mobile Arena. Laser shows. Elvis impersonators. Showgirls. Skits. Swordplay. Wayne Newton. Humorous comedy bits on the video screen. A castle in the stands.

All of the players are popular, but none more so than goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the former Pittsburgh Penguins star who has launched the second act of his career in Las Vegas.

Although the Golden Knights’ success has been an exciting story line, not everyone is celebrating it.

Some fans believe winning should take time. They point out important franchises have never won a Stanley Cup. The storied Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won since 1967.

The NHL changed the player-protection rules in the expansion draft to give the Golden Knights a greater opportunity at forming a better roster than previous expansion teams.

The 30 other teams were allowed to protect seven forwards and three defensemen and one goalie or eight forwards/defensemen and one goalie.

That means the Golden Knights, in theory, landed the 10th- or 12th-best player on every team’s roster.

They were supposed to get third-line forwards and No. 4 defensemen, but they did better than that because general manager George McPhee shrewdly managed the assets to land first-liners James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson and a top goalie in Fleury.

The Golden Knights have earned this impossible dream trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

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.

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