Wild calls up Alex Tuch

Less than 12 hours removed from a 5-1 beating in Calgary, the Minnesota Wild have called up big winger Alex Tuch, who can make his NHL debut on Saturday night when the Wild visits Vancouver.

In what has been Tuch’s first professional season following two seasons at Boston College, the 6-4, 217-pound forward has 22 points in 34 games for AHL Iowa, tied with Pat Cannone for second on the team and trailing only Finnish forward Teemu Pulkkinen, who has 28 points in 36 games. Tuch had been on a four-game point streak with Iowa prior to his call-up, and had six goals and nine points in his last nine games.

A big, strong playmaking winger cut from the mold of past BC standouts Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Brian Boyle, Tuch had 62 points in 77 games over his two years at BC. He led the Eagles in scoring as a freshman with 28 points in 34 games, the only rookie to lead the team in scoring since 1973.

Tuch is part of a wave of promising young players who should be making an impact in Minnesota in the coming seasons. He joins Joel Eriksson-Ek and Mike Reilly, both of whom have made their NHL debuts. Also awaiting in the pipeline is Jordan Greenway, another big, physical winger (6-6, 226 pounds), as well as Luke Kunin, the captain of Team USA at the 2017 World Juniors, and Russian prospect Kirill Kaprizov.

Jeff Carter has scored 20 percent of Kings goals

Interesting nugget here by John Buccigross. Jeff Carter accounts one-fifth on the Kings goal scoring this season after scoring twice in LA’s 5-0 win over Colorado.

Of the 131 goals the Kings have scored – which is 22nd in the NHL – 26 have come from Carter. He’s one of just two Kings with double-digit goals this season, the other being Tanner Pearson (15). Carter has assisted on 20 other goals for Los Angeles this season.

And forget MVP votes as Bucci put it, Carter deserves to be right in the thick of the Hart Trophy conversation alongside Sidney Crosby, Brent Burns, and Connor McDavid. Carter has carried the Kings this season, a campaign in which LA has seen starting goaltender Jonathan Quick play all of one period while Tyler Toffoli, Matt Greene, and Marian Gaborik miss significant time to injury. Without the 32-year-old forward, there’s no way the Kings hold their current standing of seventh in the West.

 

 

Ken Hitchcock firing signals Blues starting over

Doug Armstrong is not in an enviable position.

Through 50 games, the St. Louis Blues are 24-21-5, teetering on the edge of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Blues are tied with Calgary for eighth in the West with 53 points, a pair of games in hand serving as the magic ticket keeping the team on the good side of the world famous ‘if the season were to end today’ scenarios.

On one hand, the Blues are a team coming off a trip to the Western Conference final, finally breaking through last season following three straight first round exits and finishing among the last four standing in the NHL for the first time since 2001. This year’s team has plenty of holdovers from last season, but is currently an underachieving group with a talented yet snakebitten young netminder in Jake Allen. Should things come together, anything is possible in a wide-open Western Conference. After all, who saw San Jose reaching the Stanley Cup final at this time last year?

On the other hand, the Blues lost captain David Backes to free agency over the offseason in addition to Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott, who was traded to Calgary in a draft-night trade. St. Louis is unlikely to re-sign UFA-to be Kevin Shattenkirk, a dynamic puck-moving defenseman who will command a big payday on the open market. The Blues look like a team in transition.

It’s for those reasons why the decision to fire head coach Ken Hitchcock or allow him to ride out his final season behind the bench was probably as hard a decision Armstrong has had made as an executive, one he likely mulled over for weeks if not months. On Wednesday morning, Armstrong chose the former, relieving Hitchcock of his duties and handing the keys over to coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo, who was poised to take over head coaching duties following the season.

The angst that befell Armstrong as he made this decision showed when he spoke with the media on Wednesday to announce the decision, fighting back tears as he grabbed a few slices of the blame pie.

Armstrong can take solace in the fact this was probably the right move to make. This year’s Blues club isn’t as good as it was in past seasons. St. Louis currently ranks 18th in the NHL with a 48 percent goals for percentage at five-on-five, according to puckalytics. The team hadn’t finished below seventh in the league in that category over the last three seasons, and hadn’t been below 51.59 percent in the five previous seasons under Hitchcock. The Blues score, zone, and venue adjusted Corsi was 53.1, according to Corsica, which checks in at fifth-lowest in the league.

While Allen shows a good deal of promise in net, he hasn’t given anybody the confidence that he could carry a club through the Stanley Cup playoffs. The team in front of him hasn’t been particularly great either, despite allowing the fifth fewest shots per 60 minutes, at 27.33.

Outside Vladimir Tarasenko, whose carried the Blues offense with 49 points in 50 games, the St. Louis attack has been nonexistent.

Again, the case can be made that this is a talented, underachieving group that can come alive at any time. Maybe the Hitchcock firing turns into a turning point in the season for the Blues. It could also be the start of St. Louis starting over, in which the next shoe to drop would be dealing Shattenkirk, who will hit the open market come July 1st.

But at the end of the day, this was the right decision for Armstrong to make with regard to the coaching situation in St. Louis, no matter how hard it may have been.

Stat of the Day: Islanders point streak at seven games

The Eastern Conference standings are so compact, so crunched together, that even the team with the paltriest of chances can climb back into the race.

That’s what has happened with the Islanders, who were down and out just a couple weeks ago but have found their way back into the race with a recent hot streak, going 7-1-1 in their last nine games, planting themselves on the doorstep of the Wildcard standings as a result.

New York extended its point streak to seven games (6-0-1) with perhaps the most impressive victory of the streak, beating Washington, 3-2, to hand the Capitals just their second regulation loss since December. Thomas Greiss made 28 saves to run his record to 5-0-1 in his last six games, allowing eight goals and yielding a .955 save percentage over that span.

The Isles have also gone 5-0-1 under new head coach Doug Weight, who replaced Jack Capuano when he was relieved of his duties on January 17th. As for whether the team can keep this level up for their new coach, who played the final three seasons of his 20-year NHL career on Long Island, remains to be seen.

The Islanders now sit just three points out of a playoff spot 22-17-9. Not bad for a team that was buried three weeks ago.

Amateur Hour: Nolan Patrick still the first overall pick

Lots has been made of Swiss forward Nico Hischier in recent months, and for good reason. Coming over from Switzerland to play in the QMJHL as he looks to up his draft stock, the 18-year-old has emerged as a top prospect for the upcoming draft in June.

The Hischier hype continued on Monday night when he had a goal and two assists for Team Orr in the CHL Prospects Game, earning player of the game honors as a result. Skating alongside Nikita Popugaev and Kailer Yamamoto for much of the night, Hischier controlled pace of the game while making a number of standout plays.

Many left Quebec City with the same impression – has Hischier cracked Nolan Patrick’s perch as the presumptive first overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft?

Patrick, of course, has been limited to 11 games this season for the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings due to a groin injury. The injury caused him to miss the 2017 World Junior Championships, where Hischier shined playing for Switzerland.

In 40 games for Halifax this season, Hischier has 33 goals and 68 points in 40 games. He’s up to No. 2 on TSN’s mid-season draft rankings released on Tuesday, surpassing Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren, who had been the projected first pick after Patrick prior to Hischier’s ascent.

While Hischier has closed the gap, it certainly seems as if Patrick remains the guy. While he missed much of the season’s first half with the groin injury, it hasn’t hurt his stock. If the injury did in fact lead to red flags, the scouts and experts have a strange way of showing it.

There’s no doubt Hischier can play. He’s quick, dynamic, has a heavy dose of creativity in his game. His breakaway speed showed on his lone goal Monday, a breakaway chance on a stretch pass from Popugaev. He set up a number of opportunities for him Team Orr ‘mates, including finishes by Yamamoto and Stelio Mattheos.

While Patrick may have been outplayed, he wasn’t far behind. He had a pair of assists on the night, setting up goals for Maxime Comtois and Owen Tippett. As he gets his feet under him more and more after missing three months, he’ll continue to get better.

Is it 1-1A between Patrick and Hischer? No, or not yet, at least. Will both be good NHL players? Obviously forecasting kids is no exact science, but there’s certainly the suggestion of that.

But Patrick’s place is more established, the injury hasn’t done any harm to his draft stock. So while Hischier has come on strong, don’t expect Patrick to be the one whose name isn’t called first on June 23rd.

Other minor thoughts

*The line I came away really impressed with was the Isaac Ratcliffe-MacKenzie Entwistle-Ivan Lodina line for Team Cherry. The trio really did a good job controlling the puck, pushing possession in their favor, and creating opportunities for themselves in the attacking zone.

*Ratcliffe is a name to best not forget. He’s a towering 6-6 to go along with a 195-point frame that will fill out over time. He’s a big body around the net and has incredible reach. He has 22 goals in 47 games for Guelph in the OHL.

*Between Ratcliffe and Nate Schnarr, who had a good game in his own right, Guelph is set up pretty nicely for next year, provided both return, which is likely the case.

*This was the best single-man effort of the night right here. Ottawa 67 Sasha Chmelevski absolutely toyed around with Artyom Minulin – no little guy himself at 6-2, 202 pounds – before beating Alex D’Orio with a top-shelf snipe just over his left shoulder.

*Matteos was another player I came away really impressed with. Creative player, really good playmaker. Showed his finishing ability on his goal with 1:50 to play in the third period.

*What a shot by Yamamoto. Not a big guy at 5-9, 160 pounds but can find the net. He has 30 goals this season in 43 games for WHL Spokane after burying a combined 44 in his first two seasons in the WHL. He has 191 points in 168 WHL games, and should be a mid-to-late first rounder in June.

*Speaking of finishing, what a player Owen Tippett is. He has 36 goals for OHL Mississauga this season, which is second in the OHL to Erie Otter and Chicago prospect Alex DeBrincat, who has 38 goals. A likely top-five pick, Tippett has drawn comparisons to Steven Stamkos and has an absolute rocket for a shot.

*Expected to see more out of Matthew Strome, who didn’t record a point on Monday. The performance won’t hurt him – underwhelming performances in the prospects game didn’t hurt his two brothers, who were both top-five picks in their respective drafts. A 6-3, 203-pound forward, Strome has 26 goals and 42 points in 45 games for OHL Hamilton this season.

*Goalie of the night goes to WHL Lethbridge netminder Stuart Skinner, who stopped 17 of 18 shots for Team Cherry. Michael DiPietro, representing OHL Windsor and the best of the four goalies on the ice, stopped 14 of 16 shots for Team Orr.

*In the NCAA ranks, Minnesota-Duluth is back atop the USCHO.com poll. The Bulldogs are 17-5-4 and winners of five straight, with a pair of wins over St. Cloud State and North Dakota while also beating Minnesota. Not bad for the resume. Nebraska-Omaha, one of the best among the unranked, comes in this weekend, so expect more talk of the Top Ranking Jinx.

*Union is up to No. 4 in the poll. The Dutchmen are led by the top two scorers in the nation in Mike Vecchione (44 points) and Spencer Foo (43).

*Wisconsin leads the women’s poll, receiving a unanimous 15 first-place votes for the fifth straight week.

*Regina remains the top team in the CHL poll.

*Lastly, here’s a junior hockey podcast that covers anything and everything junior hockey, from the CHL all the way down to the Junior ‘A’ leagues. The MasterCard Junior Hockey Magazine, more than worth the listen.

 

 

Alain Vigneault gets two-year extension

Alain Vigneault’s record speaks for itself.

In a decade of head coaching between the Vancouver Canucks (seven years) and the New York Rangers (three-plus years), Vigneault has seven 100-point seasons in nine campaigns in which 82 games were played. He’s on his way to eight in 10 this season, the Rangers on pace for 105 points with 63 points at 31-17-1 going into the Blueshirts Tuesday night matchup against Columbus.

He’s also reached two Stanley Cups over that span, for good measure.

The Rangers appear to like the results, as well, as the team gave Vigneault a two-year extension along with a $2 million raise, according to the New York Post.

Vigneault is 175-97-23 in three-plus seasons as head coach of the Rangers, making the playoffs every year. In 2013-14, his first season, he led the team to its first Stanley Cup final since 1994 before leading them to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference final the next year, a 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning the only thing that separated the Blueshirts from making a repeat appearance in the Cup final for the first time in 82 years.

The 55-year-old coach has also gone to a Stanley Cup with in Vancouver, where he led the Canucks to a pair of Presidents’ Trophies. He had his first head coaching job in Montreal (1997-2000), where the Canadiens won a playoff round his first season but never again made the playoffs. He was fired in November 2000 after a 5-13-2 start to the 2000-01 season.

But it doesn’t look like a firing is on the horizon in the Big Apple for Vigneault, a good NHL coach with a long-standing track record of success. Lucky for him, teams tend to look for that in the man behind the bench, and keep it around when they have it.

Islanders could be on the verge of homelessness

To say the marriage between the New York Islanders and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. – where the Isles have called home since 2015 – has been a rocky one would be an understatement.

It’s why it comes as no surprise that the marriage is likely to come to an end, as Bloomberg is reporting that the Barclays Center could be on the verge of giving the boot to the Islanders, which began playing home games at the four-year-old arena last fall following 43 years at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island.

The move to Brooklyn has been disastrous for the franchise. The building was designed for basketball, its primary use being for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. It’s been a poor design for hockey as a result, the ice conditions unsatisfactory with the sight lines for the fans being even worse. As if the poor sight lines weren’t enough, getting to the rink is a trek for the Islanders core fanbase, which is largely composed of western and central Long Island.

Should the Barclays Center pull the plug, the Islanders would remain in Brooklyn through the 2018-19 season. However, the Isles can leave after next season should they opt out.

This poses the question as to where the Islanders would move. There have been reports of arena plans in Queens and Belmont Park, but nothing has got off the ground. The franchise sought for years to get a new facility built in Nassau County, but never could garner enough support which ultimately led to the move to Brooklyn.

The last resort, of course, would be relocation, which would be the ultimate kick in the gut for Islanders fans, who have stuck with the team through thick and thin since the early-1980s Islanders dynasty ended over three decades ago. The fanbase was just beginning to believe that it had something special on its hands with a promising young core built around world-class talent John Tavares, and still well could.

Hopefully that promising future will come in New York.