Thoughts Are Mine Only: Never Too Early to Start Comparing Laine to Selanne

Here’s what I’m thinking as we watch these kids have all the fun.

*First career goal for Kyle Connor in Winnipeg’s 4-1 win over Dallas. He put up 71 points in 38 games last season in his lone campaign at Michigan. The same point total Jack Eichel put up in 40 games a year prior.

*The two previous NCAA scoring champions prior to Connor last year: Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau.

*Patrik Laine now has six points in seven games, for those of you keeping score at home. His shot is absolutely lethal.

*Teemu Selanne had six goals through seven games for Winnipeg during his historic rookie season of 1992-93, when he scored 76 goals, which remains a freshman record to this day. It’s never too early to start dropping the Selanne comparisons.

*The Canadiens win over Tampa Bay on Thursday was Carey Price’s first win over the Lightning since December 2013. He’d been 0-5-2 in seven previous regular season starts. However, he was 6-4 in the playoffs in that span; backstopping the Habs to a sweep in the first round in 2014 before the Bolts returned the favor in 2015, dispatching Montreal in six games en route to the Stanley Cup final.

*Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have combined for a .960 save percentage while allowing just eight goals during the Red Wings winning streak, which moved to six with a shootout win over St. Louis on Thursday.

*Jakob Chychrun going after Brayden Schenn after Schenn laid a big hit on Michael Stone in the neutral ice. That’s a big boy play by an 18-year-old rookie, who continues to impress.

*Devan Dubnyk with 34 saves in the 4-0 Minnesota win over the Buffalo on Thursday to make it back-to-back shutouts for the 30-year-old netminder. His save percentage is up to .943, allowing just 10 goals in six games. Looks like he’s back to his 2014-15 form.

*Funny to think the consensus was Erie would take a step back this year in the OHL. Only 8-0-1 in their last nine, with the best offensive duo in the league in Taylor Raddysh and Alex DeBrincat.

*Raddysh (10-17–27) and DeBrincat (12-11–23), are one-two atop the OHL in scoring, and account of 50 of the 154 points Erie has recorded this season.

*A big win for UConn over No. 7 Notre Dame in Thursday night Hockey East action. Don’t undersell the Huskies. The main attractions, of course, are Maxim Letunov and Tage Thompson, but there’s plenty more around those guys. Robbie Nichols, who didn’t play Thursday night but is UConn’s ace, might be one of the most overlooked players in the country. Mike Cavanaugh has been a bulldog on the recruiting trail.

Links

The Ducks and Hampus Lindholm finally come to terms, agree to a six-year, $31.5 million pact.

Of course, a mention of Lindholm must prompt a Jacob Trouba story. It’s a rule

Ray Ferraro believes the Predators are missing the bite that Shea Weber brought to the ice in Nashville – and now does in Montreal.

A great piece by Alex Prewitt of SI on Kerry Bubolz, the president-to-be of the Las Vegas franchise.

Pierre LeBrun reports in his rumblings column that the Las Vegas franchise will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to negotiate with pending free agents – restricted or not – left unprotected by teams.

Greg Wyshynski: The Chicago penalty killing unit ‘worst thing in the NHL right now‘. Hard to disagree.

ESPN’s Hockey Today podcast, the unexpected goaltending issues across the league are discussed.

Three Stars of the Midweek: Marian Hossa Latest in 500-goal club

NHL

Marian Hossa: Hossa scored his 500th career goal on Tuesday night, a 7-4 win over Philadelphia. He’s the 43rd player in NHL history to reach that mark, but just the third among players that made their debut after the 1994-95 lockout. The other two? Jarome Iginla and Alex Ovechkin.

Mike Green: Goal scoring has never been a weakness for the defenseman, his 123 goals ranking sixth among blue liners going back to the start of the 2005-06 season. He’s the only defenseman to score 30 goals over that span, scoring 31 in the 2008-09 season. On Monday night, he added the hat trick to the list of accomplishments, scoring three goals in a game for the first time in his career.

Patrik Laine: Facing Auston Matthews for the first time, the young Jets sniper registered his first career hat trick as well.

AHL

Anthony Mantha, Grand Rapids: The Red Wings top prospect found the net three time in a 4-3 win over the Iowa Wild on Tuesday night. He now has five goals in three games this season, his third for the Griffins. He played 10 games for the Wings last season. Expect him to be in Detroit at some point this season.

Mark Jankowski, Stockton: The former first round pick and Providence College standout had a goal and three points in a 5-1 win over the Texas Stars on Wednesday.

Nick Ellis, Bakersfield: Another strong showing for a former Providence Friar. The Condors netminder made 30 saves on 31 shots in a 4-1 win over Manitoba on Tuesday night.

CHL

Taylor Raddysh, Erie: The Lightning prospect had two and four points in the Otters 6-5 win over Niagara on Wednesday. He has 21 points in eight games.

Dmitri Sokolov, Sudbury: The Minnesota Wild prospect registered his second hat trick in four games in the Wolves’ win over the Soo Greyhounds on Wednesday. He has eight goals in his last five games.

Reilly Pickard, Acadie-Bathurst: Made 37 saves in a 3-1 win for the Titan over Saint John, who outshot A-B, 38-28.

Thoughts Are Mine Only: How About That Laine Guy?

Thoughts from a quiet yet not so quiet night around hockey.

*You couldn’t have drawn it up any better. Auston Matthews gets stoned on a breakaway by Michael Hutchinson in overtime, Patrik Laine takes the feed from Dustin Byfuglien on the counterattack and puts a laser past Frederik Andersen for his first career hat trick.

*Speaking of which, who did I have in the hat trick challenge last night?

*Laine is unbelievable. His release is in mid-career form already. The first goal he scored on the night may have been his best yet, the poise in tight space along with ability to create space for himself before firing one past Andersen was quite impressive.

*High circle on the left side will now be named ‘Laine’s Office’.

*Going up 4-0 only to lose in overtime is the latest in Maple Leaf growing pains, something they’ve experienced plenty of through three games. Expect more over the course of the remaining 79. Such is expected of a young team flush with talent.

*Mark Scheifele with a three-point night. He’s up to six through four games.

*Jimmy Vesey talked the talk over the summer with his holdout until August 15 deadline for teams to sign drafted players, saying no to the Nashville Predators, who eventually traded his rights to Buffalo, where he said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ again. Signing with the Rangers days after being released into the open market, he’s walking the walk now. He has just one goal through four games, but he’s making things happen on the ice. On a breakaway chance in the first period of New York’s 2-1 loss to Detroit, he did everything but finish.

*Jimmy Howard looked like his old self on Wednesday, stealing the show with 32 saves as the Red Wings managed to win, 2-1, despite being outshot by a 33-18 margin. Since winning 130 games and posting a 2.35 GAA to go along with three seasons of .920-plus save percentages, Howard has won just 58 games with a 2.61 GAA and .909 save percentage in three seasons since. Petr Mrazek might have some competition on his hands.

*Chris Kreider’s three-game streak of multi-point games to begin the season was snapped, but he picked up an assist on Mika Zibanejad’s goal 1:09 into the game. He has points in 10 of 12 games going back to last season. He has 8-8–16 totals in those 12 games.

*Henrik Lundqvist has just an .875 save percentage through three games.

*Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh with four more points for Erie Wednesday night in the OHL, now has seven goals and 21 points through eight games. The Bolts took him in the second round of this past draft. Can’t Steve Yzerman just catch a break for once?

*Minnesota prospect Dmitry Sokolov recorded his second hat trick in four games for Sudbury. All eight of his goals this season have come in his last five games.

*From the Western Canada U16 Challenge: Mitchell Brown had two goals and four points in British Colombia’s win over Manitoba. Brown, a defenseman already listed at 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds at 15 years old has his rights held by Tri-City. He plays for the Okanagan Hockey Academy in the CSSHL. He has a point in four games this season. He played at the bantam level last season, putting up 22 points in 25 games. Dylan Holloway scored with two seconds remaining to give Alberta the 4-3 win over Saskatchewan.

*First overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft, Peyton Krebs, had two goals and an assist for Alberta. Krebs, who will suit up for Kootenay next season, has six goals and 15 points for the UFA Bisons AAA Midget team. He spent the last two seasons with the Rocky Mountain Raiders AAA Bantam squad, in which he put up 74 goals and 168 points in 60 games over the two seasons. He had 102 in just 27 games last year.

*Two more assists on Wednesday night for Cal Foote (son of Adam) a top defensive prospect for next year’s draft. He’s got eight assists in 11 games, but no goals.

*Medicine Hat hung 10 on Kootenay on Wednesday; the third time this season the Tigers have broken the seven-goal mark.

*Battle of Connecticut in college hockey as Quinnipiac took on UConn. The fourth-ranked Bobcats won 5-2 in a game closer than the score indicated.

Links

Five general managers around the NHL who might already be on the hot seat.

Here’s an ICYMI: SI media columnist Richard Deistch does his NHL media roundtable. Lots of interesting stuff in here.

Matt Murray returned to the ice on Wednesday. There could very well be a goalie controversy brewing in Pittsburgh.

The Kane-Anisimov-Panarin line carrying the load for the Blackhawks once again.

Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts for the week.

 

Matthews v. Laine I Tonight

The No. 1 pick in this past NHL Draft faces off against the No. 2 for the first time what should be a good matchup between top-heavy teams in Toronto and Winnipeg. The only other matchup isn’t half-bad, either, as Detroit takes on the New York Rangers.

Here’s the slate of games for Wednesday: Toronto at Winnipeg, 8; Detroit at N.Y. Rangers, 8.

Players to Watch

Toronto: Auston Matthews; Facing Patrik Laine for the first time in what should be a showdown between two players, picked first and second, respectively, in the 2016 NHL Draft, and should be two of the best players of their respective generation. Matthews hasn’t scored since his four-goal performance in the opener against Ottawa.

Winnipeg: Patrik Laine; For the reasons listed above.

Detroit: Tomas Tatar; Has no goals and is a minus-four through three games.

N.Y. Rangers: Mats Zuccarello; Has taken five shots, two have gone in. He might want to shoot the puck some more.

#HatTrickChallenge

Patrik Laine: Pots the hat trick right in front of Matthews.

Game of the Night

Toronto at Winnipeg: Two choices, both of which are good. But this matchup is too good to pass up.

Lock to Win

N.Y. Rangers: The Rangers look much improved in what has been a small sample thus far, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

 

Patrik Laine Adds to Youth Party on Thursday Night

Had Team North America gone as far as some thought they would at last month’s World Cup of Hockey, we’d already be calling it the Year of the Youngster.

From magnificent opening night performances Wednesday from Auston Matthews; who scored four goals in his NHL debut for Toronto, and Connor McDavid; the second-year forward who answered with a three-point game while playing a defenseman-like 23:27.

Not bad for young guys.

Patrik Laine, who was drafted second overall behind Matthews in June’s draft, continued the party on Thursday night, wasting no time getting on the scoresheet for Winnipeg. Laine buried his first career goal at 13:33 of the third period of the Jets 5-4 overtime win over Carolina.

With the Jets on the powerplay, Laine, camped out at the left point, took the point-to-point feed from Tobias Enstrom before ripping a laser of a wrist shot into traffic and beating Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward top shelf. The goal was part of a Jets rally from 4-1 down within 15 minutes remaining in regulation. The rally was completed with Mark Scheifele’s goal 2:41 into overtime.

Laine, who also had an assist in 18:27 of playing time, is a big body on the wing at 6-foot-5 and 206 pounds. With that trademark wrist shot that was on display on Thursday, the 18-year-old was the best pure goal scorer in the most recent NHL Draft in June, in which he was the second overall pick. Laine’s stock rose rapidly throughout his draft year, in large part due to his showing at the 2016 World Junior Championships, where he put up seven goals and 13 points in seven games en route to Finland winning gold.

Central Division: Still the Class of the NHL

The Chicago Blackhawks are in the midst of the greatest run of success going back to the Red Wings around the turn of the century. The St. Louis Blues are the the most accomplished NHL franchise to not have a Stanley Cup in the trophy case. The Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars are on the cusp of title contention, and the Minnesota Wild might not be far behind.

The Central Division is the best collection of clubs the league has to offer, and has been for some time.

But for how much longer will that be the case?

If you’re wagering, you might want to bet against this division falling off for at least a few more years.

The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to become the sixth franchise to win four Stanley Cups within a decade, the first since the Edmonton Oilers pulled the trick back in the 1980s. The Hawks have three chances to complete that feat, with three titles going back to 2010.

The window in Chicago is even longer. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith; the core of the Blackhawks dynasty, remain fairly young. Kane and Toews have yet to celebrate their 29th birthdays. Keith just turned 33 over the summer. Marian Hossa will be 38 this season and appears to be on the back nine, but Artemi Panarin appears to be poised to take his place.

An interesting fact about the Blackhawk’s reign? They’ve won the division just twice over this six-season run, with third place finishes in each of the last three seasons.

The Blues have finished ahead of the Hawks in the standings each of the last two seasons and bounced Chicago from the playoffs in the Western Conference quarterfinals last season.

Half of the Blues’ eight 100-point seasons have come in the last four 82-game seasons for the Blues; the truncated 2012-13 campaign, in which St. Louis accrued 60 points in 48 games, adjusted to 102-point pace.

“Is this the year for the Blues?” has been a storyline repeated over the past few seasons. The answer has continually been ‘no’.

So..is this the year for the Blues?

We shall see. First, they’ll have to overcome the losses of David Backes and Troy Brouwer; the former the former team captain and a longtime fixture in the St. Louis lineup, the latter a key piece in Ken Hitchcock’s lineup last year, his only one with the Blues.

But there’s still plenty in the tank. Vladimir Tarasenko has emerged as one of the NHL’s premier goal scorers while Alexander Steen continues to give good all-around production, recording 50 points for the third straight year. Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz, and Colton Parayko lead the youth movement. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo goes into his first season with the ‘C’ on his chest, the team’s best player.

The Stars are coming off a breakout season, winning 50 games for the first time since 2007 in 2015-16. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin is the game’s premier center-wing combination while veterans Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza lead the way on the secondary scoring front. John Klingberg is one of game’s rising stars on the back line.

The Minnesota Wild could be this year’s Stars, hiring head coach Bruce Boudreau known for taking upstarts like the Wild to the next level. Despite not winning the ultimate prize in parts of 10 seasons in Washington and Anaheim, the 61-year-old coach has left the respective clubs in better shape than when he arrived.

A Stanley Cup would not only be Boudreau’s first, but the first in hockey-crazy Minnesota. It can be done.

A team nobody is expecting to make a run?

That would be the Nashville Predators. Don’t count them out. The Predators made the splash of the 2016 offseason by trading captain Shea Weber for up-tempo defenseman P.K. Subban. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner will slide right in with what will be one of the top blue lines in the league, one predicated on pace and skating while being more than adept without the puck. Ace defenseman Roman Josi is quickly establishing himself as one of the best players in the world.

With Subban, Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis in the back and Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and James Neal up front there hasn’t been a team this good, this skilled in Nashville since opening for business in 1998.

Head coach Peter Laviolette has taken two different franchises to the Stanley Cup final.

In Winnipeg, the Patrik Laine era gets underway as the Jets look to avenge a disappointing 78-point season that followed Winnipeg’s first playoff appearance since the franchise moved northward from Atlanta in 2011.

Colorado rounds out the division, and will not be an easy out.

But of course, in this division, nobody ever is.