Nick Blankenburg’s World Championship is over. Brian Hedger of the Columbus Dispatch reports that the Blue Jackets’ rookie defenseman has left Team USA due to injury. Blankenburg sustained a knee injury during the international tournament in Finland and decided to return home. However, Hedger adds that the injury is not supposed to be severe and that Blankenburg’s health by the start of next season is not in doubt. Even with the early exit from the Worlds, Blankenburg has had quite the unforgettable year. The 24-year-old defender had a career season as the senior captain of Michigan, recording 14 goals and 29 points in 38 games en route to a Frozen Four appearance. He then signed with Columbus as an undrafted free agent and proceeded to record three points in seven NHL games down the stretch. Blankenburg earned a spot with Team USA at the World Championship and played in four games with the team. He will look to continue his success streak by winning a regular role with the Blue Jackets next season.
- Hayden Verbeek’s uncle may be the new GM of the Anaheim Ducks, but the young forward won’t wait around for NHL free agency in hopes of a family deal on a new contract. Verbeek has opted to leave North America altogether and sign a one-year deal with Slovakian club HK Spisska Nova Ves, the team announced. Verbeek is no stranger to Slovakia, having played in the Extraliga early in 2020-21 while awaiting the delayed AHL season. While Verbeek played exclusively in the AHL after returning last year, he did spend some time in the ECHL this season, which could have been the deciding factor in his move overseas. Four seasons into his pro career, including the first three on an NHL contract, Verbeek has played largely in the AHL but has been demoted to the ECHL in three seasons and has seen no NHL action. Looking for a more consistent role in a top league, Verbeek will try his hand again in Slovakia next season.
- When Georgi Merkulov, a star prospect out of the MHL, left Russia in 2020 to embark on a development path in North America with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms and then the NCAA’s Ohio State Buckeyes, the odds that he would one day star in the KHL slipped. Then-rights holder HK Sochi decided to trade Merkulov to Amur Khabarovsk, doubting that he would ever suit up for the team. When Merkulov surprisingly turned pro after just one college season, signing with the Boston Bruins this spring, those odds fell even further. Amur has now decided to move on as well. KHL powerhouse CKSA Moscow, whose youth system Merkulov developed in, has decided to take a long-term gamble, acquiring the rights to their former prospect, per the KHL. In exchange, Amur received minor league defenseman Ilya Dervuk. Merkulov recorded 20 goals and 34 points in 38 games this season for Ohio State as one of the top freshmen in the NCAA and then added five points in eight AHL games with the Providence Bruins. Boston certainly hopes that this scoring prowess translates to the NHL and that these KHL trades are ultimately meaningless.