The first full week of 2023 is in the books. It featured a successful Winter Classic (plus an announcement on who gets the next one) plus some notable news on the injury front – both good and bad. Those injuries are among the news highlighted in our key stories.
Back To Junior: With the World Juniors ending, a pair of Canadian-born players won’t be returning to their NHL teams. Seattle assigned center Shane Wright to Kingston of the OHL while Los Angeles did the same with defenseman Brandt Clarke. Wright, the fourth-overall pick last summer, played in just eight NHL games and will have a chance to play a big role in the second half of the season although it won’t be with the Frontenacs who are expected to move him shortly. As for Clarke, the 2021 first-rounder played in nine NHL contests this season, the last of which came more than two months ago so he’ll now have an opportunity to play consistent heavy minutes for a while with the Colts. Neither player played enough to burn the first season of their entry-level contracts.
Key Returns: A pair of Metropolitan Division teams welcomed back some key veterans. First, Carolina finally got to use one of their key acquisitions as they activated winger Max Pacioretty from LTIR. Acquired in a salary cap dump from Vegas last summer, the 34-year-old is a consistent scoring threat and already has a pair of goals for the Hurricanes in two games. Meanwhile, Washington was able to bring back two key veterans in center Nicklas Backstrom and winger Tom Wilson. Backstrom underwent hip resurfacing surgery and is now only the second NHL player to play after that procedure while Wilson is back from knee surgery. Both players have been top-six fixtures for the Capitals so their offense will get a big boost once they’re up to full speed.
Ekholm Available? Nashville currently is out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with the team struggling to score. Accordingly, some are wondering if they might become sellers. To that end, they are believed to be considering moving defenseman Mattias Ekholm. The 32-year-old has been a key cog on the back end for the Predators for the better part of a decade and is in the first season of a four-year contract that carries a $6.25MM AAV. That’s a high price tag for a lot of contenders to afford so it wouldn’t be the typical trade we see in-season that often involves a player for a draft pick but rather a swap that would see a player or two going the other way to help match money. Such a swap might be better for Nashville to make in the summer but it appears they’ll at least look into the possibility of doing something sooner than that.
Key Injuries: It wasn’t all good news on the injury front. St. Louis’ quest to make the playoffs just got a lot harder with Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko landing on injured reserve for extended stints. O’Reilly has a broken foot that will keep him out for at least six weeks while Tarasenko is dealing with a hand injury that will keep him out for a minimum of a month. Both players are pending unrestricted free agents and if the Blues can’t hang around the postseason race in their absence, they’ll become strong trade candidates upon their return. Meanwhile, Jake DeBrusk’s strong performance in the Winter Classic which saw him score both goals in the third to get Boston the win will be his last for a while as the Bruins have placed him on LTIR with hand and lower-body injuries. The good news is that he shouldn’t miss much more than the minimum 10 games/24 days but missing a key secondary piece for a month will hurt.
Vrana Clears Waivers: There was a bit of a surprise when Detroit opted to place winger Jakub Vrana on waivers. His contract, one that carries a $5.25MM AAV, made it likely that he’d clear which he did but it’s still an unexpected situation. Vrana has missed most of the season while being in the Player Assistance Program but was expected to be an important part of Detroit’s core this season. Now, he’ll stick around with AHL Grand Rapids for the time being where he has an assist in six games. The Red Wings will eat a $4.125MM cap charge while he’s with the Griffins.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.