The Carolina Hurricanes are going to have to make a goaltending decision before long, as Scott Darling is almost ready to return to the net. The team activated the injured goaltender today and sent him to the minor leagues on a conditioning stint. Darling will start for the Charlotte Checkers on Wednesday evening, but could force the NHL team to waive either Curtis McElhinney or Petr Mrazek before long, unless they’re planning on carrying three goaltenders.
The New York Islanders suffered a loss today as former owner Charles B. Wang passed away Sunday at the age of 74, according to Newsday’s David Schwartz. Wang, best known for keeping the Islanders in the New York area, bought the Islanders in 2000 when the team was in an uncertain future with the idea of bringing the franchise back into a top-class organization.
“We are heartbroken by the news of Charles Wang’s passing. New York Islanders’s co-owners Dewey Shay, Scott Malkin and I were privileged to be selected by Charles to be his partners in the team. Charles loved the Islanders unconditionally. The arena at Belmont Park will be just one of his many legacies left to the team and to Long Island. His unique personality, his wonderful sense of humor and his extraordinary wisdom will be greatly missed,” said Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky.
Wang served as majority owner until 2016 before becoming a minority co-owner. He is survived by his wife and three children. We at Pro Hockey Rumors offer our condolences to the family.
- NHL.com’s Michael Smith writes Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said that goaltender Scott Darling, who has been injured since the preseason, is expected to make a rehab start with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL on Wednesday. He could return to the Hurricanes for their Friday game against San Jose. Darling, who struggled in his first year in Carolina with a .888 save percentage last year, will force the team to make an interesting decision as the team already has two goaltenders on their active roster in Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek. Neither goaltender has been stellar so far for the Hurricanes. McElhinney has been their top goaltender so far in four games, putting up a 2.76 GAA and a .876 save percentage. Mrazek has struggled more, posting a 3.07 GAA and a .874 save percentage in four games. Will the team keep three goalies or put on of them on waivers in the next week?
- Seth Jones, who is rumored to be coming close to a return, skated with the team for a sixth consecutive day on Saturday, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (subscription required). Then, however, he stayed on for a hard skate with the players who weren’t dressing against the Blackhawks. The scribe writes that Tuesday against Arizona could be a potential return date, which would make it four weeks to the day that he strained a knee ligament. “I can’t give you a specific date,” Jones said. “Nor can the trainers, I don’t think. I don’t know how it’s going to do on Monday at practice. We’ll just see. It’s just day by day, how confident I am on it, with contact and all that stuff.”
One player the Carolina Hurricanes are keeping a close eye on is William Nylander. While the Hurricanes wouldn’t mind acquiring the restricted free agent if Toronto opts to move him, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (subscription required) writes that the Hurricanes are also keeping a close eye on whether the team even signs him as Nylander’s contract (assuming he signs) could have a huge effect on one of their own players — Sebastian Aho.
Aho’s entry-level deal runs out after this year and with the way the 21-year-old has developed, could command a high price from Carolina this offseason. With Carolina well known to be frugal when it comes to handing out long-term deals, Aho is a must. The forward has started strong this season, scoring four goals and eight assists in the team’s first seven games, suggesting he could have another breakout season after scoring 29 goals a season ago. Regardless, Nylander’s contract could be a significant comparable for Carolina in the coming weeks or months. If Nylander’s holdout is successful, it could cost the Hurricanes quite a bit as well.
- In a mailbag series, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press writes that the Detroit Red Wings are still discussing what to do with rookie forward Michael Rasmussen. The 19-year-old either has to stay with the team or be returned to juniors, but Rasmussen has struggled so far in transitioning to the NHL. He has just one assist in six games and has seen his ice time dip to just 9:56 on Thursday against Tampa Bay. The scribe writes that the team would prefer not to return him to the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, but Rasmussen only has three more games to prove himself to management, before they have to make a decision. If Rasmussen reaches 10 NHL games, he burns his first year of his entry-level deal.
- In a mailbag of his own, NBC Sports Joe Haggerty writes that the Boston Bruins are in need of another quality top-six player and believes the Bruins should look to make a trade. He suggests the team should be open to moving one of their young talents as part of any package, including Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato or even Matt Grzelcyk to make a deal happen. The scribe also believes that the team needs to move David Backes from the second line into their bottom-six.
- With Seth Jones close to returning to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ lineup, The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that head coach John Tortorella has already said that Jones will return to the top defensive line opposite of Zach Werenski. The coach also admitted that he loves the combination of Marcus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray as the team’s second pairing. Which means that David Savard will move out of the team’s top-four.
The Carolina Hurricanes are set to open another roster spot, as they’ve placed Michael Fora on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a contract termination. Fora had signed with the team just this past June, but failed to make the NHL roster and only played one game for the Charlotte Checkers. The other three players on waivers from yesterday, David Ullstrom, Eric Gryba and Brian Lashoff, have all cleared.
Fora, 22, was a lottery ticket signed out of Switzerland this summer after posting an excellent season for Ambri-Piotta. The young defenseman recorded 27 points in 50 games, but had been a healthy scratch for the last few contests in Charlotte. Instead of sitting in the press box in North America, it’s likely that Fora will return to Switzerland or another European professional league.
Terminating his contract technically makes Fora available for any other team to sign, and even if he does return to Switzerland this season he’s a player to keep an eye on over the next few years. Right-shot defensemen that can move the puck effectively and have some size are in high demand in the NHL, and if he can take a few more steps in his development there will be plenty of interest.
Thursday: Both Conacher and Di Giueseppe have cleared, but only the former will be sent down right away. The Hurricanes have decided to keep Di Giuseppe for now, likely because of their recent demotions of both Martin Necas and Haydn Fleury.
Wednesday: Another day, another set of waivers for the NHL. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes have placed Cory Conacher and Phillip Di Giuseppe on waivers respectively, after Jacob de La Rose was claimed by the Detroit Red Wings. Conacher and Di Giuseppe have both suited up already this season, but will likely be assigned to the minor leagues should they clear.
Conacher, 28, has bounced around the league several times but keeps landing in the Tampa Bay organization. A veteran of 189 games split between the Lightning, Senators, Sabres and Islanders, he played in 36 last season with the Lightning and recorded 12 points. A proficient minor league scorer, capable of producing at nearly a point-per-game pace, he unfortunately hasn’t been able to find the same success at the NHL level. Still, for any team looking for an energy player for their bottom-six, you could do worse than adding Conacher on waivers. He’s on the final year of his current deal, which is currently two-way and pays him just $650K at the NHL level.
Di Giuseppe is a different story entirely, given his status as a former top prospect. The 38th overall pick from the 2012 draft, Di Giuseppe has remained in the Carolina organization for several years but never found a ton of success at the NHL level. He did play in 49 games last season with the Hurricanes, but recorded just 13 games and couldn’t break into their top six despite some inconsistent performances from the players ahead of him. Still just 25, any claiming team would likely be doing so for his ability to play in various different spots than any hopes on him becoming a prolific scoring threat.
Despite scoring his first NHL goal just last night, Martin Necas still has some development to do. That’s what the Carolina Hurricanes decided today when they sent Necas and defenseman Haydn Fleury to the AHL while recalling Clark Bishop. The Hurricanes are off to an excellent start this season and Necas was limited to fewer than seven minutes of ice time last night. Fleury meanwhile has only made his way into the lineup once this season, meaning this demotion will actually give him a chance to play for the first time in more than a week. Carolina doesn’t play again until Saturday, meaning it is possible that Necas and Fleury could play in Friday’s Charlotte Checkers game before returning to the NHL.
Necas, 19, also faces the fact that his contract would slide once again if he fails to play in three more NHL games this season. If he’s not going to be a big part of the roster right now, the Hurricanes may be thinking they can protect their asset and keep him on his entry-level contract for another season. Fleury doesn’t have to deal with that factor, but does have a glut of very capable defenders ahead of him on the roster.
Bishop, 22, may have impressed through his first few minor league games this season, but more likely is just a roster placeholder for the time being until Victor Rask can return from injury. The Hurricanes also waived Phillip Di Giuseppe today as they try to tweak their roster, meaning Bishop becomes the 12th healthy forward. It’s unlikely the situation remains that way, and there is reason to believe someone like Janne Kuokkanen could be on his way up to help the club right now. That likely wouldn’t happen until Friday or Saturday though, meaning we’ll have to wait and see what’s next for the Hurricanes.
The NHL has handed out the Three Stars for the second week of the season, and once again a center from the Atlantic Division leads the way. Following in Auston Matthews’ week one honors is Patrice Bergeron, who gets the first star after a nine-point week with the Boston Bruins. Bergeron’s brilliance was on display in full force when he sent a backhand saucer pass to David Pastrnak for a tap in on Monday night against the Ottawa Senators. It wasn’t the first time the Bruins center is included in these awards, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Behind Bergeron were two more Eastern Conference opponents in Morgan Rielly and Sebastian Aho. Both players continued their scorching hot starts by adding seven points in three games, and helping the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes to league-leading records. While both have been good before, each could be experiencing another breakout in performance that could lead to playoff success for their clubs.
- Christian Dvorak of the Arizona Coyotes has suffered a setback in his rehab from a lower-body injury according to Matt Layman of AZ Sports, who notes that the team will give an update on his status later in the week. Dvorak hasn’t played yet this season as he tries to make good on the six-year, $26.7MM extension he signed this summer, and will likely now be held out of the lineup even longer. Now on the final year of his entry-level contract, Dvorak is looked to as a leader on the Coyotes and one that was expected to take a step forward from the 15-goal, 37-point performance of 2017-18. The 22-year old will need to perform at an even higher level in order to eclipse that if he misses much more of the season.
- The Maple Leafs were forced to recall minor league goaltender Eamon McAdam today to fill in while Frederik Andersen deals with a minor knee injury, and as CapFriendly points out are using one of their two goaltender exemptions for the year. The team is sitting at 24 players on the roster since they didn’t move Andersen to injured reserve, and will now have to be even more careful going forward. McAdam will serve as backup tonight while Garret Sparks makes his second start of the season.
The Vancouver Canucks have had an interesting start to the year, with impressive performances from rookie Elias Pettersson but bad losses at the hands of the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes. The team has allowed 14 goals in three games, and is busy shaking up their blue line to try to find answers. One player that won’t be taken out of the lineup because of his play is Alexander Edler, but there might be a break-up coming down the line anyway. Edler is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but has made it clear he wants to spend the rest of his career in Vancouver.
Still, as Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet points out in his latest 31 Thoughts column, Edler would be an attractive rental piece at the trade deadline for a contender. The 32-year old defenseman is averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time through the first three games and is coming off his most effective offensive season in some time. Friedman notes that the Tampa Bay Lightning has shown interest in the left-hander before, and that “someone” will again even if he’s determined to return to the Canucks in 2019-20.
- The Montreal Canadiens will face a tough decision in the coming days, as Eric Engels of Sportsnet writes that the team will likely put either Jacob de La Rose or Nikita Scherbak on waivers once the former is back to full health. Both high draft selections, neither player has really found much consistency in the NHL and even their youth can’t get them into the current lineup. Engels believes that both would be prime targets for a waiver claim, given that they still hold some substantial potential. There are obviously other ways out of the roster crunch, but if it does come down to a waiver placement and attempted minor league assignment, the Canadiens could find themselves losing some of their forward depth for nothing in the coming days.
- Ryan Kesler was on the ice at the Anaheim Ducks morning skate, and even took line rushes between Andrew Cogliano and Kiefer Sherwood according to Josh Cooper of The Athletic. The veteran forward was not expected to return so soon, and head coach Randy Carlyle wouldn’t even confirm that he’ll be in the lineup tonight against the Arizona Coyotes. If he is back to health it’s at the perfect time as the Ducks are without Ryan Getzlaf and are struggling to find much offense up front. An expected Stanley Cup contender, the Ducks have been ravaged by injuries early and could use some good news on that front.
The Carolina Hurricanes struggled last season to stop the puck, with newcomer Scott Darling posting an .888 save percentage despite his previous career total of .923. When Cam Ward moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks in free agency this summer, the Hurricanes brought in Petr Mrazek to battle with Darling and potentially give the team a bounce-back tandem of sorts. Instead, Darling suffered an injury in training camp and still has no timetable for his return. In the meantime the Hurricanes claimed Curtis McElhinney off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs and have given him two starts already.
McElhinney, 35, has found a fountain of youth the last few seasons and looks as sharp as ever in net for the Hurricanes in the early going. The journeyman goaltender is 2-0 with a .930 save percentage and is starting to turn heads as a possible starting option for the entire season. On the latest edition of Insider Trading on TSN, panelist Pierre LeBrun spoke about how the Hurricanes saw that opportunity in McElhinney even before the Darling injury and may have claimed him regardless. The team may decide to carry three goaltenders for a while when Darling is back, meaning expectant Maple Leafs fans would not get a chance to reclaim their former backup.
The Hurricanes are by no means a cap ceiling team, as they currently sit near the very bottom of the league in salary commitments for this season. Mrazek, who has not looked sharp through his two starts and has struggled in recent seasons, is earning $1.5MM and could be expendable if the team decides to keep McElhinney around. It’s tough to imagine any other team taking a shot at Mrazek on waivers given his salary and play so far, meaning the Hurricanes could likely sneak him through into the minor leagues for some added depth. Regardless, the team will ride the hot hand for the time being and hope that McElhinney still has enough in his tank to keep them on their winning streak. Carolina is first in the NHL with seven points in their first four games, and a near-perfect 3-0-1 record.
Just like their professional and junior counterparts, the college hockey season is underway. With each passing year, the NCAA’s influence on the world of hockey grows. The NHL boasts more than a few top rookies fresh out of the college ranks this season and those still in school in 2018-19 will soon join them. This year’s crop of talent is sticking with the trend, with several players in need of watching:
The Recent Draft Picks
D Quinn Hughes, Michigan (VAN): Hughes very nearly signed his first pro contract with the Vancouver Canucks this summer before deciding to return to Michigan. The seventh overall pick back in June, Hughes was the second defenseman off the board behind top pick Rasmus Dahlin, and many even saw No. 7 as being a steal for Vancouver. An electric skater who can’t help but draw the eyes of spectators as he moves effortlessly around the ice, Hughes pairs his skating ability with the vision and positioning that makes him a threat in all three zones. Hughes also has an NCAA season under his belt already and should be even more prepared to dominate opponents this season. Hughes is a complete two-way defenseman and the centerpiece of a Wolverines team that was a Frozen Four finalist last year. Hughes himself could be eyeing the Hobey Baker Award this season. Michigan almost had Hughes’ younger brother and presumptive top 2019 pick Jack Hughes joining them this season, before he decided to stick with the U.S. National Development Program for another year before almost certainly turning pro.
F Oliver Wahlstrom, Boston College (NYI): Perhaps the most gifted goal scorer of the 2018 draft class, Wahlstrom was a late addition to BC’s freshman class, changing his commitment from Harvard, and the Eagles could not be happier. Wahlstrom is a rare combination of both high-end skill and hard-nosed play who dominated with the U.S. National Development Program last year. The right winger has had the attention of scouts for his puck-handling ability since he was nine years old, but as he’s grown up he has also filled out his frame and added a menacing physical element to his game. Wahlstrom can skate and possess the puck as well as anyone, but is even more of a threat as the go-to shooter, which he will be skating with a roster of play-makers up front for BC. Wahlstrom could be the next big NHL power forward and may very well be one-and-done in the NCAA if he continues to score at a torrid pace this year and force the hand of the rebuilding New York Islanders, who selected him with the eleventh pick this past year.
F Joel Farabee, Boston Univ. (PHI): Wahlstrom’s teammate with the U.S. National Development program last season, Farabee was the one feeding Wahlstrom most of the time with 43 assists to his linemate’s 48 goals. Farabee is now a cross-town rival of Wahlstrom’s as he joins the uber-talented BU Terriers. Farabee is a threatening presence in the offensive zone, but is even more dangerous due to his two-way ability. An extremely intelligent winger who is beyond his years in terms of decision-making and positioning, Farabee is as responsible a freshman forward as you can find in the NCAA. He may not light up the score sheet right away this year, but will no doubt make a difference for the title-chasing Terriers. Farabee’s style bodes well for an NHL career in Philadelphia, after the Flyers used the No. 14 pick on him in June.
F Jay O’Brien, Providence (PHI): Some considered it a reach when the Flyers used their second first-round pick on O’Brien, another college-bound forward and one who was coming from the prep school ranks with Thayer Academy. However, the 19th overall pick more than earned his draft slot after scoring 80 points in 30 games while also displaying an impressive two-way game. O’Brien now bring his talents to Providence, a program that lost their top two scorers from last season and are looking for their next star forward. O’Brien could emerge as both the top scoring threat and dependable defensive forward for the Friars in his first collegiate season. O’Brien is also ready to take on Hockey East competition with a gritty games that all Philly and Providence fans will appreciate.
The Soon-To-Be NHLers
D Cale Makar, UMass (COL): Few will argue that Makar isn’t the best prospect in the NCAA, if not the best drafted player not playing in the NHL. The smooth-skating defenseman was the fourth overall pick in 2017 by the Colorado and would be skating on the Avs’ top pair right now if he had not committed himself to Amherst and to entering the pros as well-rounded as possible. Makar possesses elite puck-handling skills and vision and can out-skate almost anyone in the college ranks. Makar should improve upon his 21 points in an up-and-down freshman campaign and could flirt with point-per-game production from the blue line. The newly-named UMass captain, along with talented fellow defenseman Mario Ferraro (SJS) and top forward John Leonard (SJ) have the Minutemen thinking NCAA Tournament for the first time in years, while Makar could easily be a Hobey Baker candidate.
G Jake Oettinger, Boston Univ. (DAL): Oettinger nearly turned pro this off-season, but returns to BU with his sights set on backstopping the team to a national championship. A first-round pick at No. 26 in 2017, Oettinger was selected by the Dallas Stars with the expectations that he would be the heir apparent in net. Even with the emergence of Colton Point, the Dallas job is still there for the taking. The team’s veteran duo of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin won’t be around forever and Oettinger could conceivably compete for starts as early as 2020. Expect the big goaltender to put up stellar numbers behind a deep Terrier defense this season before joining the pro ranks next year.
F Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud (MTL): Poehling was drafted for his intelligent, professional, two-way style and Montreal hoped he would develop into a capable bottom-six center. However, they have to be pleased with the improvement in his offense, after he registered 31 points in 36 games for a St. Cloud team that was top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Poehling lacks the high-end skill of other first-round prospects, but the 2017 No. 25 pick makes up for his skating and hands with positioning and composure. Poehling should again improve this season while maintaining his elite defensive play and could be in the running for the Hobey Baker Award, especially if the Huskies are dominant yet again. The Canadiens prospect should then compete for a roster spot right away next season.
The Trade Return
F Josh Norris, Michigan (OTT): The recent centerpiece prospect of the Erik Karlsson trade, a lot of eyes in Ottawa will be on the performance of Norris this season. The entire top line of the Michigan Wolverines’ Final Four roster has moved on to the pros, leaving Norris as the team’s top center. The No. 19 pick in 2017 by the San Jose Sharks, Norris is a freak athlete who can hold his own against anyone in the NCAA. The Senators’ new addition also has a deceptively quick release on his shot and is deadly accurate with both passing and shooting. Norris simply needs to embrace his role for Michigan, both carrying the puck and shooting more often. Some more experience, specifically as the team’s top scoring option, should go a long way for the promising center’s development.
F Shane Bowers, Boston Univ. (COL): Of course, who can forget the top center prospect that Ottawa recently traded away themselves. Bowers, part of the regrettable package that the Senators sent to the Colorado Avalanche for Matt Duchene, is set to be the go-to guy up front for BU this season. Bowers’ 32 points in 40 games last season ranked third last season for the Terriers, but with Jordan Greenway and Brady Tkachuk now gone, Bowers should be the top option and could be a dark horse Hobey Baker candidate on a talented BU team that should provide plenty of scoring chances. Bowers is quick-thinking and quick-skating offensive presence who is especially dangerous on the power play and works the puck down low perhaps better than anyone in the college ranks. A breakout campaign for Bowers should give the 2017 No. 28 pick an opportunity to compete for a spot among the Avs’ young forward corps next year.
D Adam Fox, Harvard (CAR): Fox, entering his junior year with the Harvard Crimson, has already seen his NHL rights traded. Fox had allegedly expressed a resistance to signing with the Calgary Flames, but so far no such sentiment has been associated with his new team, the Carolina Hurricanes. Fox is a mature, intelligent defender who has been a point-per-game player in college and especially excels as a power play quarterback. However, Fox is more than capable on the back end as well. Assuming he is yet again producing a Hobey Baker campaign for Harvard this year, Fox seems like a prime candidate for a late-season contract and brief tryout with the Hurricanes. Carolina’s depth on defense may block him from being a full time NHLer for a few years, but when Fox finally does land that job, he has the complete game to be a dangerous presence on any blue line.
The Top Prospect
D Ben Brinkman, Minnesota: If there is one thing that the 2018-19 NCAA class lacks, it is many standout draft-eligible prospects. Brinkman alone is a candidate for early selection next June, but the Minnesota native is a surefire first-rounder. The Gophers have rarely given a true freshman defenseman the role and minutes expected of Brinkman this season, but the teen blue liner is a special talent. A smooth skater who excels with the puck on his stick, it will be no surprise to see Brinkman frequently carry the puck up and start the rush for Minnesota and he should see ample power play time as well. Brinkman is no slouch in his own zone either, as he plays a competent game that allowed him to shut down high school competition. The adjustment to the college level will come with some lumps for the young defenseman, but Brinkman should emerge from this season as a bona fide NHL prospect.