- Rangers center Mika Zibanejad did not accompany the team for their two-game road trip which started tonight in Ottawa, notes Larry Brooks of the New York Post. There was initially some hope that his upper-body injury wouldn’t keep him out for too long but it has now nearly been four weeks since he last suited up. The good news for New York is that he took part in a practice on Thursday, albeit without contact. Head coach David Quinn stated that Zibanejad will need to take part in a full practice and take contact before getting the green light to return which should have him in line to come back sometime next week.
By any measure, Rimouski Oceanic is a top-three team in the QMJHL this season, mostly due to the play of presumptive 2020 top pick Alexis Lafreniere. The team holds a 14-5-4 record and the second-best goal differential in the league, with Lafreniere leading charge with a league-best 51 points in just 23 games. However, things are about to get more difficult for Rimouski. The team announced today that Dmitri Zavgorodny, an impressive Calgary Flames prospect and a line mate of Lafreniere’s, is set to miss the next two to three months. Zavgorodny suffered a broken collarbone and the team anticipates an 8-to-12 week recovery timeline. The talented forward has surely played his last hockey of the 2019 calendar year, but the focus now will be on making sure he is at full strength for the stretch run and postseason when he returns to action, likely in February. In the meantime, Lafreniere and Cedric Pare will try to keep their incredible level of play up; Zavgorodny was third on the team in scoring, but amazingly also third in the league as well, with his 43 points trailing only his line mates. Oceanic will also look for someone to step up and fill Zavgorodny’s slot on the first line, while also expecting their secondary scoring to shoulder some of the burden of his absence. The Quebec league contenders will also likely look into a trade. If Lafreniere and company can survive Zavgorodny’s loss over the next few months, they will remain a formidable opponent in the 2020 playoffs. Perhaps the biggest loser in this situation is Russia’s World Junior team; a key piece will now miss the tournament.
- 2020 NHL Draft prospect Luke Mylymok is jumping leagues mid-season. The University of Minnesota-Duluth commit, who some expected to be with the Bulldogs this season, instead remained in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers. However, he is making a switch, as the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks announced that Mylymok has joined their team. Beginning the 2017-18 season as a 16-year-old, Mylymok nevertheless finished the year as a top-six scoring forward for the Gamblers. However, after a relatively slow start to this new campaign – six points in 14 games – the skilled forward will try something new in British Columbia. It’s hard to peg where Mylymok may fall in the draft this spring, but the endorsement of Minnesota-Duluth, one of the top programs in college hockey, has to be worth something. If Mylymok can improve his play with a change of scenery, his name could be getting more attention later this season.
- The New York Rangers may have to wait a while longer to see 2019 draft selection Leevi Aaltonen in action in North America. Fortunately, the team has a deep pipeline and can allow for the intriguing young forward to develop at his own pace. Aaltonen has signed a two-year extension with KalPa of the Finnish Liiga, where he is enjoying a regular role for the first time in his young career. A product of the system in KalPa, Aaltonen has already played in a career-high 14 games this season and clearly wouldn’t mind playing with the team for a while longer. After putting up good numbers at the top junior level in Finland last year, Aaltonen was well-regarded entering the draft and considered by many to be a steal by the Rangers in the fifth round. A small, shifty forward, Aaltonen’s skating ability and skill are apparent, but he has a ways to go physically and in developing a more mature, well-rounded game. Patience by New York will likely pay off as Aaltonen continues to grow in KalPa.
- There will be no more Peewee, Midget, and Bantam in Canada. After a meeting this weekend in Montreal, Hockey Canada has announced that they will be re-naming their age divisions in youth hockey to simplify the structure of the game. No longer will each level have its own unique title; instead, age groups will largely be categorized as being under a certain odd number age. The new titles are U-7, U-9, U-11, U-13, U-15, U-18, and U-21. These changes will be implemented almost immediately for next season. While the oldest age group will surely continue to be referred to as “Junior” hockey, the other titles that many have come to know will cease to exist. A helpful simplification of the game for many, but at the cost of novelty to others.
Monday: Hunt has cleared waivers and was assigned to the minor leagues immediately. Haley has also cleared.
Sunday: Two more names have hit the waiver wire as Elliotte Friedman announces that the New York Rangers have put enforcer Micheal Haley on waivers, while the Florida Panthers have done the same with winger Dryden Hunt.
Haley’s time was coming in New York. His playing time was decreasing by the game as the 33-year-old “tough guy” was only averaging 5:49 on the ice. Haley may have worn out his welcome on the team’s two-game trip to Florida where he racked up 24 penalty minutes against Tampa Bay in 4:09 of ice time on Thursday and then immediately picked up two more after 1:26 on the ice against Florida on Friday after which he was benched for the rest of the game. To make matters worse for the Rangers, they found themselves on the penalty kill 10 times between the two games, allowing seven power play goals. With a penalty kill ranked 29th with a 73.2 percent success rate, Haley, and his ability to accrue penalties, might seem expendable.
Hunt, on the other hand, has not been productive on an offensive standpoint. The 23-year-old has no goals and just four assists over 20 games and has just one assist over his last 11 appearances. His playing time seems to have dwindled as well over the last few games, playing a season-low 7:50 against the Rangers on Saturday. While he’s been known as a hard-worker, Hunt just hasn’t been able to justify his place with the Panthers due to his lack of production. Hunt did produces at the AHL level last year, scoring 23 goals and 44 points in 51 games, while scoring three goals in 31 games with Florida last season.
Most of the NHL is at rest today after the huge number of Saturday games, meaning just four teams are in action. The Buffalo Sabres travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks, while the Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights get reacquainted in Sin City. As teams prepare for the next week of action, we’ll keep track of all the minor moves right here.
- Noah Gregor has been returned to the AHL after playing in ten games for the San Jose Sharks. The 21-year old center failed to register his first NHL point but at least got his feet wet and saw what would be required of him at the next level.
- Former NHL goaltender Justin Pogge has found a new home for this season, signing a one-year deal with Sodertalje SK in Sweden’s second league. The 33-year old netminder has spent the last several seasons overseas after a North American career that saw him quickly turn from top prospect to AHL afterthought. In seven career NHL games, Pogge posted an .844 save percentage and 4.36 goals against average.
- Miikka Salomaki has been assigned to the minor leagues by the Nashville Predators after five games with the team. The 26-year old was recalled on October 19th, meaning he’s close to needing waivers again. Sending him to the AHL now leaves the Predators with some extra roster flexibility.
- The Boston Bruins have returned three players to their AHL affiliate, according to the AHL transactions page. The website reports that the Bruins have sent forwards Paul Carey and Trent Frederic and defenseman Urho Vaakanainen to Providence. Carey played Saturday in their shootout loss to Washington, receiving 6:22 of playing time. Frederic played back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, but was held scoreless, while Vaakanainen played in three games, playing 19:19 on Saturday.
- The Athletic’s Darren Haynes reports that the Calgary Flames have recalled forward Dillon Dube from the Stockton Heat of the AHL. Dube, who has dominated in the AHL, but struggled last year in his first taste of NHL action, was brought in to spark the team, which has been struggling with offense recently. Dube has four goals and 13 points in 13 games with the Heat. Sportsnet’s Eric Francis adds that forward Alan Quine was sent to Stockton in a corresponding move.
- The Vegas Golden Knights announced they have assigned forwards Brandon Pirri and Nicolas Roy to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. Pirri cleared waivers and has already been reported to have been sent to Chicago, while Roy has been up and down multiple times this year as a fourth-line option for Vegas. The 22-year-old has fared well in six games, posting a goal and three points.
- The Dallas Stars announced they have re-assigned center Rhett Gardner to the Texas Stars of the AHL. The 23-year-old had appeared in eight games for Dallas but failed to register a point. He had eight shots on goal over that span. With no game until Tuesday, it could just be a paper transaction to save some cap space.
- The Detroit Red Wings announced they have assigned defenseman Joe Hicketts to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. Hicketts has appeared in five games for the Red Wings, which included picking up his first point of the season Saturday in their shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks.
- The New Jersey Devils announced they have assigned defenseman Colton White to the Binghamton Devils of the AHL. White was recalled Friday by the team but served as an emergency defenseman for Saturday’s game against Montreal.
- The Carolina Hurricanes have recalled forward Eetu Luostarinen from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, according to a Checkers’ release. The 21-year-old Luostarinen was recalled 10 days ago, and appeared in three games for the Hurricanes, registering one assist, before being returned to Charlotte. The 2017 second-round pick has looked good in the AHL with five goals and eight points in 12 games.
- After being sent back to the minors following Saturday’s game, the Canadiens announced that they’ve recalled winger Charles Hudon from AHL Laval. He played less than eight minutes yesterday in his season debut but with Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin both injured, Montreal was down to just 11 healthy forwards.
- The Rangers have decided to give Lias Andersson some more playing time as they’ve assigned him to Hartford of the AHL per a team release. The seventh pick in 2017 has just one assist in 17 games this season while playing less than ten minutes per night. Winger Tim Gettinger has been recalled to take his place on the roster.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had to choose between two goaltenders for their backup goaltending opening during training camp, eventually opting to place last year’s backup goalie Casey DeSmith on waivers and then sending him to the AHL, despite solid numbers last year. That demotion hit DeSmith hard, who reportedly was frustrated and hurt that Pittsburgh would do that, leading to disappointing performances early on.
“Yes, of course he was hurt and disappointed and all those emotions, which is understandable. I talked to him when he first got down here and I pulled him aside maybe 10 days ago and just said that from standpoint, he can’t let this affect him … So I think from that point on he’s been preparing to be the best he can and not worrying about things he can’t control. I think he’s settled in nice.”
- Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin looks to have avoided any supplementary discipline after Friday night’s hit against Montreal Canadiens’ forward Jonathan Drouin, in which Ovechkin crushed Drouin with a massive body check in the second period (video here). TVA’s Renaud Lavoie reports, however, that there will be no hearing for the hit. The Canadiens went on to win 5-2.
- Chip Alexander of the News & Observer writes that Carolina Hurricanes winger Nino Niederreiter is quite frustrated with his offensive struggles so far this season. The winger, who scored 14 goals in 36 games last season after being traded from Minnesota to Carolina, has just two goals and seven points in their first 19 games. The winger has had plenty of scoring opportunities, but has really struggled putting the puck into the net. He currently has an exceptionally low 5.9 percent shooting percentage, which he admits has gotten to him. “I try not to be,” he said. “If you’re not scoring and you don’t get the points then it’s obviously in your head.”
- New York Rangers rookie Kaapo Kakko is feeling better as he has been out with the flu, according to The Athletic’s Rick Carpiniello, but the team’s second-overall pick this season remains a game-time decision for tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers. Kakko has been hot recently with five goals in his last seven games.
It was only a couple of years ago that Lias Andersson appeared to be a key cog of the future down the middle for the Rangers when they made him the seventh-overall pick in 2017. However, while he has spent all of this season in the NHL and more than half of last year with New York, his playing time has been extremely limited (just 9:54 per game so far in 2019-20). Accordingly, Larry Brooks of the New York Post opines that the team may need to consider trading the 21-year-old over running the risk of having his value drop even further. The Rangers don’t appear to be interested in sending him to AHL Hartford for more playing time and he isn’t playing his way off the fourth line either which leaves them at a bit of a crossroads. If they don’t think he’s part of their long-term core moving forward, then perhaps the time is right for a move and considering his age and draft pedigree, there would be considerable interest around the league.
- While the Penguins are still evaluating the injury to Sidney Crosby, they’ve already announced (Twitter link) that he has been ruled out for tomorrow’s game against the Rangers. Crosby suffered a lower-body injury early in the third period on Saturday versus Chicago. While his offensive output is down this season (he has 17 points in as many games), he’s still Pittsburgh’s top player and leading scorer and any prolonged absence would be a tough blow.
The Philadelphia Flyers have been aided by the impressive play of 2018 first-rounder Joel Farabee, who has two goals in his first nine games. And when the puck drops Saturday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, Farabee would play his 10th game and burn the first-year of his entry-level deal, according to the Courier Post’s Dave Isaac.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the 19-year-old is now a permanent member of the Flyers. He could still be sent to Lehigh Valley in the AHL if he struggles or hits that rookie wall. However, it’s an important step for Farabee with the next step being that general manager and president Chuck Fletcher telling Farabee that he can find his own place in Philadelphia.
“I’m still in the hotel,” he said after Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens. “It’s not bad now. We’ve got Carsen (Twarynski), Phil (Myers) and (Mikhail Vorobyev) Misha’s there now so at least I’ve got guys to go have dinner with, which is good … It’s still in the back of my head that I can go down at any time. I think just trying to enjoy it while I’m here and help the team win.”
- New York Rangers head coach David Quinn said that Mika Zibanejad, who has been out with an upper body injury since Oct. 27, remains day-to-day and will not play on Sunday, according to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. Zibanejad skated Friday, but Quinn said that every time he takes a step forward, he takes a step back. New York Post’s Mollie Walker reports that Quinn doesn’t have any definitive answers surrounding Zibanejad’s injury and the team opted to hold him off the ice today after Friday’s skate.
- Despite reporting earlier this week that Carolina Hurricanes forward Erik Haula was “day-to-day,” head coach Rod Brind’Amour said today that Haula is currently not with the team and is no longer “day-to-day,” according to News & Observer’s Chip Alexander. That could be bad news for the Hurricanes, who have depended on Haula for offense this year. The 28-year-old leads the team with eight goals this season. If he is out for an extended period of time, the team would lose an invaluable piece.
Marc Staal has had a rough last couple of weeks as he spent time as a healthy scratch. Now, the blueliner will be missing more time as the Rangers announced (Twitter link) that he has undergone surgery due to an infection in his ankle and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
The 33-year-old has played in 11 games so far this season and is averaging a career-low 18:25 per night. While his offensive production has been limited, he sits second on the team behind fellow defenseman Jacob Trouba in blocks per game with two.
With some of New York’s younger rearguards making a push for regular playing time, Staal’s role has been reduced and with him out of the picture for at least the next two weeks, he could find it even harder to draw back into the lineup if Ryan Lindgren does well in his absence. Brendan Smith, who has spent time on the wing this year, could also be shifted back on the blueline. With those two options available, the Rangers likely won’t need to recall anyone from AHL Hartford to take his place.
Staal has two years remaining on his contract with a $5.7MM cap hit. Considering his diminishing role this season, he was already a speculative buyout candidate in June. This issue, even though it’s a shorter-term one, won’t help his cause on being kept around for the final year of his deal.
The Carolina Hurricanes were seeking a top-nine forward when they traded away long-time defenseman Justin Faulk this summer. However, the best return they could find was a prospect forward, Dominik Bokk, and another established defenseman in Joel Edmundson from the St. Louis Blues. Now, the Hurricanes are more or less back in the same situation, trying to deal from their blue line depth for help up front. Even after moving Faulk and Calvin de Haan in the off-season, the additions of Edmundson, Jake Gardiner, and Gustav Forsling has created yet another logjam on defense. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Carolina is calling around to other teams and shopping veteran Trevor van Riemsdyk, as well as 23-year-old Haydn Fleury, who is no longer waiver-exempt, in hopes of landing a scoring forward in return.
However, they aren’t alone. LeBrun’s colleague Darren Dreger reports that the Buffalo Sabres are also making calls to dangle defenders in anticipation of their team getting healthy. Dreger states that Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella will make their returns “right around the corner”, but first Buffalo will need to clear space. The red-hot Sabres likely want to avoid a major shake-up, such as moving the now-content Rasmus Ristolainen, but also likely aren’t keen to move recent additions like Brandon Montour and Colin Miller. The team can demote Lawrence Pilut and even Henri Jokiharju, but will still need to make room on the blue line. Dreger states that Buffalo is hoping to land both a top-six and bottom-six forward, so trading away a John Gilmour won’t get the job done. Bogosian, Scandella, and Jake McCabe seem like the most likely to be dealt at this point.
So who could take advantage of a market flush with capable defenders? Top contenders like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and San Jose Sharks are all struggling defensively this season and have the depth of forwards to swing a deal. The Minnesota Wild are known to be open to moving several forward and could pursue a defenseman that they see as a long-term fit. The same could be said for other struggling teams, especially those with intriguing impending free agents, such as the Los Angeles Kings (Tyler Toffoli) and New York Rangers (Chris Kreider). The Hurricanes’ and Sabres’ competition to make a deal may even lower the acquisition costs for any interested teams. The trade market appears to be heating up early this season and the odds of a deal – or several – before the holiday trade freeze are high.