Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bruins' Hamilton emerging as star in Chara's absence


BOSTON -- There was a time, if you can believe it, that 6-foot-5, 212-pound Boston Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton wasn't a towering presence.


Hamilton was in his mid-teens and a blossoming defenseman in the Mississauga Reps minor hockey system. Reps coach George Stavro estimated Hamilton was about 5-foot-10 and "maybe 160 pounds soaking wet."


Like any teenager, Hamilton was a little unsure about his future and a little bored. The Reps were loaded and dominating with Hamilton, future Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Phillip Di Giuseppe, future Minnesota Wild draft pick Tyler Graovac and Harvard recruit Mark Luzar leading the way.


Hamilton also had an itching to try something new, so Stavro allowed Hamilton to spend a season as a forward.



Dougie Hamilton



Defense - BOS


GOALS: 4 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 11

SOG: 44 | +/-: 0



"I remember sitting down with him and his parents saying, 'You know what? If you want it, go for it,'" Stavro said. "I'd been coaching for years at that point and he was probably the smartest hockey-IQ kid I had on the roster. I had a few that are in the NHL, but he was the one guy that could think the game. And I told him, I said, 'Try it.' It's minor hockey; think outside the box. And he went up to forward for a year, had fun and moved back to defense the following year. And he was just more dominant. It made him a better hockey player."

Hamilton's stint at forward is one of many experiences throughout his career that have helped him mature into an all-around budding star at 21 years old and in his third NHL season. Hamilton's continued improvement has been a major piece of the Bruins' solution to the absence of injured perennial Norris Trophy candidate and ice-time leader Zdeno Chara, who sustained a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee during a game Oct. 23 against the New York Islanders. In Chara's absence the Bruins won eight of their first 11 games. They'll try to continue that run of strong play Saturday at home against the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US,TVA SPORTS, SN)


Through 20 games this season Hamilton has four goals and 11 points while playing a Bruins-high 22:34 per game. Last season he had seven goals and 25 points in 64 games while averaging about three minutes fewer. With the emphasis on puck possession around the League, Hamilton's offensive skills and creativity help the Bruins continually take the play at the opponent and worry a little less about defending their own zone. Hamilton uses the tools he began to acquire while with the Reps as a teenager.


"I was a defenseman and I kind of wasn't growing and stuff and I was a little bit bored of that," Hamilton said. "I think I played on a really good team too. So you're not really into [the game]. The forwards are playing in the [offensive] zone and you're just standing there. I liked playing forward. Definitely I wasn't as good as I was on defense, but I think learning stuff about where forwards are and stuff on the rush and things like that, it definitely helped me."


Stavro said Hamilton was his second-best forward that season. But the next season he went back to defense and continued to improve at both ends of the ice. Eventually Hamilton went through a growth spurt and became one of the best all-around defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League while playing for the Niagara IceDogs. In 2011-12, his final season of junior hockey, he was named the Canadian Hockey League's best defenseman after he had 17 goals and 72 points in 50 games.


Hamilton had been selected by the Bruins with the ninth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, and one season later he was in the NHL.


During his first two seasons Hamilton's development progressed incrementally. This season, even before the injury to Chara (as well as to defensemen Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, David Warsofsky and Adam McQuaid), Hamilton was expected to take a larger step toward becoming Chara's heir apparent. Hamilton handled the pressure of that notion with confidence as a player who already had played more than 100 regular-season games plus almost 20 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before turning 21.


"I think it's more comfortable obviously everywhere," Hamilton said. "I think around this city, around the team, in the room and then on the ice as well, I think that as you get older and better the game slows down a bit. So I think I felt that a little bit. So just trying to play with confidence and try to make plays and keep playing hard."


Hamilton's confidence often manifests itself in dynamic offensive plays one doesn't regularly see from defensemen. As a key cog in the Bruins' revitalized power play, Hamilton has shown a knack for scoring from different angles, from near and from far. At full strength he's become adept at knowing when to join the rush and when to pinch. The Bruins' system allows for plenty of forward support to allow a player like Hamilton to be aggressive.


And then there's just the way he sometimes can operate with the puck in open ice that can't be taught. One of Hamilton's four goals, an end-to-end rush that left two Toronto Maple Leafs defenders in the dust last month, is a perfect example of that.


That's the type of play the Bruins have grown used to watching.


"I'm getting accustomed to it," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We've asked our [defensemen] to support the attack. And in re-watching the game, watching a video clip, he was taking off to support the attack and then we kind of bobbled the puck a little bit. He just sort of slowed down and cut back to the middle and the puck came loose and he just pounced on it. To me that's just a great read-and-reaction kind of situation. I thought that was a great play on his part.


"He's a player right now, I talk about confidence, even defensively, he’s a lot more physical and he's standing up to people a lot better than he used to in the past. I guess I put that in the confidence category as well."


Hamilton still has to get bigger and stronger to compete in the defensive zone, and each offseason he does the most he can. There undoubtedly are bigger and better years ahead.


Without putting a number value on Hamilton's reliability, all one needs to know about his improved defensive play is that he was a regular on a pair with Chara before the injury and recently has been asked to play important minutes with veteran Dennis Seidenberg or as the elder statesman on a pair with 21-year-old rookie Joe Morrow.


"He's just a workhorse," Seidenberg said. "He logs a lot of minutes, he can skate, he moves the puck up there, he's got a good shot and it's good to have a guy like that. We always knew he could do it and now he has to do it."


While his defensive game matures, Hamilton's offensive game continues to impress. It's hard to believe he went the first six games this season without a point. Then he broke out with a two-point game against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 18. Some of those first six games, especially opening night when he lamented a preponderance of "brain farts" on his part, might have derailed the confidence of a lesser young defensemen. Hamilton just took his lowlights and devised a plot to avoid them in the future.


"I think it just depends on the game and the situation and stuff," Hamilton said. "I think I learned from the first game that you can't really force things and try too hard and stuff like that. So it's just about reading the situations and everything and the score of the game and all that stuff. And when I have the chance I'm more confident to take advantage of it and try. I don't think I'm necessarily leading the rushes and flying around the ice but trying to do everything a little bit, I guess."


Hamilton continues to be willing to try everything, and soon enough he may be able to actually do everything. The Bruins, with or without Chara, should reap the benefits of Hamilton's abilities and adventurousness.



Friday, November 21, 2014

Devils goalie Schneider emerging as a workhorse


NEWARK, N.J. -- Cory Schneider knew the questions would come quickly when it appeared that he would be supplanting the most decorated goaltender in the history of the position for the New Jersey Devils this season.


Schneider acknowledged all along, however, that he would not be replacing Martin Brodeur. He instead had his mind set on continuing the tradition of excellence at that position for the organization.


The 28-year-old was signed to a seven-year contract extension worth a reported $42 million in July to do just that.



DEVILS VS. OILERS PREVIEW



Schneider makes 20th straight start


By Derek Van Diest - NHL.com Correspondent

New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider will make his 20th consecutive start Friday, against the Edmonton Oilers, setting a new franchise record for starts from the beginning of the season. READ MORE ›


Still, no one really expected him to surpass Brodeur for consecutive starts to begin a season either, but that's what will happen when Schneider plays against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on Friday.


Schneider tied Brodeur for consecutive starts to open a season with 19 on Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brodeur set the longest stretch to open a season by playing the first 20 games of 2001-02.


This season is the first time in his seven seasons in the League that Schneider entered a training camp knowing he would be the No. 1 goalie.


Since the start of the 2010-11 season Schneider has a 2.13 goals-against average that ranks first among goalies to play at least 40 games, and he's second with a .925 save percentage.


Last season, his first with the Devils, he was third in the League with a 1.97 GAA.


The 2014-15 season hasn't been as kind to Schneider. He is 8-8-2 with a 2.72 GAA and .910 save percentage and has been pulled from a game four times. His 19 starts and time on ice (1,078:58) lead the League. His 543 shots faced and 494 saves each rank second.


Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Friday he didn't envision Schneider starting 20 straight to begin the season but the current situation changed his plans. The Devils, who have lost two straight, entered play Friday with 18 points, three behind the Washington Capitals for third place in the Metropolitan Division and four points behind the Ottawa Senators for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot.


Schneider had 30 saves in a 1-0 shutout against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 14 but since then has allowed six goals in losses against the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets.


"Cory feels great; the energy isn't an issue and it's not an issue for me, him or the team," DeBoer said prior to the game against the Jets.


DeBoer said in training camp that he anticipated Schneider handling 60-plus games. The last time that happened for Schneider was 2009-10 when he played 60 with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, and then six more in the AHL playoffs.


At his current pace Schneider would smash that mark. The Devils are hopeful the payoff will be a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


---



Syracuse poised to set American attendance mark


The number 28,138 is an important one in the world of professional hockey.


On April 23, 1996, the fans who filled the building now known as Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., to watch the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals set a record for the largest indoor crowd ever to see a professional hockey game in the United States.


On Saturday that record likely will be eclipsed by the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, when they play their in-state rival, the Utica Comets, inside Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.


Carrier Dome is the largest domed stadium on any college campus, with a football capacity of 49,262. The 35,446 fans who watched the Syracuse men's basketball team defeat Duke University on Feb. 1 set an NCAA men's basketball on-campus attendance record.


Billed as the Toyota Frozen Dome Classic, the Syracuse-Utica game will be the first time hockey has been played inside the building.


The record for the largest indoor crowd ever to see a professional hockey game in the United States may be broken Saturday at the Carrier Dome. (Courtesy: Scott Thomas)

The record for the largest indoor crowd ever to

see a professional hockey game in the United

States may be broken Saturday at the Carrier

Dome.
Photo: Scott Thomas (Click to enlarge)



"After having a successful game outdoors, the next progression for us in our market was to go where no hockey player has ever gone before," Crunch owner Howard Dolgon said. "The chance to be the first hockey game in the Dome, and strive to break not only the AHL record but the U.S. professional indoor record, that really drove us to move ahead with this."


That successful outdoor game was held in 2010 at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse and was the first of its kind in the AHL. On a chilly February afternoon in Central New York, a crowd of 21,508 packed the Fairgrounds to see the Crunch beat the Binghamton Senators 2-1. At the time it was the largest crowd ever for an American Hockey League game; the record has since been surpassed by a game between the Adirondack Phantoms and Hershey Bears in Philadelphia on Jan. 6, 2012 that drew 45,653.


"It was a real cold day but the fans came," said Syracuse forward Mike Blunden, a member of the Crunch from 2008-10 who has returned after signing with Tampa Bay this summer. "They were loud, rowdy and into the game. It was just an unbelievable atmosphere and a lot of fun to play in."


Hockey is woven into the lifeblood of the Syracuse community; the Syracuse Stars won the first Calder Cup championship in 1937. The Frozen Dome Classic idea was an instant hit, taking the sport the city loves so dearly and placing it inside the building that houses memories built into the city’s core.


"I've seen some pretty wild crowds there for basketball and football games, but to see a wild crowd there on Saturday for a hockey game is going to be something new and something pretty special," Utica forward Michael Zalewski said.


Zalewski is no stranger to the Dome. The 22-year-old grew up outside in New Hartford, N.Y., about 50 miles east of Syracuse. That adds an extra layer of excitement for Zalewski that he hasn't yet been able to process.


"From growing up playing youth hockey in Syracuse to now go play in that game for the city of Utica, I think it's something I won't really be able to put words on until it happens," he said. "To have this many fans inside the Dome for a hockey game … it's not something you see very often."


Blunden is a Toronto native, but his level of awe at the premise of a game like this equals Zalewski's.


"It's going to be unbelievable," he said. "I've been looking at the pictures of how the rink is coming along and it's looking great. I'm looking forward to Saturday."


"This market mobilizes when it's challenged to do something big and we will be breaking the indoor record come Saturday," Dolgon said. "This record will fall. There's no question. It has been bananas here."


In addition to the AHL headliner Saturday, four other hockey games will be taking place on the Dome ice. The building's backcourt will feature a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit, including interactive games, a Legends of Hockey exhibit, and a display featuring the Calder, Conn Smythe, Lady Byng and Art Ross trophies.


Former Crunch fan favorites Zenon Konopka and Jon Mirasty will be returning to Syracuse, as well as Hockey Hall of Fame member Glenn Anderson, former Syracuse and New York Giants running back Joe Morris, and former Syracuse and NBA legend Derrick Coleman.


In the multitude of articles written about the Frozen Dome Classic in recent months, one phrase has stuck out among the rest: Pound-for-pound. Dolgon has tied the three words into the psyche of the game, promising to deliver to the city an event like no other.


"For a market our size to have two records in attendance gives us distinction as being the best pound-for-pound sports city in America," Dolgon said. "We think it's a very fair statement to make, and it's well-earned."


For those who live in the area, the Dome is iconic. The Crunch will continue to add to Syracuse history when they take the ice Saturday.


"So many awesome moments have happened there and it's just such a cool building," Zalewski said. "The fans there for Syracuse have just always been so amazing and the building gets so loud. I think to see how loud it gets for the game on Saturday is definitely going to be my new favorite moment in the Dome."


The Toyota Frozen Dome Classic can be seen on AHL Live Saturday at 7 pm ET, and will be replayed on NHL Network (U.S.) on Sunday at 1 pm ET. For the latest news, scores and stats from around the American Hockey League, visit theahl.com.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Projecting 42 participants for 2015 All-Star Game


In about two months, the NHL's top stars will convene at Nationwide Arena for the 2015 NHL All-Star Game.


It is never too early to debate who will earn a trip to All-Star Weekend, so NHL.com and NHL Network assembled a panel of five writers and analysts to project which 42 players are most deserving of a spot in Columbus. The panel includes E.J. Hradek and Kevin Weekes of NHL Network and Arpon Basu, Corey Masisak and Dan Rosen of NHL.com.



NHL.com, NHL Network panel picks




The exercise was pretty simple. All five guys chose the 42 players (12 forwards, six defensemen and three goalies in each conference) they felt most deserved to be named to the All-Star Game.


Players who were named on the most lists were part of the team, and because each player was voted in order of priority, a simple tiebreaker was used to determine the final spots if too many players were named to the same number of ballots. Click here to see the full voting lists for all five panelists.


We will convene the five panelists again in a month to do another projection as the All-Star Game draws closer.


Seven forwards, three defensemen and no goalies were named on all five lists in the Eastern Conference. Six forwards, two defensemen and two goalies were unanimous choices in the Western Conference.


Calgary Flames defensemen Mark Giordano and Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick earned the distinction of being the No. 1 player at their position in the West on each of the five ballots. Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby had the most points among the forwards, falling one short of being the unanimous No. 1 at his position in the East.


Here are the 21 projected All-Stars in both conferences:


*Player stats are through games played Wednesday Nov. 19


EASTERN CONFERENCE


Forwards












Crosby


Sidney Crosby , Pittsburgh Penguins -- Crosby was tied for the League lead in points after the games Tuesday with 26, including eight goals. He has 186 points in 133 games since the start of the 2012-13 season, which is 31 more than anyone else in the NHL.


Steven Stamkos , Tampa Bay Lightning -- Stamkos is tied for third in the League with 12 goals and tied for fourth with 22 points. He is third, behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, among the NHL's top 100 scorers since the start of the 2012-13 season in points per game at 1.13.


Jakub Voracek , Philadelphia Flyers -- Tied with Crosby for the lead in the scoring race with 26 points, Voracek has been one of the League's underrated producers since joining Philadelphia. He's 13th in points during the past three seasons, ahead of Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares and Jamie Benn.


Claude Giroux , Philadelphia Flyers -- Part of the reason Voracek might be underrated is that he plays next to Giroux, who is second to Crosby in points since 2012-13 with 155. This season he is tied for seventh with 21, but he could rise pretty quickly when more of his shots start going in. Giroux, not known as a shoot-first player, is second to Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin in shots on goal with 75, but he's shooting a career-low 6.7 percent.


Ryan Johansen , Columbus Blue Jackets -- Johansen missed training camp because of a contract dispute, but he has been fantastic for the injury-depleted Blue Jackets. He has six goals and 20 points in 18 games, and now has 39 goals and 83 points in 100 games dating back to the start of the 2013-14 season. He might earn a loud cheer or two at Nationwide Arena.


Evgeni Malkin , Pittsburgh Penguins -- Malkin has seven goals and 20 points in 17 games, and has been a beneficiary of Pittsburgh's top-ranked power play by scoring five goals and 12 points with the man advantage. The Penguins don't need him to dominate every night, but they are a scary team when he and Crosby are rolling at the same time.












Tavares


John Tavares , New York Islanders -- The Islanders have the second-best record in the Metropolitan Division, but unlike two years ago when they made the Stanley Cup Playoffs they haven't needed Tavares to carry them offensively. He, linemate Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson each has 18 points to lead a balanced attack. Tavares has seven goals, and he's one of six guys on the team with at least four.


Phil Kessel , Toronto Maple Leafs -- The Maple Leafs have had a roller coaster-type season, but Kessel has 11 goals and 22 points, placing him in the top six in both categories. Kessel is third in the NHL in goals (68) and points (154) since the start of the 2012-13 season.


Rick Nash , New York Rangers -- If New York can rebound from a slow start, Nash could find himself on the short list of Hart Trophy candidates. After a 2014 postseason when nothing would go in for him despite producing large quantities of shots, Nash is second in the League with 13 goals.


Alex Ovechkin , Washington Capitals -- Ovechkin has eight goals and 16 points in 18 games, but he is still firing shots at the net at a League-high rate. He has 81 shots on goal, but is shooting 9.9 percent, which would be the second-lowest conversion rate of his career.


Henrik Zetterberg , Detroit Red Wings -- Healthy after missing nearly half of last season, Zetterberg has four goals and 17 points in 18 games; not coincidentally, the Red Wings have started much better than the two previous seasons when they needed late rallies to secure a playoff spot. Zetterberg is one of 11 players among the League's top 100 scorers since the start of the 2012-13 season to average more than a point per game (113 points in 109 games).












Hornqvist


Patric Hornqvist , Pittsburgh Penguins -- Hornqvist certainly has enjoyed a change of scenery. Traded from the Nashville Predators to Pittsburgh in the offseason, he has split time between playing with Crosby and Malkin and has nine goals and 20 points in 17 games. Hornqvist has also been a staple in front of the net on the high-powered power play.


Others receiving votes: Tyler Johnson, Lightning; Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens; Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings; Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets; Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils.


Defensemen


P.K. Subban , Montreal Canadiens -- Subban is third among defensemen in the East in average time on ice at 25:00 per game. He has five goals and 12 points in 20 games. He leads all NHL defensemen with 103 points since the start of the 2012-13 season.


Erik Karlsson , Ottawa Senators -- Karlsson is not far behind Subban on that list, second with 100 points despite playing 28 fewer games. He has four goals and 12 points in 2014-15, and leads all defensemen with 72 shots on goal. That's nearly double Subban's total (37).












Stralman


Anton Stralman , Tampa Bay Lightning -- Stralman's offensive numbers did not match up with his elite possession stats while playing for the New York Rangers. They look more in line now. Stralman has two goals and 10 points in 20 games. He's playing 22:43 per game, in part to help ease the loss of Victor Hedman for much of the season.


Kris Letang , Pittsburgh Penguins -- Not only did Letang recover from the scare of having a stroke last season, he is back among the League's top-scoring defensemen. Letang has three goals and 13 points, which is seventh in the NHL among defensemen and tops in the East.


Niklas Kronwall , Detroit Red Wings -- Zetterberg isn't the only Swede from Detroit having a strong start to the season. Kronwall has three goals and 12 points in 18 games. It might be surprising to some people, but Kronwall is sixth among defensemen in points in the past three seasons with 90 in 145 games.


Johnny Boychuk , New York Islanders -- Along with Nick Leddy, Boychuk was a great acquisition a week before the regular season started. Boychuk has two goals and 12 points in 17 games, and he's sixth among East defensemen with a Corsi for percentage at even strength of 56.36 percent.


Other receiving votes: Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers; Mike Green, Capitals; Andy Greene, Devils; Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins.


Goaltenders


Marc-Andre Fleury , Pittsburgh Penguins -- Fleury hasn't had a full-season save percentage of better than .918, but he's been fantastic at the start of the 2014-15 season. His .930 save percentage is tied for third among goaltenders with at least 10 starts, and he leads the NHL with four shutouts in 14 starts.












Bishop


Ben Bishop , Tampa Bay Lightning -- Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and while his numbers have dipped a little the 11-2-2 record and a .919 save percentage are still above-average work. Among goalies with at least 50 games played since the start of last season, Bishop is tied for fourth with a .923 save percentage and second to Fleury with 48 wins.


Carey Price , Montreal Canadiens -- Price is third on that save percentage list since the start of 2013-14 at .924. He's at .914 at this point this season, but he's fourth in the League in saves (435) and tied for second in wins (11).


Others receiving votes: Roberto Luongo, Panthers; Craig Anderson, Senators; Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets


WESTERN CONFERENCE


Forwards












Seguin


Tyler Seguin , Dallas Stars -- The Stars have been a disappointment. They were expected to compete with the superpowers in the West; instead, they've dropped to the bottom of the Central Division. Seguin leads the League in goals with 14 and he's third in points with 24. The Stars are still on the positive side of the possession ledger with him on the ice at even strength, but not quite at the dominant level of 2013-14.


Vladimir Tarasenko , St. Louis Blues -- The breakout star of the 2014-15 season to date, Tarasenko has 10 goals and 21 points for the Blues, who are a point back in the Central despite missing three of the their top-six forwards for chunks of the season. He's added a few highlight-reel type goals to his dossier as a burgeoning dynamic force.


Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators -- Forsberg has a nine-point lead in the rookie scoring race, and is an easy choice for the Calder Trophy to this point. He has nine goals and 22 points in the Predators' 18 games. Alexander Radulov holds Nashville's record for points in a rookie season with 37. It is safe to say that is in danger.


Ryan Getzlaf , Anaheim Ducks -- Getzlaf has five goals and 17 points in 19 games for the West-leading Anaheim Ducks. He's fourth in the League (but first in the conference) in points since the start of the 2012-13 season with 153, which is 12 more than any other player in the West.


Corey Perry , Anaheim Ducks -- Perry missed five games because of the mumps and hasn't scored in the two he's played since, but he still has 11 goals and that is tied for fourth in the NHL. Ovechkin leads the League with 91 goals during the past two-plus seasons; Perry is second with 69.


Jonathan Toews , Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks are not scoring like they have in recent seasons, but Toews leads them with seven goals and 16 points in 18 games. Toews and his two most frequent linemates, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, are all above 59 percent in Corsi for percentage.












Toffoli


Tyler Toffoli , Los Angeles Kings -- Toffoli had a monster start to the season, and while he's slowed down a little, he still has eight goals and 18 points to lead the Kings in both categories. That is despite collecting two goals and four points in the past eight games. He has four shorthanded goals, which is more than any of the other 29 teams.


Henrik Sedin , Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks are in second place in the Pacific Division and ahead of two California teams in part because the Sedin twins are producing more like their pre-2013-14 selves again. Henrik Sedin has five goals and 19 points in 19 games, and the Canucks are controlling more than 56 percent of the shot attempts at even strength with him on the ice.


Jeff Carter , Los Angeles Kings -- The center of the line, along with Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, that carried the offense for Los Angeles during the early part of this season, Carter has seven goals and 17 points in 19 games. Dating back to when the Kings moved him to center after the Olympic break in February, Carter has 24 goals and 55 points in 68 games, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Joe Pavelski , San Jose Sharks -- It has not been a great start to the season for the Sharks, but Pavelski has eight goals and 17 points in 21 games. His 65 goals are tied with Chris Kunitz for sixth-most in the past two-plus seasons.


Joe Thornton , San Jose Sharks -- It was a different offseason for Thornton, but he just keeps producing. He has seven goals and a team-leading 19 points in 21 games. Possession numbers for the Sharks are down at the team level, but they still control 56 percent of the shot attempts at even strength with "Jumbo" on the ice.












Lehtera


Jori Lehtera , St. Louis Blues -- The big offseason addition at center for the Blues was Paul Stastny, but he has missed time because of an injury. Signing Lehtera has been one of the best bargains of the summer; he's teamed with Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz to form one of the most productive lines in the NHL. Lehtera has seven goals and 17 points, which would be second among rookies if he were young enough to be considered one.


Others receiving votes: Daniel Sedin, Canucks; Jaden Schwartz, Blues; Patrick Kane, Blackhawks; Zach Parise, Wild; Jamie Benn, Stars; Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers.


Defenseman


Mark Giordano , Calgary Flames -- Giordano was a breakout performer on a bad Calgary team last season. He's a Norris Trophy contender on maybe the most surprising team of 2014-15 to date. He leads all NHL defensemen with 21 points.


T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames -- Brodie has been a darling of the advanced statistics community, but he's gone mainstream now. He's tied for third among defenseman with 16 points, and he has teamed with Giordano to help drive Calgary's offense. It is becoming harder to make the argument that Giordano deserves the credit for Brodie's success, and even if Calgary fades because its process for success to this point in almost certainly unsustainable, the Flames have one of the best defense pairings in the NHL to build around.












Weber


Shea Weber , Nashville Predators -- Weber has five goals and 11 points in 18 games, and he's logging more than 27 minutes per game for Nashville, which is atop the Central Division. He has 37 goals since the start of the 2012-13 season, seven more than any other player at the position.


Ryan Suter , Minnesota Wild -- One defensive pairing and maybe a reunion of sorts in Columbus, Suter has one goal and nine points, but he leads the League in ice time at 29:13 per game. More importantly, the Wild are controlling play when he's on the ice (his even strength Corsi for percentage is at 59.13 percent), which has not been the case the past two years.


Brent Burns , San Jose Sharks -- One offseason decision that has definitely worked out for the Sharks is switching Burns back to his old position after lampooning as a forward. He has seven goals and 18 points, and while San Jose could probably use another top-nine forward to replace him, that's easier to find than a top-four defenseman with Burns' offensive skills.


Duncan Keith , Chicago Blackhawks -- The two-time Norris Trophy winner probably needs the Blackhawks to start scoring more goals to be back in the discussion for that award, but Chicago still dominates when he is on the ice. His Corsi for percentage at even strength is 59.6 percent, and Keith has four goals and 11 points in 18 games as well.


Others receiving votes: Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues; Drew Doughty, Kings; Sami Vatanen, Ducks.


Goaltenders


Jonathan Quick , Los Angeles Kings -- Quick was not stupendous in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as he was in 2012, but the two-time champion has had a phenomenal start to the 2014-15 season. The Kings have not dominated play as they typically do, but Quick has saved them. He has a .938 save percentage and leads the NHL with 501 saves, seven more than second-place Cory Schneider (New Jersey) despite appearing in three fewer games.












Rinne


Pekka Rinne , Nashville Predators -- Nashville has injected dynamism and depth into the offense this season, but having a healthy Rinne has also been a huge reason for the Predators' early-season surge. He's 12-3-1 with a .930 save percentage, planting himself firmly in the Vezina Trophy conversation to this point.


Corey Crawford , Chicago Blackhawks and Brian Elliott , St. Louis Blues -- Quick and Rinne were 1-2 on each of the five ballots, but there was a tie for the third spot because Crawford and Elliott ended up on two each. Each has a sub-1.90 goals against averages and a save percentage of nearly .930.


Others receiving votes: Jonas Hiller, Flames.



2015 NHL All-Star Game roster projections


Tri-City defenseman Carlo building up offensive game


It was his strong defensive game that earned defenseman Brandon Carlo of the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League an A rating from NHL Central Scouting in its latest players to watch list.


But for Carlo to cement his status as one of the top prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft, he needs to advance the offensive side of his game. The numbers might not show it yet, but Carlo is putting the work in.


In 23 games this season Carlo has one goal and 10 points, putting him ahead of his pace from last season, when he had three goals and 13 points in 71 games.


Brandon Carlo has an A rating from NHL Central Scouting in its latest players to watch list. (Photo: Tri-City Americans)


"We're encouraging him to try to provide some offense," Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. "He's such a great skater and he has a tendency to make sure his defensive game is in order, which is a good habit, good instincts. But he's got to push out of his shell a little bit and lean more toward the offensive side as well."


At 6-foot-4 and 198 pounds, Carlo has the size and athleticism to eliminate the other team's offensive opportunities. Now it's just a matter of using that size, strength and skill set to help his team create offense.


"I want to build upon my offensive aspect of my game this year," Carlo said. "That's something I can bring to my team and something we need."


In addition to showcasing himself in Tri-City he also might have a chance to play on a grander stage. Carlo spent the first week of August at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., and was one of eight defensemen to remain at camp after an initial roster cutdown. He likely remains on the radar for USA Hockey for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.


There would be a bit of irony if USA Hockey adds Carlo to the WJC team, considering he grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo., the same city where USA Hockey is headquartered, and growing up he frequently skated at World Arena, USA Hockey's home rink.


Carlo tried to earn a spot with the United States National Team Development Program but wasn't accepted. That's when he turned to Tri-City, which selected him in the 10th round (No. 214) of the 2011 WHL draft.


"I explored all my options," Carlo said. "... For me personally, with academics and things like that, I felt like the WHL was the right fit for me. Also I felt like it was the best option for me to give it my best shot at making it to the NHL."


Moving nearly 1,200 miles northwest to Kennewick, Wash., at age 16 wasn't easy, but Carlo said his parents signed off on it -- to an extent.


"My parents support me 100 percent," he said. "My mom was a little bitter when I left but other than that ..."


The move has paid off for Carlo and his NHL hopes.


"He's a very intriguing guy," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "He's a really good skater and has great mobility for a player his size. Obviously the reach and range are there. He handles the puck well and is one of the best guys I've seen so far this year at being able to use the boards to pass off the boards to a teammate or get it out. He can beat the forecheck by bouncing it off the boards and onto the stick of someone.


"He's a guy who I don't think he knows just how good he can be right now. He does get secondary power-play time and is a main penalty-kill guy. Another Tri-City guy on defense (2015 draft prospect Parker Wotherspoon) might be a better hockey player today, but I think at the age of 23 or 24, Carlo will have gone by him just because of his size and mobility and skill he has. A guy that size, you think Erik Johnson; Carlo has that body type."


Johnson was selected by the St. Louis Blues with the first pick of the 2007 draft. Carlo won't go that high at the 2015 draft, but if he continues on his current path he won't be waiting too long to hear his name called at BB&T Center in June.


"I had the honor of going to the [2014] draft and experiencing it," Carlo said. "First round definitely is the show. So thinking about it I'd like to be in that range. I'm going to do everything I can to possibly be in there."


---



College freshmen dot November players to watch list


The previous time as many as three college players were selected in the first round of the NHL Draft was almost nine years ago, when freshmen Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel and Mark Mitera went off the board in short order.


There's a strong chance that will be duplicated at the 2015 NHL Draft at BT&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on June 26.



NHL Central Scouting on Thursday released its players to watch list for November and identified Boston University center Jack Eichel, Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin and University of Michigan defenseman Zach Werenski as A-rated skaters considered first-round candidates for the 2015 draft.


"The fact you have three freshmen, all candidates to go in the first round and quite high, is unusual because for the past few years most NCAA freshmen are drafted prior to entering college," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said.


At the 2006 draft in Vancouver, center Toews (University of North Dakota) went No. 3 to the Chicago Blackhawks, right wing Kessel (University of Minnesota) went No. 5 to the Boston Bruins, and defenseman Mitera (University of Michigan) went No. 19 to the Anaheim Ducks.


Eichel, a potential top-two pick in the draft, leads the Terriers (6-1-1) in assists (nine), points (15), shots on goal (41) and plus-minus rating (plus-15), and is tied for the team lead with six goals. Hanifin has one goal and four points in 10 games for the Eagles (5-5-0). The youngest college hockey player this season, Werenski has two goals, eight points, a plus-5 rating and team-leading 21 blocked shots in nine games for the Wolverines (4-5-0).



CSS identifies four A-grade goalies



The big run on goaltenders at the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia started with the Calgary Flames' selection of Mason McDonald of the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League at No. 34.


McDonald (6-foot-4, 178 pounds) was the first goalie taken at the draft and one of five selected in the second round. There were 21 goalies selected during the final six rounds of the draft after no goalies were chosen in the first round.


This year's list of shot blockers might not be as deep, but those at the top are certainly making their case for early consideration. There are four goalies, two from North America and two from Europe, on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list for November considered to be A-rated prospects or potential first-round candidates.


The North American goalies are MacKenzie Blackwood (6-4, 215) of the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League and Callum Booth (6-3, 199) of the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.


"Callum is very composed and confident," NHL Central Scouting's goalie expert Al Jensen said. "He has excellent positional play and net coverage and is strong in all areas. He's got great instincts and reads and reacts to plays very well."


Booth is 9-6-0 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 15 games for the Remparts this season. Blackwood is 6-2-1 with a 3.19 GAA and .910 save percentage in nine games for the Colts.


"MacKenzie takes a calm and relaxed approach and has excellent positional play," Jensen said. "He has a butterfly style with great low net coverage and controlled lateral movements."


The two A-rated prospects in Europe are Daniel Vladar (6-5, 185) of Kladno in the Czech Republic and Felix Sandstrom (6-2, 191) of Brynas Jr. in Sweden.


-- Mike G. Morreale


Players with an A rating on the players to watch list are those the bureau considers to possess first-round ability. Those with a B rating possess second- or third-round potential, and C-rated players are those with fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-round potential.


"Releasing a players to watch versus a numerical ranking is what our primary audience, the NHL teams, scouts, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey would like to receive from Central at this stage of the season," Marr said.


The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is churning out better-than-anticipated talent this season, Marr said. The November list identified seven players from the league as A-rated prospects, and there could be a major increase by the time the NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game is held on Jan. 22.


"There are more players available in the Quebec league this year than our preliminary list [in September] indicated, and they're all pretty good," Marr said. "Going through the identification phase, we see a lot of second-year draft-eligible players who are on our radar. Some of the B-rated players on the 'Q' list are on the cusp of being A-rated players."


The list of A-rated players from the QMJHL includes Charlottetown Islanders teammates Filip Chlapik and Daniel Sprong.


"Sprong (6-foot, 189 pounds) compares to Mikkel Boedker; he has blazing speed and a great shot, and has the puck skills and hockey sense to be an effective playmaker," Marr said. "Chlapik (6-1, 194) is a big, rangy center who can power his way to the net. He's got good outside speed and is good down low."


Central Scouting tabbed eight players with an A rating from the Ontario Hockey League on its November list, including Erie Otters teammates Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome and Sarnia Sting teammates Pavel Zacha and Nikita Korostelev.


McDavid fractured the fifth metacarpal bone in his right hand on Nov. 11 and is expected to be out 5-6 weeks. Otters general manager Sherry Bassin is confident McDavid, who leads the OHL with 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 18 games, will be ready to go for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, which begins Dec. 26.


"Injuries are part of the game and we've made it a point, as you recall three years ago when there were so many players out, of adapting here at NHL Central Scouting," Marr said. "We've got a lot of views on Connor McDavid and are very comfortable with ranking him where he is.


"Hopefully [the injury] is nothing serious and he'll be back playing and be able to participate with Erie, because they look like they've got a team set for a long run."


The bureau identified eight A-rated prospects from the Western Hockey League, five from the United States Hockey League and nine players from Europe.


In the WHL, Seattle Thunderbirds center Mathew Barzal (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) might be considered the best of the bunch. Barzal has seven goals, 18 points and a plus-1 rating in 16 games for the Thunderbirds.


"He's the best skater I've seen out here in terms of his east-west game while creating time and space with his feet," NHL Central Scouting's John Williams said. "He's kind of Paul Coffey-esque. He has great vision and puck skills, makes plays and is the team's No. 1 center. I think he'll be more of a playmaker when he reaches the NHL, but he's an every-situational guy."


Two of the top five players from the USHL play for the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 team: left wing Jordan Greenway (committed to Boston University) and center Colin White (Boston College). Waterloo Black Hawks teammates Thomas Novak and Brock Boeser, and Youngstown Phantoms forward Kyle Connor were also identified. Novak (University of Minnesota), Boeser and Connor (University of Michigan) were named to the United States Junior Select Team that will compete in the 2014 World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Dec. 14-20.



PROSPECTS



Tri-City's Carlo building up offensive game


By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

For Tri-City defenseman Brandon Carlo to cement his status as one of the top prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft, he needs to advance the offensive side of his game. The numbers might not show it yet, but Carlo is putting the work in. READ MORE ›




There are a number of players who went undrafted last year that are currently trending upwards, Marr said, including Moncton Wildcats right wing Vladimir Tkachev. Tkachev, who is a B-rated skater on Central Scouting's November players to watch list, was No. 60 on the bureau's final list of draft-eligible skaters in North America for the 2014 draft. Tkachev has four goals and 16 points in 13 games for the Wildcats this season.

"There's been an increase in the number of 19-year-olds being drafted in recent years," Marr said. "They may not be first-round candidates, but as the season goes on there will be more 1995-born and 1996-born names appearing on our list and the NHL teams are thinking along the same lines."


Among the players identified as A-rated prospects from the international leagues, four are competing in Czech Republic: forwards Michael Spacek (Pardubice), Lukas Jasek (Trinec) and David Kase (Chomutov) and goalie Daniel Vladar (Kladno).


"Spacek is a hard worker with a good skill set," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. "He makes good decisions, is a smart passer and playmaker. He's an all-around player with a nose for the net."


Spacek, who has two goals and seven points in 17 games for Pardubice this season, is a strong candidate to be representing his country at the 2015 WJC.


Stubb also identified four A-rated players from Sweden: right wing Jens Looke (Brynas), defensemen Oliver Kylington (Farjestad) and Jacob Larsson (Frolunda Jr.) and goalie Felix Sandstrom (Brynas Jr.).


Kylington (6-foot, 180 pounds) might be the next best find from Sweden on the back end.


"He's a talented first-round prospect, playing in his breakthrough season with Farjestad," Stubb said. "He's an excellent smooth skater; an offensive D-man with good vision and playmaking skills. He also has very good hand-eye coordination and is dangerous on the power play."


---



Unmasked: Hurricanes' Ward works to quiet his game


Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward is a decade into a professional hockey career that already includes a Stanley Cup, and still looking for his game. More to the point, Ward is in search of improved technical structure, which he admits has been missing for a while.


At age 30, Ward is only now trying to modernize a game that became outdated. He even updated his equipment to match this summer.


Ward reached out to a former coach from his junior hockey days during the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, looking for help finding the game that once landed him on Canada's Olympic shortlist. That task now falls to former Calgary Flames goaltending coach David Marcoux, who was hired by the Hurricanes during the summer.


Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward is a decade into a professional hockey career that already includes a Stanley Cup, but is in search of improved technical structure. (Photo: Gregg Forwerck/NHLI)


More than eight years since winning the 2006 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie, Ward is eager to get back to work. After an .898 save percentage last season, there is a lot to be done.


"I needed to get that structure back into my game, where the game used to be very simple, very easy, less movement," Ward told NHL.com. "I started to get a little bit too much all over the place, and especially now in this game you can't be too, too aggressive. So we're just working on structure and trying to quiet my game."


Ward's game has been anything but quiet in recent years, with extra movement on his skates and not enough of it once he was on his knees, which left him reaching for pucks rather than recovering to his next save position.


It was a bad combination. The extra movement opened holes as he tried to recover from aggressive positions and left Ward overly reliant on timing and "rhythm." And all the reaching left him dependent on reactionary athleticism.


Don't expect Ward to follow the recent trend of playing on the goal line -- "I can't get away with that," he said, "I feel like I am naked" -- but he recognizes he can't be quite as aggressive as before.


"There has to be more of a balance to it," Ward said.


Timing and athleticism remain part of that balance. But too often he was relying on them to bail out poor technique and tactical decisions that left him out of position. He was making too many of the easy saves harder than they needed to be by not putting his body behind them. You're a lot more likely to miss with an outstretched glove than a squared-up chest.


"With him there was a lot of lunging to make a save and just that bad habit of reaching and lunging and hoping and wishing and putting a stick in there," Marcoux told NHL.com. "Move your body instead. There are three-and-a half inches of stick, or there is a complete body that can go on that rebound. He's very athletic, but at that age you need just to use your experience, your knowledge, the reading of a release of the shooter. He has been very good working on that."


There have been signs that work is starting to pay off.


After a winless October for Carolina that included an .840 save percentage over four games for Ward, he won five straight to begin November and was 6-2-0 with a .931 save percentage for the month through Nov. 18.


It's an extremely small sample size for a goalie that has been below the average save percentage for five of his nine NHL seasons. There remains a lot of work to be done and technical wrinkles to iron out, some of which will take time.


Ward talked in late October about struggling physically to add the Reverse, a relatively new post-integration tactic for dead-angle attacks and plays from behind the net. By mid-November he was using it in games.


Before Ward could start fixing what ailed him between the pipes, however, he needed to settle down between the ears.



Cam Ward



Goalie - CAR


RECORD: 6-5-1

GAA: 2.57 | SVP: .903



In addition to hearing rumors he was on the trade block, Ward, who has this season and next left on a contract with a $6.3-million annual average, had to stop thinking about how to play.

"First and foremost this summer I needed to refresh my mental state," Ward said. "A lot of my problems last year were trying to think about how I used to play, trying to find that instead of just going out there and playing. Part of me playing on top of my game is when I am not thinking at all, trusting my instincts, trusting my confidence and trusting my ability and reading the play as it goes along. Last year it got to a point where I was worried about everything: Is my glove in the right position? Is my stick? I had to quiet my mind."


That probably doesn't sound like a goalie that needed to have new concepts introduced, or even one ready to make big changes. But Ward went so far as to alter his equipment this summer, moving to a lighter, looser-fitting Vaughn pad and adding a sliding toe bridge to it for the first time in his career, all of which are designed to create a better seal along the ice while also reducing the stress on his ankles, knees and hips required to create it.


As for evolving his technique, the challenge for any goaltending coach is to make changes with enough practice repetitions that they become instinctual in a game, something the goalie does without having to think about it.


For Marcoux, who also tweaked Miikka Kiprusoff's technical game in Calgary, the challenge was doing so without wearing out Ward, who has been plagued by a laundry list of injuries in recent years.


"It's managing quality instead of quantity," Marcoux said. "It's demanding more when you are in the net. Wardo is 30 years old now. When Kiprusoff hit 30 he needed to understand quality of reps, not quantity. When you are in there, don't dog it."


For Ward, who also worked with Marcoux in the American Hockey League in 2004-05, that included seeking out a couple of on-ice sessions together this summer.


"To see Dave in the summer was important," Ward said. "Just to get back to good habits and structure in my game."


For Ward and the Hurricanes, those were missing for too long.



Sabres' Moulson denies Sharks' Marleau of goal


Up to 6 feet of snow fell in the Buffalo area Tuesday, but the major snowstorm couldn't stop a crowd of nearly 6,200 from showing up to First Niagara Center to watch the Buffalo Sabres defeat the San Jose Sharks 4-1.


Two goals from captain Brian Gionta weren't the only factors in the Sabres (5-13-2) winning consecutive games for the first time since February and their eighth straight against the Sharks. Matt Moulson's extra effort late in the third period preserved Buffalo's two-goal advantage by mere millimeters.


Sharks forward Patrick Marleau played the puck at his own blue line and found Barclay Goodrow at center ice. Goodrow fed it back to Marleau, who knifed through two Sabres defensemen and lifted a backhand shot that went off goalie Jhonas Enroth's arm and into the crease. With the puck rolling on its side and headed toward the goal line, Moulson hustled in to sweep it away at 15:16 of the third. It was initially called a goal, but video review determined that the puck did not completely cross the Sabres goal line.


After a slow start, Moulson has at least a point in four of his past six games, including a goal and two assists in Buffalo's 6-2 win Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Signed to a five-year, $25 million contract July 1, Moulson has two goals and eight points in 20 games.