Happy Monday, Party People! Here are the top five hockey stories from the past week, including a star goaltender who made his NHL return after being sidelined for six months, a look at the 2022 NHL All-Star Game rosters, and an NHL team that has steadily become a force to be reckoned with this year.
1. Here are Your 2022 NHL All-Stars
After a one-year hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the NHL All-Star Game is back. The game will feature its usual format of teams of players from each division playing in two-period, three-on-three games. Last week, the NHL released the initial 10-man rosters for the All-Star Game, which are as follows:
Drake Batherson, Ottawa Senators
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Captain)
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Coach: Andrew Brunette, Florida Panthers
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks
Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
Jordan Kyrou, St. Louis Blues
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Captain)
Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild
Coach: Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Captain)
Adam Fox, New York Rangers
Adam Pelech, New York Islanders
Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins
Coach: Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Jordan Eberle, Seattle Kraken
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Captain)
Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks
Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights
Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Coach: Peter DeBoer, Vegas Golden Knights
Note that team captains were voted by the fans, and the NHL is asking fans to pick “The Last Man In” for each team via online vote, which ends tonight. Some of the players that can be voted to the All-Star team include Mika Zibanejad (Rangers), Steven Stamkos (Lightning), John Tavares (Maple Leafs), Andrei Svechnikov (Hurricanes), Seth Jones (Blackhawks), and Drew Doughty (Kings).
Of course, it is odd that some players are not on the All-Star Game team rosters or even on the ballot for “The Last Man” in, such as Sidney Crosby, who is just fourth on the Penguins in scoring but IS SIDNEY FREAKING CROSBY! That would be like snubbing Wayne Gretzky for the 1999 All-Star Game because he had only nine goals for the season.
Brad Marchand (Bruins) and Anze Kopitar (Kings), who lead their respective teams in scoring, are also not on the All-Star Game rosters or on “The Last Man In” ballot.
With the NHL now at 32 teams — 8 per division — and only 11-man rosters, of course there are always going to be great players who don’t make the cut. But perhaps one idea the NHL might want to explore is to increase the All-Star Game rosters by three more skaters so that teams would have 12 skaters and two goalies for a total of 14 representatives per division. It’s worth thinking about especially if the League expands again in a few years.
2. Tuukka Rask is Back
For a while, it appeared that the Bruins were done with goaltender Tuukka Rask. But Rask wasn’t done with the Bruins! The 34-year-old Finnish netminder made his return to the NHL after being sidelined with an injury, winning his first game of the season 3-2 on Thursday against the Flyers.
Rask underwent hip surgery during the offseason. Meanwhile, the Bruins signed veteran Linus Ullmark to share goaltending duties with Jeremy Swayman, who had 10 NHL games of experience prior to this season.
Rask stated that he only wanted to play for the Bruins. “I’m not going to play for anybody else but the Bruins,” he said. “This is our home.”
🎥 Tuukka Rask reveals that he played through a torn hip labrum this season that will require surgery and talks about wanting to return to the #NHLBruins next season: “I’m not going to play for anybody else but the Bruins. This is our home.” pic.twitter.com/EbBsppL1Gf
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 11, 2021
Earlier this month, he signed with the AHL’s Providence Bruins for a conditioning stint. He was supposed to start a game for Providence, but it was postponed due to COVID.
Regardless, Boston signed Rask to a one-year contract, and after six months, he is back in the NHL. He is the Bruins all-time leader in wins and save percentage, and at 34 is still has some good goaltending years left. Since Rask doesn’t want to play elsewhere, and given his history with the team, the Bruins should give him a solid shot to reclaim the net in Boston.
3. The Panthers are on Fire 🔥🔥🔥
Have you watched the Florida Panthers lately? They are scoring an insane number of goals. Over the weekend, they drubbed the Dallas Stars 7-1 on Friday, then followed up by clobbering the Columbus Blue Jackets 9-2 on Saturday. That’s 16 goals in just two games.
Since returning from Christmas break on December 29, the Panthers have eight wins, zero losses, one regulation win and one regulation loss — and have outscored their opponents 54-24! In fact, the Cats lead the league with 158 goals through Sunday night.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, though not in the top five in any stat this season, is still having a career year. He is currently 19-3-3 with a 2.47 goals-allowed average. That’s not the greatest GAA, but when your team is scoring five or six goals a game, letting in two or three doesn’t seem so bad.
The Panthers are currently the top team in the NHL and could be a serious contender to stop the Lightning from three-peating as Stanley Cup Champions come playoff time.
4. PHF All-Star Game Moved to Buffalo
The Premier Hockey Federation — a.k.a. The League Formerly Known as the National Women’s Hockey League — is relocating its All-Star Game from Toronto to Buffalo. This was because Ontario increased its COVID-19 restrictions, which limits how many fans can attend the game.
The PHF All-Star Game, which will consist of three teams playing a round-robin, total-goals-wins format, was also hosted in Buffalo last year, making the Buffalo Beauts back-to-back All-Star Game hosts. The Toronto Six will host next year’s PHF All-Star Game, assuming the pandemic gets better by then. (And safe to say, I think we had a lot of assumptions about the past 12 months that were already proven false.)
What makes the PHF’s change of venue so interesting is that, not counting bubble leagues, I think this is the first time a pro hockey game in North America is being played elsewhere to skirt (no pun intended) a region’s COVID restrictions. Earlier this month, the Winnipeg Jets explored the possibility of playing games in Saskatchewan, which had less-strict attendance guidelines, before deciding to stay put.
The PHF All-Star Game will take place on Saturday, January 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET. For those who are not attending the game in Buffalo, the game will be streamed live on ESPN+.
5. U.S. Men’s Olympic Roster Revealed
With NHL players no longer taking part in the 2022 Winter Olympics next month, teams have to look elsewhere to fill out its rosters. This year, United States is going old school — think Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig old school — and stocking its roster with mostly college players. Fifteen of the 25 players named to USA’s Men’s Hockey team are currently playing for NCAA teams. The other 10 players are current pro players: eight in Europe and two in the AHL.
Since the World Junior Championships was cancelled last month, the Olympics should be a great way to see some up-and-coming, American-born NHL prospects.
Center Nathan Smith, the current leading scorer in NCAA hockey, has 35 points in 24 games and was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 2018 (3rd round, 91st overall).
Forwards Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson are teammates at the University of Michigan. They are currently tied for scoring on their team with 30 points each. Beniers was drafted second-overall by the Seattle Kraken in 2021, while Brisson was drafted 29th-overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020.
Goaltender Strauss Mann, a former Michigan Wolverine, currently plays for Skelleftea AIK in the Swedish Hockey League and leads that league with a 1.86 GAA. He’s not under contract with any NHL team, but a good run in the Olympics can sometimes lead to an NHL tryout, like it did for Dominik Kahun (Germany) after the 2018 Olympic Games. (And with the way some teams are going through goalies this season, it isn’t far-fetched that a young netminder like Mann might get a shot in North America.)
Seven players on the U.S. roster have NHL experience: forwards Kenny Agostino, Andy Miele, Nick Shore, and Brian O’Neill; and defensemen Steven Kampfer, Aaron Ness, and David Warsofsky. O’Neill was also on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
With 60% college kids and 40% pro players, Team USA should be an interesting squad to watch — a mix of prospects trying to prove their worth and veterans trying to get a shot — or another shot — in the NHL.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■