Sunday, August 12, 2018

Three questions facing Edmonton Oilers

1. Can Cam Talbot return to his form of 2016-17?
The 31-year-old goaltender played a big role getting the Oilers into the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs but was one of many players who struggled at times last season. 
Talbot was 31-31-3 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .908 save percentage after going 42-22-8 with a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage in 2016-17. Edmonton's fortunes rest largely on the play of their No. 1 goaltender, who believes he can bounce back this season.
"I think I finished last season the way that I had my season two years ago," Talbot said. "So down the stretch, I felt as good as I had all season long, going back to a couple of years. So I need to pick up from there and I need to have a good start so the rest of the team can have a good start, and I'm focused on that right now."
2. Will Milan Lucic rebound from an unproductive season?
The Oilers signed Lucic to a seven-year, $42 million contract July 1, 2016, and the 30-year-old forward had a solid first season in Edmonton with 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games. 
But Lucic's production fell dramatically last season, and with it went the Oilers' playoff aspirations. He had 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 82 games and scored one goal in his last 46.
"We expect a big recovery year from him," coach Todd McLellan said. "He's had a pause now; when a season ends you get an opportunity to pause, you get an opportunity to reload and reset. Your stat line is very similar to other players' when the season starts, and there is no reason why he shouldn't show up as a very confident player, one that can do what he's done in the past on a yearly basis. We'll support him in that role, we'll push him in that role, but he is a big piece for us to succeed. He has to find a way to be productive."
3. Can Connor McDavid win a third straight Art Ross Trophy?
The 21-year-old center was a bright spot for the Oilers with 108 points (41 goals, 67 assists) in 82 games to win his second consecutive NHL scoring title. He also won his second straight Ted Lindsay Award as the most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players' Association. 
McDavid alone cannot take the Oilers into the playoffs, but they need him to have another outstanding season if they are to return.

Edmonton Oilers fantasy preview for 2018-19

Connor McDavid, C (NHL.com rank: 1) -- The 21-year-old is the consensus top-ranked fantasy player, regardless of format, after leading the NHL in scoring in each of the past two seasons. He somehow improved his point total (108 last season; 100 in 2016-17) and was plus-20 despite the Oilers regressing drastically and missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The scary part is McDavid still has plenty of room for improvement in power-play points (20; Oilers ranked last in NHL at 14.8 percent) and in terms of linemate stability.
Leon Draisaitl, C/RW (43) -- In a season when Draisaitl, 22, was tasked with playing center on the second line rather than flanking McDavid, the forward reached 70 points once again (77 in 2016-17). He was minus-7 with a low PPP output (11) but should have at least one young linemate with room for further growth: wing Kailer Yamamoto, 19, Jesse Puljujarvi, 20, or Drake Caggiula, 24. Draisaitl is a clear top-50 fantasy player entering this season and should go even higher in keeper leagues.
Cam Talbot, G* (119) -- The 31-year-old goaltender led the NHL in starts (67), but his peripherals were mediocre at best. Despite exceeding 30 wins (31) for the second straight season, Talbot's peripherals (3.02 goals-against average, .908 save percentage, one shutout) were nowhere near his 2016-17 season (42 wins, 2.39 GAA, .919 SV%, seven SO), when he finished among the top five fantasy goalies. But with Talbot entering a contract year (he can become an unrestricted free agent after this season), his bounce-back potential should not be underestimated; he can be a huge steal if available outside the top 100.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C (136) -- The 25-year-old has three seasons of at least 52 points but took his performance rate to a new level when given a trial on McDavid's line down the stretch. After returning March 3 from a rib injury, Nugent-Hopkins had 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) and was plus-14 with nearly three SOG per game (45) over his final 16 games. He was also productive prior to the injury on the third line, finishing with 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 62 games (82-game pace of 63 points). It's fair to expect 65-70 points from this breakout candidate if he plays anything close to a full season with McDavid at even strength and on the power play, especially if the Oilers rebound to their 2016-17 rate (22.9 percent; fifth).
Kailer Yamamoto, RW (222) -- He's a dark-horse rookie this season and should be given every opportunity to crack the top six on a line with either McDavid or Draisaitl. He was held to three assists in nine regular-season games but showcased his potential last preseason with five goals (tied for the NHL lead with Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews), mostly playing on McDavid's line). Yamamoto has been prolific for years with Spokane of the Western Hockey League with 291 points (105 goals, 186 assists) in 230 games. Keep an eye on his lineup placement in training camp and plan to target him in one of the final rounds of your draft.
Oscar Klefbom, D - INJ. (236) -- There are plenty of defenseman candidates to quarterback Edmonton's first power-play unit with McDavid and Draisaitl, including Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Andrej Sekera and prospect Ethan Bear. Klefbom played through a shoulder injury last season (shut down in March) and was held out of the 2018 IIHF World Championship for that reason. But with a full offseason to recover, the 25-year-old can bounce back to at least match his strong category coverage from 2016-17 (38 points: 12 goals, 26 assists; 16 PPP, 201 SOG) and feasibly exceed some of those totals if McDavid reaches greater heights. Klefbom likely will go undrafted in standard leagues but is one of the highest upside fourth-or-bench fantasy defensemen.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Darnell Nurse, D, RFA (238); Jesse Puljujarvi, RW**; Ty Rattie, RW**; Drake Caggiula, RW; Milan Lucic, LW; Ethan Bear, D
RFA - Current restricted free agent
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. - Injury concern entering 2018-19

Top prospects for Edmonton Oilers

1. Kailer Yamamoto, RW
How acquired: Selected with No. 22 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Edmonton: 9 GP, 0-3-3; Spokane (WHL): 40 GP, 21-43-64
Yamamoto, who turns 20 on Sept. 29, impressed in training camp last season and stayed with the Oilers for nine games before returning to the Western Hockey League. 
Yamamoto (5-foot-8, 154 pounds) is expected to push for a roster spot and could begin the season in a top-six role alongside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
"He's good at complementing good players and he's very smart and he's good with the puck," director of player personnel Bob Green said. "He can make plays and he gets himself in positions to get the puck."
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Ethan Bear, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 124 pick in 2015 NHL Draft 
Last season: Edmonton: 18 GP, 1-3-4; Bakersfield (AHL): 37 GP, 6-12-18
The Oilers believe the 21-year-old can develop into the offensive, right-shot defenseman they have sought for many seasons. 
Bear (5-11, 209) had a strong first professional season in Bakersfield before being called up late in 2017-18 to play in Edmonton. He had four points (one goal, three assists) and a minus-11 rating in 18 games with the Oilers.
Bear could challenge for a roster spot this season. The decision may come down to whether the Oilers think Bear would be better served in a top-pair role in the American Hockey League or as a seventh defenseman in the NHL.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
3. Evan Bouchard, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 10 pick in 2018 NHL Draft 
Last season: London (OHL): 67 GP, 25-62-87
The 18-year-old was the top offensive defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League last season and finished tied for seventh in scoring. He was the first defenseman to be in the top 10 in OHL scoring since Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators) tied for fourth with 101 points (24 goals, 77 points) for Windsor in 2010-11.
The Oilers believe Bouchard (6-2, 193) can develop into a high-end offensive defenseman in the NHL, but they are not expected to rush him. He will get a long look at training camp to see how his offensive skills translate in the NHL but likely will return for a fourth season with London. 
"He has to make the team first, but he's the kind of player that we were looking for and is hard to find in a trade," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "You have to draft them. That's why we drafted him."
Projected NHL arrival: 2020-21 season
4. Tyler Benson, LW
How acquired: Selected with No. 32 pick in 2016 NHL Draft 
Last season: Vancouver (WHL): 58 GP, 27-42-69; Bakersfield (AHL): 5 GP, 0-3-3
A hip and sports hernia injury hampered Benson's progress two seasons ago, but the Oilers think the 20-year-old Edmonton native can develop into a top-six forward. 
Last season, Benson (5-11, 202) was healthy for the first time since 2014-15 and had a strong showing in the WHL before beginning his professional career with five games for Bakersfield, where he likely will start this season. He could be called up if the Oilers struggle offensively or run into injury problems. 
Projected NHL arrival: Next season 
5. Stuart Skinner, G
How acquired: Selected with No. 78 pick in 2017 NHL Draft 
Last season: Lethbridge (WHL): 31 GP, 14-15-0, 3.38 GAA, .897 SV%; Swift Current (WHL): 25 GP, 16-6-1, 2.68 GAA, .914 SV%
Edmonton's best goaltending prospect was acquired by Swift Current in a trade from Lethbridge last season and helped it win the WHL championship. 
Skinner, 19, will play in Bakersfield, where he is expected to share the net with veteran Al Montoya. The Oilers can afford to be patient with Skinner because Cam Talbot is their No. 1 goaltender for potentially the next few seasons. 
Skinner (6-3, 202) will be given every opportunity to develop in the AHL; the Oilers hope he will be ready to challenge for a backup role in the next two to three seasons. 
Projected NHL arrival: 2021-22 season

Edmonton Oilers key statistics

1. Connor's honors
Center Connor McDavid had 108 points (41 goals, 67 assists) last season after he had 100 (30 goals, 70 assists) in 2016-17, becoming the first player to win the Art Ross Trophy in back-to-back seasons since Jaromir Jagr won four straight with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1997-2001. He also became the first NHL player to score at least 100 points in consecutive seasons since Sidney Crosby of the Penguins did it two in a row (2008-09, 2009-10) and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals did it three straight (2007-10).
Over the past two seasons, McDavid has scored or had an assist on 208 of Edmonton's 472 goals, an NHL-high 44.1 percent.
McDavid contributes in many other ways too. He ranks third in the NHL with 103 drawn penalties since entering the League in 2015-16, and he led Edmonton forwards with 46 blocked shots last season.
One area he's not near the top of the NHL is face-offs. His 41.9 face-off winning percentage through his first three seasons was tied for 191st of the 200 players to take at least 500 draws in that span.
2. Special-teams slide
The Oilers experienced a big drop on special teams last season, impacting their goal differential by an estimated 27 goals.
They scored 31 power-play goals in 210 opportunities last season, for an NHL-worst 14.8. If they had matched their 22.9 power-play percentage from 2016-17 (fifth in NHL), they would have scored 48 power-play goals.
Edmonton's penalty-kill percentage at home of 65.8 percent last season was the lowest since the NHL began tracking the statistic in 1977-78. Its penalty-kill percentage dropped from 80.7 percent in 2016-17 (17th in NHL) to 76.7 percent (25th). That drop resulted in an extra 10 goals-against.
3. Lack of production from defensemen
Darnell Nurse led Oilers defensemen with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 82 games. It was the lowest total for a team-leading defenseman in the NHL last season, tied with Ryan McDonagh, who scored 26 points (two goals, 24 assists) in 49 games for the New York Rangers before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 26.
Oilers defensemen combined for 129 points (32 goals, 97 assists) last season (27th in NHL). That total was affected by injuries; Oscar Klefbom, who led Edmonton defensemen with 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists) in 82 games in 2016-17, was hampered by a shoulder injury last season and had 21 points (five goals, 16 points) in 66 games. Andrej Sekera, who scored 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 80 games in 2016-17, had eight assists in 36 games last season, limited by a torn ACL.

Inside look at Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers believe they can return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs without having made significant changes to their roster during the offseason. 
The Oilers signed free agent center Kyle Brodziak to a two-year contract, and forward Tobias Rieder, goaltender Mikko Koskinen and defenseman Kevin Gravel each signed a one-year contract during a relatively quiet summer. 
Edmonton did not have much space under the NHL salary cap ($79.5 million) with center Connor McDavid entering the first of an eight-year, $100 million contract, forward Leon Draisaitl going into the second of an eight-year, $68 million contract, and forward Milan Lucic in the third of a seven-year, $42 million contract. 
"I think the message was that if there was a move to be made, they'd make it," McDavid said. "But obviously nothing too promising came up. That's good. You want to keep the team together."
The Oilers did add depth to what they think is a talented roster that collectively struggled last season. They finished 36-40-6 with 78 points, 17 behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. It was a 25-point drop from their 47-26-9, 103-point performance in 2016-17, when they qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and made it to the Western Conference Second Round before being eliminated in seven games by the Anaheim Ducks. 
"The offseason is not necessarily about acquiring a whole bunch of different players, it's about getting more out of what we have," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've been able to add a few pieces, a goaltender for competition, obviously, Brodziak and Tobias Rieder are big additions, and Gravel on the back end. 
"All of those players will come in and push our club, hopefully, in the right direction. But most importantly for me, it's individuals. It's the coaching staff and from your top player all the way down, finding a way to play more consistently and play more of a winning brand of hockey than we did last year."
The biggest change for Edmonton is its coaching staff. The Oilers hired Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros as assistants to replace Jim Johnson, Jay Woodcroft and Ian Herbers. 
Gulutzan, 46, spent the past two seasons as coach of the Calgary Flames. Yawney, 52, joins the Oilers after five years as an assistant with the Ducks. Viveiros, 52, guided Swift Current to the Western Hockey League championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup last season. 
"We tried to fill holes and find personalities that we thought would blend together," McLellan said. "I thought it was very interesting to hear the opinions of coaches who were rival coaches in Anaheim and Calgary, on what they thought our team did well or didn't do well. We'll work toward fixing things. As the players are trying to improve their game over the summer, so are the coaches."
Outside of McDavid (108 points; 41 goals, 67 assists), winner of the Art Ross Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award for the second straight season, many Oilers regressed last season. Lucic had 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 82 games, his lowest point-per-game production since 2009-10, when he had 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 50 games with the Boston Bruins. 
"I believe we are headed in the right direction," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "I don't know if we're going to be as good as we were two years ago, but we're going to be better. To a player, maybe not every single player will be better than last year, but I can assure you a good number of them will be better, due to their age, their pride and what they've done through the course of their careers."
Brodziak, 34, returns to the Oilers, who selected him in the seventh round (No. 214) of the 2003 NHL Draft, after he had 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) in 81 games with the St. Louis Blues last season. The St. Paul, Alberta, native played four seasons in Edmonton before he was traded to the Minnesota Wild on June 27, 2009. 
"Kyle has had a tremendous career to this point," McLellan said. "He's obviously a bit of an elder statesman now in the League, but that's OK. Those players are really important and perhaps we were missing that last year."

2018 NFL Preseason Week 1 Recap


Kirk has big early play, Cardinals beat Chargers 24-17

Arizona rookie Christian Kirk nearly broke a long punt return for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball as an NFL player.
As it was, the 38-yard return set up a touchdown drive for the Cardinals in the first-team offense's only series of the game, and Arizona beat the Los Angeles Chargers 24-17 in the teams' preseason opener on Saturday night.
Rookie Josh Rosen completed 6 of 13 passes for 41 yards in his Arizona debut, playing the whole first half except the opening series.
Geno Smith, battling Cardale Jones for the right to back up the Chargers' Philip Rivers, completed 14 of 23 passes for 218 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown throw to Geremy Davis. He was intercepted once.
With Rivers sitting this one out, Jones started and played nearly the entire first half, completing 6 of 12 passes for 50 yards.
Kirk, Arizona's second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, took the Chargers' early punt and broke free. He might have taken it all the way had he not slipped trying to make a move against Los Angeles punter Drew Kaser.
David Johnson reeled off a pair of 14-yard runs on the first two plays, his only carries of the night, and rookie Chase Edmonds scored on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Edmonds was hit behind the line of scrimmage but used a second effort to barely stretch the ball over the goal line.
Sam Bradford, making his debut as Arizona's starting quarterback, directed the scoring drive in his Cardinals debut but mostly handed the ball off. He completed his only pass for six yards.
Arizona's second touchdown came in the third quarter when Jeremy Cash returned a fumble 12 yards for a score. Later in the quarter, Cash was carted off the field with a knee injury.
The Cardinals' fourth-string quarterback Charles Kanoff, an undrafted rookie out of Princeton, threw a 14-yard TD pass to Bryce Williams for the go-ahead score with 10:06 to play.
The game ended when Chargers QB Nic Shimonek was tackled at the Arizona 2-yard line.
ROSEN'S DEBUT
Rosen didn't get much help from his offensive line or his receivers, having to dodge the rush to get a pass off. He had two passes dropped.
Daniel Munyer, the backup center now that rookie Mason Cole is a starter, had trouble with shotgun formation snaps, repeatedly rolling the ball to the quarterback. Cole took over when A.Q. Shipley went down with a torn ACL in training camp.
OKUNG'S PROTEST
Los Angeles left tackle Russell Okung raised his right first during the national anthem.
Okung stood behind the rest of the players, who had lined up on the sideline. He was the only player on either side to protest visibly.
Okung is a member of the NFL players union's executive committee.
SLOPPY CHARGERS
Los Angeles turned the ball over four times, three times on fumbles and once on an interception.
The Chargers also were penalized 15 times for 155 yards.
DEFENSELESS HIT?
The Cardinals appeared to get a turnover when safety A.J. Howard jarred the ball loose from tight end Sean Culkin in the first half.
Arizona recovered, but Howard was called for a hit on a defenseless receiver, even though Culkin had turned and was bracing for the tackle.
UP NEXT
Chargers: are home against the Seattle Seahawks next Saturday night.
Cardinals: play at New Orleans on Friday night.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Cousins perfect in Minnesota debut, Vikings beat Broncos

 Kirk Cousins was perfect in his first game for Minnesota on Saturday night, completing all four of his passes, including a 1-yard touchdown strike to Stefon Diggs in the Vikings' 42-28 exhibition victory over the Denver Broncos.
Case Keenum wasn't nearly as sharp in his Denver debut.
He completed just 1 of 4 passes for 5 yards spanning two drives that went nowhere, lamenting after getting taken out that "I definitely did" want another possession. "I'll be honest, I wanted one series with a few more plays and (to) score a touchdown."
Cousins, the former Washington QB, was the crown jewel of this year's free- agent class of quarterbacks, signing a fully-guaranteed, three-year $84 million deal in Minneapolis.
Two months after leading the Vikings to the NFC championship, Keenum signed a two-year, $36 million deal in Denver, and the Broncos traded Trevor Siemian to the Vikings to serve as Cousins' backup - so long as he beats out another former Denver QB Kyle Sloter.
That left Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly vying for No. 2 duty in Denver.
After Cousins' single series - one in which he didn't have to face Von Miller - Siemian led Minnesota on three scoring drives, most notably a screen pass to Roc Thomas that beat the blitz for a 78-yard score.
Siemian was 11 of 17 for 165 yards, two TDs and an interception against his old team.
Lynch, the former first-rounder twice beaten out by Siemian in Denver, was just 6 of 11 for 24 yards and an interception.
Despite 17 yards passing overall in the first half, the Broncos only trailed 24-14 at halftime thanks to Isaiah McKenzie's 78-yard punt return for a TD and rookie Royce Freeman's 23-yard TD scamper - Denver's only first down before halftime.
Kelly threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt LaCosse to pull Denver to 27-21 and amid chants of "Kelly! Kelly!" he drove Denver 85 yards in 11 plays, capping the drive with a 19-yard strike to running back Phillip Lindsay to put the Broncos on top 28-27 with 10 minutes remaining.
Sloter, who was cut by Denver a year ago, responded by throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chad Beebe with six minutes left to put the Vikings back on top. His strike to Jeff Badet for the 2-point conversion made it 35-28.
Safety Jack Tocho picked off Kelly at the Denver 30-yard line with 5:23 left, and Sloter sealed it with a 14-yard bootleg for the score on third-and-4.
Sloter was 9 of 11 for 69 yards and Kelly was 14 of 20 for 176.
MCKENZIE MAGIC
Coach Vance Joseph's faith in punt returner Isaiah McKenzie finally paid off when he sped down the Broncos sideline for a 78-yard TD late in the second quarter. Last year, Joseph stuck with McKenzie despite half a dozen fumbles.
NATIONAL ANTHEM
Linebacker Brandon Marshall and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas weren't with their teammates on the sideline for the national anthem prior to the Denver Broncos' game against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night.
Marshall and Thomas emerged from the tunnel behind the Broncos' bench after the anthem was over.
The league and the NFLPA have yet to announce a policy for this season regarding demonstrations during the anthem after the league initially ordered everyone to stand on the sideline when the anthem is played, or remain in the locker room.
INJURIES
Broncos S Jamal Carter left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. TE Jake Butt made his NFL debut, starting in place of Jeff Heuerman (left knee), and Max Garcia started in place of LG Ron Leary (knee).
NEXT UP
Vikings: Host Jaguars on Aug. 18.
Broncos: Host Bears on Aug. 18.

Three questions facing Detroit Red Wings

1. Will Henrik Zetterberg return?
Zetterberg is signed for three more seasons and has said he will play as long as he's healthy, but he turns 38 on Oct. 9 and has back problems. A decision on this season could come down to his physical at the start of training camp.
"I have talked to his agent a number of times over the course of the summer, and I know he's had a tough summer," general manager Ken Holland said. "He hasn't been able to train anywhere near close to where he's been able to train past summers due to his back. So there is a real unknown right now with Henrik Zetterberg.
Zetterberg had back surgery in 2014 but hasn't missed a game the past three seasons.
"I'm expecting him to play, but do I have a clear green light? No," Holland said. "It's hard to read the future when it comes to health. Obviously, that's a key piece for us."
Zetterberg is the captain, a mentor for younger players and a key contributor at center. He ranked second on the Red Wings, behind Dylan Larkin, last season in points (56) and average ice time among forwards (19:30), and was first with 18 power-play points (one goal, 17 assists).
2. Which younger players will make the team?
Four players 24 and under already have spots: forwards Larkin, 22, Andreas Athanasiou, 24, Tyler Bertuzzi 23, Anthony Mantha, 23.
Holland said two or three others likely will make the opening roster, but it depends on who seizes the job. It's uncertain whether the Red Wings will carry 14 forwards and seven defensemen, or 13 and eight.
"If two young defensemen make our team, maybe we'll carry eight defensemen," Holland said.
The Red Wings will give long looks in the preseason to forwards Evgeny Svechnikov, 21, Michael Rasmussen, 19, and Filip Zadina, 18, and defensemen Joe Hicketts, 22, Dennis Cholowski, 20, and Filip Hronek, 20.
Whoever doesn't make it could come up later in the season.
"Everybody obviously focuses in on opening day," Holland said. "But it's six-month season, and lots happens."
3. Can Larkin take the next step?
Larkin was the Red Wings' leading scorer last season with an NHL career-high 63 points (16 goals, 47 assists), and they need him to continue to develop as a leader as they transition to the next generation. Detroit took a big step in that direction when it signed Larkin to a five-year contract Friday.
"I want to be a way better player," Larkin said. "I know I can be a way better player to help myself and our team, and I've got a long way to go."
Where does he need to improve?
"Everywhere," Larkin said. 
He had a 6.9 shooting percentage last season, the lowest of his NHL career, and had eight points (one goal, seven assists) on the power play for Detroit, which ranked 24th in the NHL (17.5 percent). Larkin was also minus-9 and won 49.92 percent of his face-offs, the best percentage of his NHL career.
"There's a bigger picture, a more complete game, I think," he said. "Yeah, you could say pretty good year, but it's that next step where superstars are, and that's where I want to be."

Detroit Red Wings fantasy preview for 2018-19



Dylan Larkin, C/RW (NHL.com rank: 115) -- The forward had a breakout season with 63 points (16 goals, 47 assists) in 82 games. He led the Red Wings in points, assists and shots on goal (232). He also expanded his category coverage in face-off wins (656; second on team) and hits (76). Larkin finished tied for eighth on the Red Wings in power-play points (eight) but could see an increased workload on the man-advantage if center Henrik Zetterberg misses time with a back injury. Despite any team concerns, Larkin should be considered a value pick in middle rounds who could finish among Yahoo's top 100 for the second straight season (94th in 2017-18).
Filip Zadina, RW (163) -- The rookie is expected to compete for a top-six roster spot in training camp. His fantasy value obviously hinges on whether he makes the team, but if he does, the 18-year-old should be fantasy relevant in his first NHL season. Zadina led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in rookie scoring with 82 points (44 goals, 38 assists) in 57 games last season and had another 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in nine playoff games. Zadina could find himself on a line with fantasy-relevant forwards Zetterberg (if healthy) and Thomas Vanek, and potentially on a power-play unit with Larkin and Anthony Mantha.
Anthony Mantha, LW/RW (168) -- The forward had an NHL career-high 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 80 games and led the Red Wings in power-play goals (nine) and shooting percentage (12.6; min 15 games). Mantha could gain additional value in season-long fantasy leagues if he raises his SOG total (190) but should be considered valuable as a goal-scoring threat regardless. He finished second on the Red Wings (behind Larkin) with 10 multipoint games last season, including four three-point games. The 23-year-old will likely start the season on the top line with Larkin, making him worthy of a late-round flier.
Mike Green, D (189) -- The veteran defenseman was on pace for the highest point total of his Detroit tenure but missed 16 games with a neck injury. His 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) and 22:05 of ice time per game, including 2:21 on the power play, led Red Wings defensemen (minimum 10 games). If Detroit's youth movement can reinvigorate its power play (17.5 percent; 24th in NHL), Green would have added fantasy value. Despite injury concerns, Green provides fantasy owners with the opportunity to get a No. 1 defenseman late in drafts.
Michael Rasmussen, C (249) -- In a similar situation to Zadina, Rasmussen will compete for a roster spot in training camp. The 19-year-old finished second in Western Hockey League playoff scoring with 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists), including 10 power-play points, in 14 games. If he makes the team, Rasmussen could play on Detroit's top power-play unit featuring Mantha, Larkin and Green. Although the Red Wings are one of the lowest-rated teams in NHL.com's fantasy power rankings, they have several players with sneaky upside.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Henrik Zetterberg, C - INJ.; Thomas Vanek, LW/RW*; Andreas Athanasiou, C/LW; Gustav Nyquist, C/LW/RW, DET*; Jimmy Howard, G*; Jonathan Bernier, G
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. - Injury concern entering 2018-19

Top prospects for Detroit Red Wings

1. Filip Zadina, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 6 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Halifax (QMJHL): 57 GP, 44-38-82
The Red Wings had Zadina third on their draft board and were thrilled when he fell to them. The 18-year-old's 44 goals tied for third in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, and his seven goals for the Czech Republic tied for second in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, behind Kieffer Bellows (nine) for the United States.
Zadina (6-foot, 195 pounds) could make the opening roster by forcing himself into the top six or take a path similar to forward David Pastrnak's with the Boston Bruins. At 18, Pastrnak started the 2014-15 season with Providence in the American Hockey League and played for the Czech Republic at the 2015 WJC. He came up to the NHL afterward and flourished.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Michael Rasmussen, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 9 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Tri-City (WHL): 47 GP, 31-28-59
Rasmussen ranked second in the Western Hockey League playoffs last season with 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 14 games, behind Brad Morrison of Lethbridge, after recovering from wrist surgery during the regular season. A big center (6-6, 221), he's a load down low.
The 19-year-old will likely make the opening roster and break into the NHL on the left wing, as Dylan Larkin did for the Red Wings in 2015-16, to take away some responsibility, ease some pressure, and play to his strengths beneath the top of the circles.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
3. Filip Hronek, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 53 pick in 2016 NHL Draft
Last season: Grand Rapids (AHL): 67 GP, 11-28-39
Hronek (6-foot, 170) seems ready for the next step after breaking out in the AHL last season with skill more than size. The 20-year-old led Grand Rapids defensemen with 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) in 67 games, with 18 (three goals, 15 assists) coming on the power play.
The Red Wings have a spot open at defenseman -- two, if they carry eight defensemen -- and Hronek is the leading candidate among a group that includes Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts and Libor Sulak.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
4. Dennis Cholowski, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 20 pick in 2016 NHL Draft
Last season: Prince George (WHL): 37 GP, 13-26-39; Portland (WHL): 32 GP, 1-26-27
The Red Wings wanted Cholowski to work hard in the gym and be more assertive on the ice last season, and he looks ready to take the next step. The question is whether the 20-year-old will go straight from junior to the NHL. His only professional experience is one AHL playoff game with Grand Rapids.
Cholowski is a bigger body (6-foot, 195) and different player than Hronek. But if Hronek makes the opening roster, Cholowski could get some of his ice time in Grand Rapids, particularly on the power play. Cholowski could be called up after the NHL Trade Deadline this season and compete for a spot on the opening roster next season.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
5. Joseph Veleno, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 30 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Saint John (QMJHL): 31 GP, 6-25-31; Drummondville (QMJHL): 33 GP, 16-32-48
The Red Wings had Veleno ranked high on their draft board and compared him to Larkin in terms of style. The 18-year-old, known for his speed and work ethic, looks up to Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews as a two-way center, leader and winner.
Veleno (6-1, 193), who received a special exemption to play in the QMJHL when he was 15, has played three seasons of major junior and was captain for Canada at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup and the 2018 IIHF U18 World Championship. 
Projected NHL arrival: 2020-21 season

Detroit Red Wings key statistics

1. Reversing course
One of Detroit's top priorities in 2018-19 is to reverse the downward direction of its power play. Over the past two seasons, Detroit has a power-play percentage of 16.3 (last in NHL), down from a combined 21.4 percent in 2014-15 and 2015-16 (fourth).
Of the 135 NHL players to score at least 25 points with the man-advantage over the past two seasons, forward Henrik Zetterberg, whose return this season is in question because of lingering back issues, is the only one to do so for the Red Wings, and he was tied with 11 other players for 87th with 31 power-play points (three goals, 28 assists) in 164 games.
To address this, the Red Wings signed free agent forward Thomas Vanek on July 1. He had 28 power-play points (nine goals, 19 assists) over the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets. Detroit also re-signed defenseman Mike Green on June 30. He had 23 power-play points (four goals, 19 assists) in that span, tied for 39th among NHL defensemen with Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils and TJ Brodie of the Calgary Flames.
2. More needed from defensemen
Last season, Detroit's defensemen combined for 128 points (30 goals, 98 assists), which ranked 28th in the NHL. That's up from the 113 combined points (31 goals, 82 assists) from its defensemen in 2016-17, which ranked 28th out of 30 teams.
The Red Wings need improved shot-based metrics from their top four defensemen. Over the past two seasons combined, Jonathan Ericsson ranked 323rd among NHL defensemen with a shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 of minus-201, Green was 324th at minus-213, Danny DeKeyser was 327th at minus-219, and Trevor Daley was 344th at minus-310.
3. Extra points
The Red Wings had a 14-1 record in the shootout over the past two seasons. That's a notable improvement from their 13-29 record from 2012-13 through 2015-16.
In the past two seasons, their shootout scoring percentage was 36.9 (seventh in NHL), and their save percentage was .836 (first). In the four previous seasons, their shootout scoring percentage was 25.2 (26th), and their save percentage was .625 (28th).
The Red Wings' shootout lineup is led by Frans Nielsen, who has an NHL-high 48 career shootout goals in 96 attempts (50 percent). Vanek is tied for 19th with 28 goals in 70 attempts (40 percent).

Inside look at Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings want to be in the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, not to win the Cup now, necessarily, but to win the Cup in the future.
"The hope is that we can hang in," general manager Ken Holland said. "The longer that we can hang in, I think the better the environment is for everybody -- for the fans, for our players, for especially our young players.
"But ultimately, my focus as the manager is probably on this team a little bit down the road. I don't want it to be way down the road, but a little bit down the road."
When free agency began July 1, the Red Wings signed goaltender Jonathan Bernier and forward Thomas Vanek, and re-signed defenseman Mike Green.
Bernier will share the net with Jimmy Howard, 34, who is in the last year of his contract. The 29-year-old had a 2.85 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 37 games with the Colorado Avalanche last season.
Green, who has played the past three seasons with Detroit, skates well, moves the puck up to the forwards and buys time for younger defensemen to develop. The 32-year-old led the Red Wings in average ice time (22:05) and their defensemen in scoring with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) last season.
Vanek had 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) in 80 games with the Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets last season. In 2016-17, the 34-year-old played 48 games with the Red Wings and had 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) while playing on a line with Andreas Athanasiou.
"I've played with [Anthony] Mantha, [Dylan] Larkin and [Athanasiou] before, and I was able to help them," Vanek said. "They are all very good players who just need time, and I think that's going to be true of [Michael] Rasmussen and [Filip] Zadina as well."
How does signing three veterans fit into a rebuild?
Each player is on a short-term contract -- Bernier for three years, Green for two and Vanek for one -- and there is room for two or three younger players to make the opening roster.
After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, the Red Wings' goal is to bring back the winning culture they had when they made the playoffs in 25 consecutive seasons (1991-2016), winning the Cup four times (1997-98, 2002, 2008).
But even in a rebuild, the Red Wings don't want to just give jobs to younger players; they want them to earn it. They want them to develop under strong mentors, have a chance to win each night, and slowly take over.
"It's important that we've got some veterans around our kids, but at the same time, it's important that our kids are going to get an opportunity," Holland said. "We believe we can make both things happen."
Dylan Larkin is one of those players hoping to step up his game this season. 
"I want to be the guy," said the 22-year-old, who signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with Detroit on Friday. "I honestly don't believe in No. 1 centers in the NHL (in terms of labels). Who's the No. 1 center in Toronto? Who's the No. 1 center in Pittsburgh? You've got to have two centers. (But) I want to be the guy that's out there whether we're down by a goal and we need to score with a minute left or we're up by a goal and taking that huge face-off in your (defensive) zone. So just want to be looked at as that, like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have for so long in Detroit."
Zetterberg's status for this season is in question because of recurring back problems.
"I have talked to his agent a number of times over the course of the summer, and I know he's had a tough summer," Holland said regarding the 37-year-old forward, who had back surgery in 2014. "He hasn't been able to train anywhere near close to where he's been able to train past summers due to his back. So there is a real unknown right now with Henrik Zetterberg."
The Red Wings will give long looks in the preseason to forwards Zadina, 18, Rasmussen, 19, and Evgeny Svechnikov, 21, and defensemen Joe Hicketts, 22, Dennis Cholowski, 20, and Filip Hronek, 20.
"We think we've got lots of kids coming," Holland said. "It's going to take a little bit of time. Have to have some patience. I believe we're headed in the right direction."
Ultimately, this season comes down to the younger players.
"How good can Rasmussen be?" Holland said. "How good can Zadina be? How good can [Tyler] Bertuzzi be? What does Mantha do this year? 
"When you're dealing with young people, there's no track record. So if all those young people that I just mentioned can take a little bit of a step, I think that we can be relevant and we can try to hang in a playoff race. If not enough of those players take a step forward and some take a step backward, it's obviously going to affect our ability to compete."

Raiders beat Lions 16-10 in Gruden's return to sideline

Coach Jon Gruden was a winner in his return to the sideline for Oakland when the Raiders got a touchdown pass from Connor Cook in a 16-10 victory over the Detroit Lions on Friday night.
Gruden was welcomed back warmly to the Coliseum for his first game here as Raiders coach since beating the Jets in a playoff game Jan. 12, 2001. Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay after that season and has spent the past nine years as an ESPN analyst.
Raiders owner Mark Davis lured Gruden back to the sideline with a 10-year contract worth a reported $100 million following a disappointing six-win season under Jack Del Rio.
The Gruden era appeared to get off to a rousing start when Marshawn Lynch ran 60 yards for a TD on the third snap, but the score was called back on a holding penalty by rookie tackle Kolton Miller.
Oakland settled for a punt on the only drive with starting quarterback Derek Carr, but scored three times in five drives with Cook at the helm. Cook threw a 7-yard TD pass to Ryan Switzer in the second quarter and led Oakland to a pair of field goals by rookie Eddy Pineiro. Cook finished 11 for 19 for 141 yards.
The Lions also welcomed a new coach in Matt Patricia, who opted to rest star quarterback Matthew Stafford. Matt Cassel got the start and went 5 for 10 for 46 yards, leading Detroit to one score on three drives, with Ameer Abdullah capping it with a 1-yard TD run .
NATIONAL ANTHEM
Lynch once again sat during the national anthem. Lynch also sat for the anthem all of last season but never gave a reason for his decision. No other players on either team demonstrated during the anthem, with the Lions all standing together with locked arms.
ROOKIE REPORT
Lions second-round RB Kerryon Johnson showed good burst, running for 34 yards on seven carries and adding four catches for 33 yards. The Raiders also had a strong performance from a second-round pick with DT P.J. Hall getting a sack and batting down a pass in the first half. Oakland undrafted free agent RB Chris Warren III ran 13 times for 86 yards .
INJURIES
Raiders CB Antonio Hamilton limped off twice in the second half with an apparent ankle injury.
HELMET FOUL
There was one penalty under the new rule prohibiting players from leading with their helmets. Oakland S Karl Joseph was called for the infraction on a tackle against Abdullah in the second quarter.
OFF THE DIRT
Pineiro's second field goal came at the end of the first half after Gruden called for a run that set up Pineiro's 48-yarder off the infield dirt. Pineiro added a 45-yard field goal off the dirt in the fourth quarter. The Raiders will play at least one regular-season game this season with the infield dirt in place for Oakland Athletics games.
NEXT UP
Lions: Host Giants on Aug. 17.
Raiders: Visit Rams on Aug. 18.