Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Three questions facing Colorado Avalanche

1. Will Philipp Grubauer be the No. 1 goalie?
General manager Joe Sakic said the Avalanche have two No. 1 goalies, Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov, who will compete for playing time.
Grubauer, 26, is beginning a three-year contract he signed after he was acquired in a trade from the Washington Capitals on June 22. A backup for most of the past three seasons, Grubauer went 15-10-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 2017-18. He's 43-31-11 in his NHL career with a 2.29 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Varlamov, 30, is entering the final season of a five-year contract. He has been terrific when healthy but has missed 94 games because of injuries and illnesses in the past four seasons after he was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14. He went 24-16-6 with a 2.68 GAA and .920 save percentage last season but missed 18 regular-season games because of injury and illness before missing all six games in the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators with a knee injury.
2. Who will emerge as the No. 2 center?
The Avalanche need a reliable center who can take charge of a second scoring line.
Tyson Jost, 20, and Alexander Kerfoot, 23, are the leading in-house candidates. Each played all three forward positions as a rookie last season. Carl Soderberg, 32, scored 16 goals to match his NHL career high, but he is more suited as a third-line, shutdown center and penalty-killer.
Jost, selected by Colorado with the No. 10 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, had 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 65 games. He had 12 points (nine goals, three assists) in the final 31 games and one assist in six playoff games. Kerfoot, whose 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 79 games were fifth on the Avalanche, scored two goals in six playoff games. His first instinct is to pass, even though he was Colorado's most accurate shooter (23.46 percent); he took 81 shots, fewer than 14 teammates.
3. Can Erik Johnson stay healthy?
Johnson is Colorado's best all-around defenseman. He plays major minutes (he averaged 25:26 of ice time last season with an NHL-high 30.7 shifts per game), defends against opponents' top lines, and provides veteran leadership. But injuries have cost the 30-year-old significant time.
Johnson has played fewer than 70 games in four of the past six seasons. He missed 18 regular-season games and all six playoff games in 2017-18 because of upper-body and knee injuries. He missed 36 games in 2016-17 with a broken leg and the final 34 games in 2014-15 with a knee injury that prevented him from playing in what would have been his first NHL All-Star Game.

Colorado Avalanche fantasy preview for 2018-19

Nathan MacKinnon, C (NHL.com rank: 12) -- To say the 22-year-old had a breakout season doesn't do justice to his NHL career-high 97 points (39 goals, 58 assists) in 74 games in 2017-18. He had nine multigoal games (tied for first in NHL) and one game without a shot on goal. His week-to-week dominance led to a third-place finish in Yahoo behind forwards Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. MacKinnon finished fifth in the NHL in points and second in points per game (1.31; min 30 games) behind Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (1.32). MacKinnon will have a much higher average draft position this year but should finish among the top five centers for the second straight season.
Mikko Rantanen, LW/RW** (67) -- The 21-year-old made his presence felt on the fantasy landscape with 84 points (29 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games. He formed one of the best fantasy duos with MacKinnon on the first line, where they combined for 51 team goals (second in NHL). Rantanen finished eighth in the NHL with an Avalanche-high 35 power-play points but could generate more shots on goal this season than the 178 he had in 2017-18. It's likely Rantanen will be available outside the top 50 in season-long drafts with a realistic chance to finish among the best 30 players on Yahoo.
Tyson Barrie, D (88) -- The 27-year-old missed 25 games with a hand injury but made an immediate impact upon returning with 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists), including 13 PPP in the final 34 games. Barrie finished tied for first in PPG among NHL defensemen with Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers and Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets (seven), and his 30 PPP were third behind Gostisbehere (33) and John Carlson of the Washington Capitals (32). Even with injury concerns, Barrie should be one of the top 15 defensemen selected in fantasy drafts.
Gabriel Landeskog, LW (107) -- The No. 2 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft tied NHL career highs in PPP (17) and PPG (eight) last season. Landeskog, 25, solidified his even-strength role on the top line and on the first power-play unit with MacKinnon and Rantanen. He played an NHL career-high 3:45 per game on the power play and had an Avalanche-high seven points (four goals, three assists) in six Stanley Cup Playoff games. Landeskog likely will be taken outside the top 100 in drafts but with exposure to MacKinnon and Rantanen, he should finish much higher than his ADP and has added value in hits leagues (149; first among Colorado forwards).
Semyon Varlamov, G* (130) -- The 30-year-old had a bounce-back season numbers wise in 2017-18 (.920 save percentage; 2.68 goals-against average), but he missed 18 regular-season games because of injury and illness, and he was out all six playoff games with a knee injury. He has value if he falls in season-long drafts but is not worth reaching for after two straight injury-plagued seasons. The Avalanche brought in Philipp Grubauer as Varlamov's backup, but Grubauer could emerge as the starter, as he did with the Capitals at the end of the regular season and in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Philipp Grubauer, G (131) -- The 26-year-old ranks third in the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.935; minimum 50 games) over the past two seasons behind Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Antti Raanta of the Arizona Coyotes (each .936). It's too early to say whether Grubauer projects to be a No. 1 goaltender, but his fantasy stock has risen now that he will split starts with the injury-prone Varlamov. 
Erik Johnson, D - INJ. (181) -- The No. 1 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft played an NHL career-high 25:26 per game last season but missed 20 games with multiple injuries. When healthy, Johnson was fantasy relevant with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) and 168 SOG in 62 games. The 30-year-old has added value in hits leagues (168) and is worthy of a late-round flier despite the injury concerns.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Nikita Zadorov, D* (233); Alexander Kerfoot, C/RW** (242); Tyson Jost, C; Samuel Girard, D**
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. - Injury concern entering 2018-19

Top prospects for Colorado Avalanche

1. Cale Makar, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 4 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: University of Massachusetts Amherst (NCAA): 34 GP, 5-16-21
Makar, 19, is returning to UMass for his sophomore year after being named to the Hockey East all-rookie and third all-star teams as a freshman. He's a smooth skater with plenty of offensive upside.
"He plays fast, he's skilled, he has the ability to be a game changer," said Alan Hepple, Colorado's director of amateur scouting. "The sky's the limit for him. He's the generational player that everybody's looking for now."
Makar (5-foot-11, 187 pounds) had 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in his final 22 games at UMass last season after helping Canada win the gold medal at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship with eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
2. Conor Timmins, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 32 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL): 36 GP, 8-33-41
Timmins, 19, signed a three-year, entry-level contract in March and could push for a spot on a crowded defense, but he probably will begin this season with the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League. He is expected to be ready for training camp after being held out of on-ice drills at development camp in June, when he was recovering from an ankle injury and concussion he sustained during the Ontario Hockey League season.
"He had an amazing camp [last season]," general manager Joe Sakic said. "There were some people [in the organization] that didn't want to send him back [to junior], but we thought it was best for his development. Over the course of the year, he got better."
Timmins (6-2, 184) had five points (one goal, four assists) in seven games for Canada at the 2018 WJC.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
3. Vladislav Kamenev, F
How acquired: Trade from Nashville Predators on Nov. 5, 2017
Last season: Colorado: 3 GP, 0-0-0; Milwaukee (AHL): 10 GP, 3-5-8; San Antonio (AHL): 7 GP, 0-8-8
Kamenev, who turns 22 on Aug. 12, is an excellent playmaker who has shown he can score at the AHL level with 105 points (39 goals, 65 assists) in 144 games. Selected by the Ottawa Senators in the second round (No. 42) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Kamenev (6-2, 194) was acquired in the three-team trade that sent center Matt Duchene to the Senators. Kamenev missed 50 games last season after he broke his arm in his Avalanche debut against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 16.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
4. Martin Kaut, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 16 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Pardubice (Czech Extraliga): 38 GP, 9-7-16
Kaut, who turns 19 on Oct. 2, is expected to make his North American debut with Colorado of the AHL after playing against older pros in his native Czech Republic. Kaut (6-2, 176) is a strong skater but needs to mature physically. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) in seven games at the 2018 WJC.
"He plays hard all over the ice, and like every young player, he'll keep getting stronger and quicker," Sakic said. "We're excited about his potential to be a top-six winger who can score goals."
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
5. Shane Bowers, F
How acquired: Trade from Ottawa Senators on Nov. 5, 2017
Last season: Boston University (NCAA): 40 GP, 17-15-32
Bowers, 19, is returning to BU for his sophomore year after he was its third-leading scorer as a freshman and was named to the Hockey East all-rookie team. Selected by the Senators with the No. 28 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Bowers (6-1, 183) had 84 points (37 goals, 47 assists) in 116 games in two seasons with Waterloo of the United States Hockey League before entering college.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Colorado Avalanche key statistics

1. Scoring surge
The Avalanche were 10th in the NHL in scoring last season (255 goals) after finishing last in 2016-17 (165). The improvement of 90 goals was an NHL high.
Colorado scored more because of equally notable improvements on the power play and in their shooting percentage. The Avalanche ranked last in the NHL on the power play (12.6 percent) and in shooting percentage (7.2) in 2016-17. Last season, they were eighth on the power play (21.9 percent) and third in shooting percentage (10.5).
Having led the NHL with a combined 322 points from players who were age 23 or under on Feb. 1, the Avalanche's offensive improvement may continue into 2018-19.
2. Goaltending gains
The Avalanche also improved considerably in their own end, reducing the number of goals they allowed from an NHL-high 276 in 2016-17 to 236 (tied for 17th) in 2017-18.
Goalies Jonathan Bernier, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings on July 1, and Semyon Varlamovdeserve a lot of credit for that improvement. Colorado's save percentage went from .894 in 2016-17 (29th in NHL) to .914 in 2017-18 (tied for sixth), the greatest improvement in the NHL.
Acquiring Philipp Grubauer in a trade from the Washington Capitals on June 22 could help improve Colorado's goaltending situation even more. The 26-year-old's .923 career save percentage is the best among the 55 active NHL goalies who have played at least 100 games, and he is the sixth-youngest player in that group.
3. There's no place like home
The Avalanche earned 58 points at Pepsi Center and 37 on the road last season. That difference of plus-21 ranked third in the NHL behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (plus-24) and Minnesota Wild (plus-23).
Colorado may have been better at home because the last line change allowed it to get the right matchups for its top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen. At home, MacKinnon had an NHL-leading 67 points (27 goals, 40 assists) in 39 games, and the three combined for 161 points (63 goals, 98 assists) and were plus-68. In away games, the three combined for 82 points (30 goals, 52 assists) and were minus-41, and Landeskog's plus/minus fell from plus-32 to minus-16.

Inside look at Colorado Avalanche

The bar has been raised for the Colorado Avalanche, who will attempt to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2006.
"Hopefully we can do some damage [this] season," said forward Nathan MacKinnon, a Hart Trophy finalist last season when the Avalanche lost in the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators in six games. "There's going to be higher expectations for our team. (It's) playoffs or failure."
Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said, "Guys are hungry. I like the mentality; they want to win, they want to come in hungry and try to get to another level."
The Avalanche will have a more experienced roster in coach Jared Bednar's third season. They used 11 rookies in 2017-18 and nine players made their NHL playoff debut when the Avalanche (43-30-19) finished fourth in the Central Division and earned the second wild card into the postseason from the Western Conference with 95 points, 47 more than the previous season.
"We have to take another step and it's easier to say than it is to do," said Bednar, a finalist for the Jack Adams Award last season. "The experience for some of our young guys is something that can't be overlooked, but there was a lot of hard work and commitment to get to where we were, and we'll have to do it again and do it even better."
The Avalanche return a top line of MacKinnon, whose 97 points (39 goals, 58 assists) were fifth in the NHL last season, Mikko Rantanen, who had 84 points (29 goals, 55 assists), and Gabriel Landeskog, who had 62 points (25 goals, 37 points), along with defenseman Tyson Barrie, who had 57 points (14 goals, 43 assists).
Colorado also will rely on forwards Sven Andrighetto, J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Alexander Kerfoot, Matt Nieto and Carl Soderberg, who combined for 173 points (83 goals, 90 assists) last season.
In net, the Avalanche have Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer, who was acquired in a trade from the Washington Capitals with defenseman Brooks Orpik on June 22 for a second-round pick (No. 47) in the 2018 NHL Draft. Colorado signed Grubauer to a three-year contract and bought out Orpik, who re-signed with the Capitals.
Grubauer will compete with the oft-injured Varlamov for the No. 1 job after going 15-10-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .923 save percentage for Washington last season. He replaces Jonathan Bernier, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
Varlamov (24-16-6, 2.68 GAA, .920 SV%) missed 18 regular-season games because of injury and illness in 2017-18, and he was out all six playoff games with a knee injury. He missed the final 10 weeks of 2016-17 after deciding to have hip surgery.
"We really feel we need two really good goaltenders and we like where Grubauer is," Sakic said. "He's just coming into his prime. We feel with our young group that we have two goalies that can win hockey games for you and you can rest them at times. There's competition, but for us the reason we [made the trade] is to make sure that we have two goalies that regardless of what game it is, either goalie can win a hockey game for us."
Defenseman Ian Cole and forward Matt Calvert each signed a three-year contract after finishing last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Cole, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017), adds a veteran presence to an improving defense that includes Barrie, Mark Barberio, Erik Johnson, Samuel Girard, Patrik Nemeth and Nikita Zadorov. Defenseman Conor Timmins, a second-round pick (No. 32) in the 2017 NHL Draft, will compete for a roster spot.
The smooth-skating Girard had 20 points (three goals, 17 assists) in 68 games with the Avalanche as a rookie after being acquired Nov. 5, 2017, from the Nashville Predators in the three-team trade that sent center Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators. Zadorov (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) led the NHL with 278 hits and showed some offensive ability with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 77 games.
Calvert has good speed and will kill penalties in a bottom-six role. He replaces forward Blake Comeau, who signed with the Dallas Stars. The Avalanche didn't re-sign forward Nail Yakupov, who was a healthy scratch in 18 of the final 26 games and all six playoff games. Yakupov, selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 58 games last season and signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League on July 3.

Three questions facing Chicago Blackhawks

1. Will goalie Corey Crawford be healthy?
Crawford, who missed the second half of the season with an undisclosed upper-body injury, said July 27 that he was not 100 percent healthy yet but it's possible he'll be ready for training camp. The 33-year-old was 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 28 games. He last played in a game Dec. 23, when he allowed three goals on seven shots in a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, and hasn't been on the ice since Feb. 12. The four other goalies who had at least one decision for the Blackhawks in 2017-18 combined for a 17-30-8 record, leading to the July 1 signing of free agent Cam Ward to give Chicago a backup goalie with starting experience in the NHL.
2. Will Henri Jokiharju make the Blackhawks out of training camp?
The 19-year-old defenseman had his second strong season with Portland of the Western Hockey League in 2017-18, scoring 71 points (12 goals, 59 assists) in 63 games. General manager Stan Bowman said it's possible he could make the NHL roster, but coach Joel Quenneville has often said that defensemen need more time to develop and be comfortable in the NHL. The Blackhawks have liked what they've seen from Jokiharju, their first-round pick (No. 29) at the 2017 NHL Draft, as he's adjusted to the bigger North American ice surface since coming over from Finland.
3. What happens if they get off to a slow start?
For all of the personnel changes the Blackhawks have made in recent seasons, Bowman and Quenneville have been in their respective positions for nearly 10 seasons. Last season, the Blackhawks missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007-08, and owner Rocky Wirtz told Crain's Chicago on June 4 that "nothing lasts forever" and changes could come around the holidays if the Blackhawks had a bad start. However, on July 27, Wirtz told the Chicago Sun-Times that he wasn't sending a message to Quenneville and Bowman with those comments. Nevertheless, Chicago has had a lot of success since Wirtz became chairman in 2007, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. It's hard to believe that if the Blackhawks falter, changes won't be made.

Chicago Blackhawks fantasy preview for 2018-19

Patrick Kane, RW (NHL.com rank: 19) -- The 29-year-old has seen his point total decline significantly in each of the past two seasons; he had 76 points (27 goals, 49 assists) last season after 89 (34 goals, 55 assists) in 2016-17 and an NHL career-high 106 (46 goals, 60 assists) in 2015-16. But even with an NHL career-worst minus-20, Kane had strong enough category coverage to finish 57th overall in Yahoo. Kane's chemistry with wing Alex DeBrincat (played on same line for United States at 2018 IIHF World Championship) sparks renewed optimism for the elite right wing, making him worth drafting among the fantasy top 20 overall.
Corey Crawford, G, CHI - INJ. (114) -- When healthy, Crawford is an elite fantasy goalie; he went 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 28 games last season, and has at least 30 wins in each of his six full NHL seasons. Crawford missed the final 47 games last season because of an undisclosed upper-body injury that's not completely healed; he hopes to be ready for training camp. The 33-year-old is expected to be available much later than usual in fantasy drafts because of this injury concern but is worth the risk as a potential bargain anytime outside the top 100 overall.
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI - INJ. (125) -- The Blackhawks captain has had point totals in the 50s each of the past three seasons and hasn't stood out in any single fantasy category. However, he remains one of the most defensively responsible centers in the game and has a floor of 20 goals and 30 assists, regardless of who's playing on his line. If frequent linemate Brandon Saad sees a shooting percentage correction (7.6 last season; 10.9 in NHL career) and returns to form at even strength, Toews should bounce back from the lowest points-per-game average of his career (0.70). Toews could skate with rookie forward Dylan Sikura, who was better than a point per game over the past two seasons (111 points in 73 games) at Northeastern University.
Alex DeBrincat, LW/RW (132) -- He was one of the most unheralded first-year players in the NHL last season, finishing second among rookies in even-strength goals (22). He had three hat tricks, tied for most in the NHL with elite fantasy forwards Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin. DeBrincat's 52 points (28 goals, 24 assists) came on mostly the third line at even strength, and his 12 power-play points came on the second unit. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks are expected to elevate DeBrincat, the most promising young player on their roster. He has a much higher ceiling if he latches on with Kane for a full season, so target the second-year forward outside the top 125 as a fantasy breakout candidate.
Duncan Keith, D (186) -- The 35-year-old defenseman was one of the biggest fantasy disappointments in the NHL last season, finishing outside the top 300 overall in Yahoo and being bumped off the first power-play unit at times. He had an abnormally low shooting percentage (1.1; two goals on 187 SOG) and hurt fantasy owners with an NHL career-worst minus-29. But the Blackhawks traded defenseman Jordan Oesterle to the Arizona Coyotes and Gustav Forsling (wrist) will miss the start of the season, indicating Keith will start the season in his usual spots with bounce-back potential if the Blackhawks stay healthy. If available outside the top 150, Keith is worth a flier as a fourth fantasy defenseman.
Nick Schmaltz, C/LW** (192) -- The centerpiece of the potential Kane-DeBrincat duo is Schmaltz, who had a drastic improvement in points per game last season (0.67; 0.46 as rookie in 2016-17) and is striving for even greater consistency. The 22-year-old had erratic lineup placement, playing center and left wing, but his 17.8 shooting percentage (21 goals on 118 SOG) made up for it. He's a potential late-round steal who's a fixture in Chicago's top six and could reap fantasy rewards if stacked with Kane and/or DeBrincat.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Brandon Saad, LW (228); Brent Seabrook, D; Dylan Sikura, RW**; Artem Anisimov, C; Cam Ward, G*
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. - Injury concern entering 2018-19

Chicago Blackhawks key statistics

1. Offensive engine
Patrick Kane led the Blackhawks with 76 points (27 goals, 49 assists) in 82 games last season. Chicago's second-leading scorer, Alex DeBrincat, had 52 points (28 goals, 24 assists), also in 82 games. The 24-point gap was the fifth largest in the NHL between the first- and second-leading scorers on a team. It was the third consecutive season Kane led the Blackhawks in scoring, and his 68-point combined gap over those three seasons ranks first in the NHL.
With 271 points (107 goals, 164 assists) in 246 games over the past three seasons, Kane has scored or assisted on 38.6 percent of Chicago's 702 goals, tops in the NHL. Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who is second in the NHL in that span (38.2 percent), is the only other player above 34.0 percent.
2. Getting help
The Blackhawks signed free agent goalie Cam Ward on July 1 to address a potential weakness behind No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford. 
The Blackhawks were 17-13-5 through Dec. 23, when Crawford played his final game of the season because of an undisclosed upper-body injury. Chicago used five goalies and went 16-26-5 the rest of the season, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008. 
Crawford had a .929 save percentage in 28 games, and the other five goalies combined for a .902. That difference of .027 ranked third among those to play at least 20 games, behind Antti Raanta of the Arizona Coyotes (.041) and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights (.031).
But can Ward help? His combined .907 save percentage over the past three seasons ranks 50th among the 58 goalies to play at least 50 games in that span.
3. Getting physical
The Blackhawks had 1,376 hits last season, which ranked 30th in the NHL, ahead of only the Minnesota Wild (1,367). It was the second time in the past seven seasons the Blackhawks didn't rank last; they also edged the Wild 1,357-1,323 in 2014-15. Over the seven seasons combined, Chicago had 9,015 hits, the fewest in the NHL.
Tommy Wingels led the Blackhawks with 150 hits in 57 games last season, the eighth player in the past nine seasons to lead them. With Wingels traded to the Boston Bruins on Feb. 26, Chicago's leader this season could be Chris Kunitz, who signed as a free agent July 1. Kunitz had 131 hits in 82 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017-18, and his 264 hits in 80 games in 2015-16 led the Pittsburgh Penguins by 104.

Top prospects for Chicago Blackhawks

1. Henri Jokiharju, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 29 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Portland (WHL): 63 GP, 12-59-71
If the 19-year-old has a strong training camp, there's a good chance he will earn a spot on the roster. Jokiharju (6-foot, 180 pounds) is coming off a good season in the Western Hockey League, and Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said he has made strides in his defensive game, added some size, and "looks like an NHL-type body now."
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Dylan Sikura, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 178 pick in 2014 NHL Draft
Last season: Chicago: 5 GP, 0-3-3; Northeastern University (NCAA): 35 GP, 22-32-54
Sikura completed his senior year at Northeastern as a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA Division I men's ice hockey player. The 23-year-old had two assists in his NHL debut against the Winnipeg Jets on March 29. Sikura (5-11, 158) can play center or wing, but considering the Blackhawks are set at center (Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov, Marcus Kruger), his best opportunity will come on the wing.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
3. Adam Boqvist, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 8 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Brynas (SuperElite): 25 GP, 14-10-24; Brynas (SHL): 15 GP: 0-1-1
He has plenty of upside, especially on offense. The defensive part of his game will be a work in progress, but Boqvist (5-11, 168), who turns 18 on Aug. 15, won't be rushed to the NHL. He will play for London of the Ontario Hockey League this season. 
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
4. Victor Ejdsell, F
How acquired: Trade from Nashville Predators on Feb. 26, 2018
Last season: Chicago: 6 GP, 0-1-1; Rockford (AHL) 5 GP, 0-1-1; HV71 (SHL): 50 GP, 20-14-34
Ejdsell has the versatility to play either wing or center. He also has size (6-5, 214), something the Blackhawks lack, especially among forwards. The 23-year-old Swede is still adjusting to hockey in North America, where he's played 11 games, but Chicago liked what it saw at the end of last season and he should be part of their roster out of training camp.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
5. Blake Hillman, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 173 pick in 2016 NHL Draft
Last season: Chicago: 4 GP, 1-0-1; University of Denver (NCAA): 41 GP, 3-9-12
Hillman scored his first NHL goal in his second game, a 4-3 win against the St. Louis Blues on April 4. The 22-year-old played three seasons for Denver, helping it win the 2017 NCAA Division I men's ice hockey championship. Hillman (6-1, 180) is one of several defensemen vying for one or two NHL roster spots.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Inside look at Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks are hoping several offseason additions and the improved health of their No. 1 goaltender will help them get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Blackhawks added to their depth at each position, signing goaltender Cam Ward, 34, (one-year contract), forward Chris Kunitz, 38, (one-year contract) and defenseman Brandon Manning, 28, (two-year contract) on July 1 after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007-08.
Goaltender Corey Crawford missed the second half of last season with an upper-body injury and said July 27 that he still wasn't 100 percent but hopes to be ready for training camp in September. 
"Treatments are going well and we're making small steps and I'm getting a little better, so it's a process," Crawford said at the annual Blackhawks Convention. "It's been a process since I left in December. It hasn't been easy, but I'll be back. ... Right now, we're looking good. We've done a lot to get where I'm at right now, and I'm feeling good and hopefully I can get to a point soon where I can jump back on the ice."
Ward, who played 13 seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, was signed to ensure the Blackhawks have a veteran if Crawford can't start the season.
"First off, he's got the experience, played over 600 games in his career; that's an important factor with somebody who has a pedigree of winning and can handle the load if need be," Chicago general manager Stan Bowman said. "Obviously, we're not expecting him to have to carry the load, but it's nice knowing you have a goalie in Cam who's played a lot of hockey."
The Blackhawks could make another move, but if there are no other changes, they will need more from everyone, starting with their veteran players.
"For myself, personally, it's finding that humility and having that chip on your shoulder and having that attitude that you can't take anything for granted," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Just because you had success in the past doesn't mean you're going to have it in the future. You have to work for every little thing that you get. We have a lot of young guys who are still eager to improve themselves and find a better result. But we have some guys who have that experience in the room and are all willing to show that we have better than we showed last year."
Toews, 30, scored 20 goals last season, his fewest in his 11 NHL seasons. Left wing Brandon Saad, 25, had 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 82 games, with six goals coming in his first six games. Right wing Patrick Kane was the steadiest among the forwards, leading Chicago with 76 points (27 goals, 49 assists in 82 games), but it was his lowest total since he had 64 points in 61 games in 2014-15 when he missed time because of injury.
"I'm just trying to work on things within my game, with the body that's going to help certain things on the ice, whether it's lateral movement or agility, speed or explosiveness," Kane said. "Lot of different things."
Chicago is encouraged by a group of young forwards that includes Nick Schmaltz, 22, and Alex DeBrincat, 20. Each had 52 points last season (Schmaltz: 21 goals, 31 assists; DeBrincat: 28 goals, 24 assists).
"Maybe we have some more, different things to be concerned with at the start of this year," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But I still think, coming off last year, with our experienced guys, new guys, fresh guys and their experiences, adding it to the mix with younger guys and getting a little bit better, we have some growth and excitement."
Manning should bolster the defensemen group, which likely will not include Gustav Forsling for the first month of the season because of a wrist injury. Connor Murphy, 25, Erik Gustafsson, 26, and Jan Rutta, 28, should get more opportunities, and 19-year-old Henri Jokiharju could make the team out of training camp.
"I think a lot of people may be talking about the Blackhawks having a correction," Quenneville said. "We'd like to say we're going to have a correction, getting back to where we want to be, and that's like what we were in the past."
The Blackhawks acquired forward Marcus Kruger from the Arizona Coyotes on July 12 in a trade that sent defenseman Jordan Oesterle and forwards Marian Hossa and Vinnie Hinostroza to Arizona. Kruger played seven seasons for Chicago from 2010-17 and won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015.
"Now I have the chance [with the Blackhawks again] and I really want to do something good with it," Kruger said. "I couldn't think of a better place than here to come back and show that I can play and be a good player. I'm really excited to show that and happy to be back."

Three questions facing Carolina Hurricanes

1. Will their goaltending be good enough?
The Hurricanes envisioned Scott Darling as their No. 1 goalie when they acquired him in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks on April 28, 2017, and signed him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract. But Darling struggled with the heavier workload, going 13-21-7 with a 3.18 goals-against average and .888 save percentage in an NHL career-high 43 games last season.
This season, the 29-year-old will compete for playing time with Petr Mrazek, who agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract July 1. Mrazek replaces Cam Ward, who left after 13 seasons in Carolina to sign with Chicago.
Mrazek, 26, also has something to prove after an inconsistent season with the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, when he went 14-13-6 with a 3.03 GAA, a .902 save percentage and four shutouts.
Ideally, either Darling or Mrazek will play well enough to take the starting job. 
2. Is Sebastian Aho a center?
Aho didn't look out of place after being moved from right wing to center near the end of last season, but Rod Brind'Amour, who is entering his first season as an NHL coach, isn't ready to say Aho will stay in that position. The 21-year-old's skill as a finisher (he led Carolina with 29 goals last season after scoring 24 as a rookie in 2016-17) might make him a better fit on the wing.
The problem is the Hurricanes are thin up the middle with veteran Jordan Staal, who had 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 2017-18, as their next best option. If Martin Necas, 19, shows he's ready to play on the top two lines, that would make it easier to play Aho on the wing.
Necas is a talented playmaker the Hurricanes expect to develop into a top-line center, but he might begin the season in a lesser role to give him time to adjust to the NHL.
3. Can a front office by committee work?
Tom Dundon is a hands-on owner who is involved in almost every decision. He's assembled an experienced management team that includes general manager Don Waddell, senior vice president of hockey operations Rick Dudley and vice president of hockey operations Paul Krepelka. Dundon also has given Brind'Amour a say in personnel decisions.
Whatever the group decides, Dundon has final approval. 
The New York Islanders tried a similar collaborative approach in 2006. It lasted less than six weeks before GM Neil Smith was fired and senior adviser Pat LaFontaine resigned.

Carolina Hurricanes fantasy preview for 2018-19



Sebastian Aho, LW/RW** (NHL.com rank: 64) -- The 21-year-old is coming off NHL career highs in goals (29) and points (64) last season, leading the Hurricanes in each category. He has room for further improvement in power-play points (16) but led Carolina in power-play goals (eight) and overall shooting percentage (14.5). Aho has formed a high-end fantasy duo with linemate Teuvo Teravainen in all situations and can exceed 70 points if the Hurricanes take the next step this season under new coach Rod Brind'Amour. Target Aho among the top 75 overall.
Dougie Hamilton, D (78) -- The 25-year-old finished tied with Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia Flyers) and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) for the NHL lead in goals among defensemen last season (17) with the Calgary Flames. Hamilton had an NHL career high in shots on goal (270), but his PPP (12) total was his lowest in four seasons. Even if defenseman Justin Faulk, the focus of trade speculation, isn't moved, Hamilton (traded to the Hurricanes on June 23) is in line to take on first power-play responsibilities, making him a top 15 fantasy defenseman.
Teuvo Teravainen, C/LW/RW** (90) -- The forward, who turns 24 on Sept. 11, was a streaky fantasy player last season but finished among Yahoo's top 100 overall (95). He improved his point total by 22 (64 last season; 42 in 2016-17) and had NHL career highs in five of the six standard fantasy categories. He has an even higher ceiling on a line with Aho and one of the Hurricanes' talented forward prospects (Andrei Svechnikov or Valentin Zykov). It's worth noting Teravainen had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) and was plus-9 in a 26-game stretch from Jan. 25 to March 22, carrying many deep into the fantasy playoffs.
Andrei Svechnikov, RW (133) -- The No. 2 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft should make the Hurricanes out of training camp, especially with forward Jeff Skinner getting traded to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, and is projected to make an immediate fantasy impact. The 18-year-old had 72 points (40 goals, 32 assists) in 44 games with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League last season, including a 23-game point streak (46 points; 24 goals, 22 assists) to end the regular season. He would return immense value as a late-round fantasy pick if he beats out Zykov for the top-line spot next to Aho and Teravainen.
Petr Mrazek, G* (175) -- After an inconsistent season with the Detroit Red Wings and Flyers, Mrazek has another fresh start in Carolina, where he'll compete with Scott Darling for the starting job. Mrazek was a combined 14-13-6 with a 3.03 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and four shutouts, including at least three goals allowed in 12 of his 16 games after being traded to the Flyers on Feb. 19. He agreed to a one-year contract with Carolina on July 1 and is capable of being a late-round steal based on his fantasy finish three seasons ago (68th overall in Yahoo). In addition to trading for Hamilton, the Hurricanes signed shutdown defenseman Calvin de Haan to a four-year contract July 3, helping Mrazek's fantasy sleeper candidacy.
Valentin Zykov, LW/RW (197) -- The 23-year-old led the American Hockey League in goals (33) and PPG (17) last season, and had seven points in 10 games (three goals, four assists) for the Hurricanes late in the season after he was recalled from Charlotte. Zykov had 10 SOG and was plus-4, skating on the top line with Aho and Teravainen. If that's the case again, he'll be a must-add. Zykov also likely will be overlooked because of the appeal of Svechnikov, possibly making him available in the late rounds.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Justin Faulk, D - INJ. (193); Martin Necas, C (250); Micheal Ferland, LW/RW* (N/R); Jordan Staal, C (N/R); Scott Darling, G (N/R)
* Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
** Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. -- Injury concern entering 2018-19

Carolina Hurricanes key statistics

1. Unlocking potential
Dougie Hamilton, acquired in a trade from the Calgary Flames on June 23, could spark Carolina's talented group of young defensemen.
In three seasons with Calgary, the 25-year-old had 94 points (29 goals, 65 assists) in 245 games at even strength, seventh among NHL defensemen in that span. 
The Flames had a 4,309-3,636 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts with Hamilton on the ice since the start of the 2015-16 season, for an SAT of plus-673. That boosted their share of shot attempts from 48.81 percent to 54.24 percent, giving Hamilton a relative SAT of plus-5.43 percent that was fifth among defensemen who played at least 50 games over that time.
2. Lifting the percentages
The Hurricanes had a 4,253-3,558 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts last season, for an SAT of plus-695 and an SAT percentage of 54.45, each the best in the NHL. This territorial advantage is confirmed by their NHL-high offensive zone start percentage of 56.61.
Despite these numbers, Carolina was outscored 179-155 at 5-on-5, when it had a 7.0 shooting percentage (28th in the NHL) and its goalies, Cam Ward and Scott Darling, combined for a .909 save percentage (30th).
The Hurricanes' shooting plus save percentage (SPSV) of 980 was 30th in the NHL, better than only the Buffalo Sabres' 978. If last season was any indication though, improvement in 2018-19 is possible. The four teams that had the worst SPSVs in 2016-17 (Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings) went from an average of 980 to 1,008 in 2017-18, and each made the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
3. Consistently disciplined
Carolina spent 404:01 on the power play and 306:46 shorthanded, for a differential of plus-97:15 that led the NHL.
The Hurricanes have been outside the top six teams once since this measurement became available for the 2002-03 season, when they were 10th in 2009-10 (plus-24:15).

Top prospects for Carolina Hurricanes

1. Andrei Svechnikov, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 2 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Barrie (OHL): 44 GP, 40-32-72
NHL Central Scouting ranked Svechnikov as the top North American skater available in the 2018 draft, and he was the clear-cut No. 2 pick behind defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who was selected No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres. 
The Hurricanes hope to get a boost offensively from Svechnikov after finishing 23rd in the NHL in scoring last season (2.74 goals per game). The 18-year-old from Barnual, Russia, has the size (6-foot-2, 188 pounds) and strength to play in the NHL.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Martin Necas, C
How acquired: Selected with No. 12 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Carolina: 1 GP, 0-0-0; Brno (Czech Extraliga): 24 GP, 9-8-17
Necas made his NHL debut with the Hurricanes on Oct. 17, 2017, before returning to the Czech Extraliga. The 19-year-old also played for the Czech Republic at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, when he had 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in seven games (tying Buffalo's Casey Mittelstadt for the tournament lead), and the 2018 IIHF World Championship, when he had five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games.
With the Hurricanes' need for centers, Necas (6-1, 167) will get a longer look in the NHL this season. 
Projected NHL arrival: This season
3. Valentin Zykov, F
How acquired: Trade from Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 28, 2016
Last season: Carolina: 10 GP, 3-4-7; Charlotte (AHL): 63 GP, 33-21-54
After three seasons in the American Hockey League, it's time for Zykov to take the next step and establish himself as a full-time NHL player. The 23-year-old led the AHL last season in goals (33) and power-play goals (17).
Zykov, who was selected by Los Angeles in the second round (No. 37) in the 2013 NHL Draft, didn't look out of place in 10 games with Carolina at the end of last season. He skated at left wing on the top line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, and used his size (6-1, 224) and strength to score three goals.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
4. Warren Foegele, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 67 pick in 2014 NHL Draft
Last season: Carolina: 2 GP, 2-1-3; Charlotte (AHL): 73 GP, 28-18-46
Foegele made an immediate impact with the Hurricanes last season, scoring on his first shot and getting an assist in his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators on March 26. The 22-year-old scored again the next game against the New Jersey Devils before being returned to Charlotte for the remainder of the season.
A strong skater with good size (6-2, 190), Foegele is expected to compete for an NHL roster spot in training camp.
Projected NHL arrival: This season 
5. Adam Fox, D
How acquired: Trade from Calgary Flames on June 23, 2018
Last season: Harvard (NCAA): 29 GP, 6-22-28
The main question about Fox is whether the skilled puck-mover will sign with the Hurricanes. The 20-year-old will return to Harvard for his junior year, but general manager Don Waddell said he hopes to sign him after the season. Otherwise, Fox could play out his college eligibility and become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
A two-time first-team CCM/American Hockey Coaches Association All-American, Fox (5-11, 181) led NCAA defensemen with 40 points (six goals, 34 assists), including 24 (two goals, 22 assists) on the power play, as a freshman in 2016-17. He had 18 power-play points (two goals, 16 assists) last season.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Inside look at Carolina Hurricanes

The winds of change that swept over the Carolina Hurricanes in 2018 have been worthy of their nickname.

Rod Brind'Amour, who turns 48 on Aug. 9, was named coach May 8 after seven seasons as an assistant, succeeding Bill Peters, who stepped down to become Calgary Flames coach. On the day Brind'Amour was promoted, Don Waddell, who was Carolina's president of business operations for four seasons, was named general manager, filling the vacancy created when Ron Francis was removed March 7.
"I don't want to say it's a new team, but it will be," Brind'Amour said. "We'll potentially have 12 new players, so I think everyone's just excited. There's been a lot of change, but we've done a pretty good job of keeping the pieces we wanted to keep and build around, and then we have a couple young players we're excited to see, new rookie players that I think will be exciting to watch."
The Hurricanes have been shaking up their roster this offseason, the latest move coming Aug. 2 when forward Jeff Skinner was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for forward prospect Cliff Pu, a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and third-round and sixth-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft.
The retooling began when defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Micheal Ferland and defenseman prospect Adam Fox were acquired in a trade from the Flames on June 23 for forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin. 
The addition of Hamilton, 25, in combination with the signing of unrestricted free agent Calvin de Haan, 27, on July 3 (four-year, $18.2 million contract) will provide more experience at defenseman. Trevor van Riemsdyk, 27, and de Haan are the Hurricanes' oldest defensemen. 
"I get to play with one of the best young blue lines in the NHL," said de Haan, who played 304 games in six seasons with the New York Islanders. "I feel I can step in and help this team win. I'm aware that the Hurricanes haven't made the playoffs in the past nine years and I want to be part of the solution here."
Carolina allowed the fewest shots on goal in the NHL last season (28.9 per game) but gave up 3.09 goals per game, which ranked 22nd, because of inconsistent goaltending. Scott Darling, 29, had trouble adjusting to a heavier workload after being acquired in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks on April 28, 2017, going 13-21-7 with a 3.18 goals-against average and .888 save percentage.
With Cam Ward leaving after 13 seasons in Carolina to sign with Chicago, the Hurricanes and goalie Petr Mrazek agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract July 1. Like Darling, Mrazek, 26, will look to rebound after struggling last season with the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, going 14-13-6 with a 3.03 GAA, a .902 save percentage and four shutouts. 
"I know Scott a little bit, so I believe we can be a great tandem for Carolina in net," Mrazek said. "We are going to be sharing the net well and helping the team get the wins."
The Hurricanes hope to get a boost offensively from rookie forwards Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, and Martin Necas, the No. 12 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Carolina was 23rd in the NHL in scoring last season (2.74 goals per game).
"You don't want to put too much on them too early, so if that doesn't pan out then it doesn't quite look the same," Brind'Amour said. "But I think right now we've got pretty high hopes on both of them cracking our lineup and being impact players for us."
More roster changes may be coming. There has been speculation that the Hurricanes might trade 26-year-old defenseman Justin Faulk.
Waddell is working with majority owner Tom Dundon, who replaced Peter Karmanos on Jan. 11, and Brind'Amour in a restructured front office by committee that includes senior vice president of hockey operations Rick Dudley, who was hired May 1, and vice president of hockey operations Paul Krepelka, who was hired April 19.
It will be Brind'Amour's job to change the mindset from the Hurricanes being a rebuilding team to one that believes it can contend for the Stanley Cup.
"I don't think baby steps is the way to look at it," Brind'Amour said. "Every year has a new beginning, and whether you were Stanley Cup champs or last place it's kind of irrelevant. You're trying to win the Stanley Cup the next year. That's the mentality that you have to have."