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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:00 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Prospecting with Central Scouting

NHL Central Scouting prepares for final meetings

NHL Central Scouting is ready to roll in Toronto this weekend to determine its final rankings of the top draft-eligible players on the board this June at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

On Saturday, the pro scouts will have a go at it to determine this year's final list of the top 210 draft-eligible skaters and 30 goalies from North America for the 2012 Entry Draft. will also be present for the opening three days of the meetings, providing exclusive coverage. The scouts will no doubt be in heated debate, unveiling the pros and cons of every player from all the major junior leagues throughout North America.

Discussions will heat up almost immediately on Saturday morning as the scouts debate over who should receive the No. 1 overall placement among North American skaters. The top four candidates expected to vie for that position will be Sarnia's Nail Yakupov, Quebec's Mikhail Grigorenko, Everett's Ryan Murray and Sarnia's Alex Galchenyuk, who just recently returned to the lineup after undergoing knee surgery in October.

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:50 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Montador returns, Toews skating

NEWARK, N.J. -- Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews continues to skate back in Chicago as part of his recovery from a concussion, but has not yet been cleared for contact. He'll miss his 17th straight game when the Blackhawks play the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday at Prudential Center.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville also said defenseman Steve Montador will return to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 7 after sitting out the last 22 games with a concussion. The 32-year-old Montador has 5 goals and 9 assists in 51 games this season. Center Brendan Morrison, who has no points and a minus-3 rating in his last two games, will be a healthy scratch as the Hawks will play with seven defensemen and 11 forwards. 
Here are the probable line combinations for the Blackhawks:
Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Dave Bolland - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Michael Frolik
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen
Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Carter Hutton
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:37 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Hawks' Shaw showing teams what they missed

NEWARK, N.J. -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw knows he won't be in the running for the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie at the end of the season.
And he's fine with that. But to teammates, his coach and general manager, the 20-year-old Shaw has provided the type of energy and enthusiasm required of any player.
"If you look at him right now, there's not much to him, but when he steps on the ice, he's always noticeable," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp told "The other team knows he's there and he goes in the tough areas, takes hits and is smart and confident. His enthusiasm has really helped our locker room."
Teammate Patrick Kane agrees.
"He just brings a lot of enthusiasm, excitement and energy," Kane told "He's fun to have around the locker room … he's a young kid, and I think when you watch him on the ice, he may be the smallest player out there but he plays like he's one of the biggest.
"He's in front on the power play, scores a lot of goals from in front of the net by tipping pucks and using his body. He's a huge part of the team right now."
Shaw was passed over in the 2009 and 2010 NHL drafts before the Blackhawks finally selected him in the fifth round (No. 139) last June. He enters Tuesday's game on a five-game point-scoring streak, during which he's totaled 4 goals, 8 points and a plus-5 rating.
"It was a little disappointing not being drafted those first two years, but I had no pressure on me after that and went out there and had fun and stuck with my game," Shaw told "Chicago liked what they saw and decided to draft me. At prospect camp I had everything to prove so I just went out there and gave it my all and they came back with an AHL contract. I didn't want to play in the Ontario Hockey League anymore and knew if I did my best, there may be a shot."
The Blackhawks signed Shaw to a three-year contract Jan. 3. At the time, his 12 goals and 21 points ranked third for the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. His 80 penalty minutes ranked second.
"It's amazing," Chicago Vice President/GM Stan Bowman told the team's website. "He wasn't even on an NHL contract until around Christmastime. He was in the American Hockey League on an AHL deal, and we decided to switch him over. He played really well in Rockford the first few months and we thought we might want to utilize him in the second half of the year.
"In order to do that, you have to be on an NHL contract. So we converted his deal to an NHL deal, and here we are. He's got 11 goals in around 30 games and he's been a real difference-maker."
Shaw has 11 goals, including two game-winners, 19 points, 31 penalty minutes and 67 hits in 31 games. The loss of forward Daniel Carcillo, who had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee Jan. 17, has made Shaw a valuable asset for coach Joel Quenneville.
"He's been good for us in a lot of ways; we appreciate the way he competes," Quenneville said. "Offensively, he's got a nice set of hands and he gets rewarded for going into the high-traffic areas. He finds ways to get around the puck through positioning or with his hands. He's getting some assignments against top lines and his line (with center Dave Bolland and left wing Bryan Bickell) has been effective."
Shaw posted a career-high 54 points, including 22 goals, in 66 games last season for the eventual Ontario Hockey League champion Owen Sound Attack. He ranked 11th in the league with 135 penalty minutes and was honored at the end of the season as the OHL's Hardest Working Player. 
Shaw led all players at the 2011 Memorial Cup with 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in four games.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:00 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Devils make rookie blueliner Larsson healthy scratch

NEWARK, N.J. -- For the first time in his NHL career, New Jersey Devils rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will be listed as a healthy scratch.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer has opted to give Larsson, the fourth pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, a breather and will replace him in the lineup with recent call-up Peter Harrold.
"He's a young guy and it doesn't hurt to sit up and watch and take a step back sometimes," DeBoer said. "I think, since he's come back from his injury, he's had a few bumps in the road and struggled with some consistency. We've talked to him about that. It's getting to the point in the year here where it will benefit him to sit and watch for a night."
The Devils enter Tuesday's contest against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center having lost five of their last seven games (2-4-1). The club would not only like to clinch a playoff berth as quickly as possible, but start playing the brand of hockey that enabled it to reach this point in the first place. New Jersey has allowed an un-Devil-like 18 goals in its last five games.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who will get his third straight start between the pipes, is 0-3-1 in his last four starts and 1-4-1 in his last six. The future Hall of Fame goalie, who on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of his NHL debut on March 26, 1992, in a victory over the Boston Bruins at Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, feels Larsson can only benefit from watching.
"He's here for a long time and this is just a bump in the road in his progress," Brodeur said. "It happens with young guys a lot, especially when expectations are high. The depth of our defense has been challenged a little bit with Henrik Tallinder out and (Anton Volchenkov). That makes it tough on younger players with regard to how to deal with it. The games pick up this time of year … the intensity, the drive of teams you play against is higher and you have to step up, and that's one of the hardest things to do as a young player."
Larsson missed 10 games in February with a bruised lower back after taking a check from Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. In 64 games with the Devils -- he also missed two games for personal reasons -- Larsson has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating.
"You can't hide a defenseman, just like you can't hide a goalie," Brodeur said. "That's because defense is where you get exposed the most. For him, it's a matter of working hard. He'll be here a long time and he'll be back in the lineup sooner than people think. But right now, he has to realize he needs to step up a little bit, and that's fine.
"To be honest, I didn't really see anything that the coaches might have saw (with regard to his play). I thought he was playing alright, but they felt he needed that break."
DeBoer wants to see Larsson fresh and confident entering the postseason.
"You don't get to this stage by just jumping in … you go through a progression, and the progression when he came back from injury was to try and let him fight through some of the inconsistencies," DeBoer said. "But at some point, you have to take a different approach and that's where we're at. He handled it well in our conversation, and I'm confident he'll bounce back."
Harrold, who was recalled from the Devils American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on Monday, will skate with Matt Taormina to start the game. In five games with the Devils this season, Harrold has no points and a minus-1 rating. He last played with the club on Feb. 24 in a loss to Vancouver.
Following their contest with the Blackhawks, the Devils will have three more home games, including Thursday's clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and two on the road. The club currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, has six games remaining and requires a total of six points to officially clinch a playoff spot.
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov did not practice for a second straight day and will likely miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
While the Devils lose their leading hitter and shot blocker in Volchenkov, center Travis Zajac returned to the lineup on Sunday. Zajac, playing his first game since Jan. 2, notched one assist in his team's 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He centered Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky against the Penguins, but was working with Kovalchuk and rookie Adam Henrique during the team's full practice session on Monday.
It will mark the first time this season that Henrique will skate on wing.
"It'll be a little change for him playing wing, but he's a smart player and he'll figure it out quick," Zajac said.
The only trio that remained intact from Sunday was Patrik Elias centering Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus. Nine players decided to rest the legs during Tuesday's optional skate, including Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus, Petr Sykora, Elias, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, David Clarkson and Marek Zidlicky.
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
Adam Henrique - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Petr Sykora - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Matt Taormina - Peter Harrold
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 10:44 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

NHL players offer advice for top 2012 draft prospects

There are sure to be several top prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft seeking advice from players who went through the wars and are now reaping the benefits.

Forwards Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers, Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers and Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche are three such players.

All three recently spoke to and provided a few words of wisdom for those players hoping to hear their names at this year's draft to be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Couturier, who was selected eighth overall by the Flyers last June, recommends that players just continue doing what they do best.   

"I think they just need to remain who they are, not try and do anything extra special and just play the game the right way," Couturier told "Scouts have been following you for a while, so there's no need to change. Just be yourself."

Couturier is a solid example in perseverance. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound forward dropped from No. 2 to No. 6 in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings in April, 2011, and then was chosen No. 8 by the Flyers. Hard work and solid two-way play, a quality that was certainly evident in his game for Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, have enabled him to become a key cog for this year's team in Philadelphia.

With regard to the NHL Combine, Couturier smiled before issuing the following:

"Be in shape … be ready."

Stepan was drafted in the second round (No. 51) by the Rangers in 2008.

"The best advice that I got from people around me was going into the draft in a positive frame of mind," Stepan told "Don't expect anything. It's a big deal to get drafted, but once you get drafted that's when the work begins. You never really know what's going to happen at the draft so don't really expect anything.

"Other than the first round, it's kind of a scramble. I was projected to go third, fourth or fifth round and then went in the second, so just go with the flow and enjoy it."

While Stepan did conduct 26 interviews in the opening few days of the Combine, he never underwent the physical portion of the week-long event since he wanted to attend graduation ceremonies at Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep in Minnesota.

"I lucked out big time," Stepan said.

O'Reilly, drafted in the second round (No. 33) by the Avalanche in 2009, recalls his draft year as if it were yesterday.

"I think when you look at it, kids maybe focus too much on the off-ice perspective and while it is an important thing, if you care about the on-ice enough, those things off the ice will come naturally," O'Reilly told

He laughed when reminded of the impressive showing he had at the 2009 Combine -- his 18 reps at 150 pounds on the bench press tied for the most among the 94 players who tested.

"You want to do that extra stuff but need to remember you've never really arrived … you're always trying to get somewhere better and always have to keep a beginner's mind. No matter what the situation, go out and do it and learn and get better and never be satisfied," O'Reilly said.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:19 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineup for Panthers

Here is the projected lineup the Panthers will put on the ice Tuesday when they face the Philadelphia Flyers:
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Marco Sturm
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski
Jose Theodore, who is 4-0-1 in his last five games, will get the start in net for the Panthers; Scott Clemmensen will serve as the backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:17 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Flyers getting healthy bodies back

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Flyers will look to continue their ascent up the Eastern Conference standings Tuesday when they host the Florida Panthers at the Wells Fargo Center.
It appears as though the Flyers will receive a boost to their lineup with the return of forward Maxime Talbot and defensemen Andreas Lilja and Pavel Kubina.
Talbot, who will replace Jody Shelley in the lineup, skated alongside rookies Sean Couturier and Zac Rinaldo at the team's morning practice here at the Flyers Virtua SkateZone. He was sidelined one game with an upper-body injury likely suffered injured during a fight with Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk on Saturday.
Kubina (upper body), who has sat out the last seven games, and Lilja (throat), who missed Sunday's overtime victory against the Penguins, were paired together during the team's practice. With two defenders returning, rookies Brandon Manning and Erik Gustafsson likely will not suit up against the Panthers.
"It's been really hard to sit and watch, but the team has been playing great," Kubina said. "But now I can go back in (Tuesday) and play. I think I'll be paired with (Lilja), but not sure yet.
"I've been skating hard the last three or four days, and there was never any real time frame when I would return, but I'm ready. Hopefully (Andrej Meszaros) can make it back for the playoffs."
Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren announced Monday that Meszaros would undergo surgery to remove a small disc fragment in his lower back Wednesday and miss 6-8 weeks.
"It's sad about Mez, but that happens sometimes," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "We all play this game a long time and losing (Chris Pronger) and Mez is tough, but there's nothing we can do. We just have to go on. Maybe if we go deep in the playoffs we'll get Mez back … we have to move forward."
The Flyers have fewer wins and points this season compared to last season with 10 games remaining in the regular season. Despite that fact, defenseman Matt Carle seems to have a better feel for the 2011-12 group down the stretch.
"I think we're playing a little bit better," Carle said. "We went through a tough stretch a month or two ago where it really kind of tested our mental toughness, and to get through that and to still be where we're at in the standings is a good sign. Hopefully we keep building and keep the playoff intensity and mentality going down the stretch."
The Flyers have won eight of their last 10 games and have come away with points in nine of those contests. The club currently sits fifth in the East with 42 wins and 92 points. At this stage last season, the Flyers were first in the East with 44 wins and 97 points.
Here are the projected lineups for the Flyers:
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Jakub Voracek - Danny Briere - Eric Wellwood
Matt Read - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Zac Rinaldo
Nicklas Grossmann - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Kimmo Timonen
Andreas Lilja - Pavel Kubina
Ilya Bryzgalov will make his fifth straight start in net, with Sergei Bobrovsky serving as the backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 6:58 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Duchene to return for Avs in New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. - The Colorado Avalanche will have center Matt Duchene back in the lineup on Thursday when they play the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

Duchene, who suffered a right ankle injury on March 6 against the Minnesota Wild and missed the previous four games, was originally expected to be sidelined three to four weeks.

The third-year forward is expected to center wings Peter Mueller and Milan Hejduk. Duchene has 13 goals and 26 points in 48 games for the Avalanche this season. He also missed 20 games with a knee injury earlier this season -- he was leading the team in goals and ranked second in points at the time of the injury.

Colorado coach Joe Sacco will start Jean-Sebastien Giguere between the pipes. The Devils will counter with Martin Brodeur. The Giguere-Brodeur matchup became quite an item during the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, when Brodeur helped the Devils to a seven-game series triumph -- even though Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 11:54 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Zajac able to 'amp up' skating, joins Devils at practice

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac was a welcomed addition to the team's morning skate at Prudential Center on Thursday.
Zajac, who has been out of the lineup since Jan. 4 with an injured left Achilles tendon, will miss his 32nd straight game on Thursday when the Devils host the Colorado Avalanche. The fact he was on the ice with the team was certainly a positive step in the latter stages of his rehibilatation.
Zajac told The (Bergen) Record on Wednesday that he received medical clearance to "amp up" his skating.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello confirmed that statement, but said there is still no set date for his return to the lineup.
"We're not going to have any conversation (with the media) about when he's ready and when he's not ready," Lamoriello told The Record. "When that time comes, you'll know the day when he plays. The coach will say when he's playing. It is not going to happen immediately. It's going to take a while and there is no time frame, but he has been given the OK to practice and have contact."
Zajac has missed the last 32 games for the Devils and has played in just eight contests this season -- he has 1 goal and 3 points.

Devils captain Zach Parise was certainly glad to see his former centerman back in the lineup.
"He seems real excited," Parise told The Star-Ledger. "He looks like he's walking better. I think he feels more confident skating now."
Zajac would like to return before the end of the regular season.
"We’ll talk with the doctors every week and go from there," Zajac told reporters after the team's practice on Thursday. "There's no set date. We'll take it a day at a time here. The key for me is getting in good practices when the team does practice and trying to get in some game-like situations."
Probable lineup for the Devils:

Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov - Marek Zidlicky
Martin Brodeur is the likely starter with Johan Hedberg serving as backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 11:02 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Duchene could be set for early return to Avs' lineup

NEWARK, N.J. -- There's a good chance the Colorado Avalanche will welcome forward Matt Duchene back to the lineup on Thursday when they visit the Prudential Center to face the New Jersey Devils.
Duchene, who suffered a right ankle injury on March 6 against the Minnesota Wild, was originally thought to be sidelined three to four weeks. The third-year forward, who has missed four games, skated on his own Tuesday and felt good.

The Avalanche, winners of three straight, enter their showdown with the Devils in eighth place in the Western Conference with 80 points through 72 games. They lead San Jose, which has played three fewer games, by only two points.
The Avalanche didn't skate Thursday in Newark after scoring a 5-4 shootout decision over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Wednesday.
"His ankle was feeling better, so he skated (Tuesday) for about 40 minutes on his own," Avs coach Joe Sacco told Adrian Dater of The Denver Post. "The plan is to play him (Thursday) if all goes accordingly."
If Duchene returns, he would likely center Peter Mueller and Milan Hejduk.
Sacco didn't reveal his starter in goal against the Devils following Wednesday's victory over Buffalo. There's a good chance Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get the nod, however, after Semyon Varlamov stopped 20 of 24 shots through regulation and overtime in the victory over the Sabres. The shootout win over the Sabres gives the Avalanche a 12-4-0 record against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
Colorado wing Chuck Kobasew did skate Wednesday morning in Buffalo, but remains out with a back injury.
Here are the probable line combinations for the Avalanche:
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Steve Downie
Jamie McGinn - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Peter Mueller - Mark Olver/Matt Duchene - Milan Hejduk
Cody McLeod - Jay McClement - Kevin Porter
Shane O'Brien - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Matt Hunwick - Ryan Wilson
Giguere is the probable starter with Varlamov serving as backup.
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