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Posted On Sunday, 01.29.2012 / 6:12 PM

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

Yakupov makes successful return to Sarnia lineup

Nail Yakupov appeared comfortable and confident in his return to the ice for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting in three games this weekend.

The Russian right wing, ranked No. 1 according to NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters, finished with one goal, two points and a minus-2 rating in his first bit of game action with the Sting since Dec. 17.

Yakupov, who missed the previous nine games for the Sting, suffered a knee injury in the gold medal game at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Calgary, Alta. He scored his 22nd goal of the season en route to being named the game's second star in a 5-2 loss to the Ottawa 67's in Ottawa on Friday.
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Posted On Thursday, 01.26.2012 / 5:19 PM

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

Yakupov could return Friday for Sarnia

It appears as though Nail Yakupov, the top-ranked skater on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North Americans, could rejoin the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League as early as this weekend.

According to The Observer, Yakupov, who has been sidelined since suffering a knee injury in the gold medal game of the 2012 World Junior Championship on Jan. 5, might play Friday against the Ottawa 67's.

Yakupov has certainly made the most of the time he's spent on the ice in Sarnia this season, connecting for 21 goals and 53 points in 26 OHL games. The 5-foot-10 1/2, 189-pound right wing won a silver medal for Russia at the WJC after producing 9 assists and a plus-4 rating in seven games. His teammate in Sarnia, Alex Galchenyuk, was believed to be out the entire regular season after undergoing ACL surgery. But, according to The London Free Press, he could return March 1.
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 4:17 PM

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

Craig Button's top 2012 draft prospects



Not soon after NHL Central Scouting released its midseason list of the top North American and European skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft, did NHL Network analyst Craig Button offer the top 10 prospects in his cross-hairs.

Not surprisingly, Button's list is chock full of talented defensemen and centers -- two areas of strength in this year's talented crops. The top player on his list is Nail Yakupov, the Russian flash from the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League.

Here is Button's personal top 10 with some commentary on each prospect. The number in parenthesis represents the ranking issued by NHL Central Scouting earlier this month.

10 (9) - Jacob Trouba, USA U18 NTDP (USHL), D -- "A real terrific two-way defenseman. As he grows into his body, I think he has a chance to be a real force in that area of the game."

9 (3) - Ryan Murray, Everett (WHL), D -- "Is one of those guys that winning teams have. He doesn't make mistakes, he's steady and coaches will put guys like this on the ice because they know that nothing bad will happen. He's smart, a good skater. He's maybe not that dynamic offensively, but a very consistent, reliable defenseman."

8 (15) - Matthew Finn, Guelph (OHL), D -- "I just love Matt Finn because I think he's developed so much from the beginning of the season until now. To me, he reminds me of my dear late friend, Brad McCrimmon. Brad was a guy who could control the game in so many different ways, and that's what I see when I watch Matt Finn."

7 (2) - Mikhail Grigorenko, Quebec (QMJHL), C -- "Everybody needs centers, and the bigger the center, the better. Grigorenko qualifies under both traditions and he's a guy who might not have the greatest finishing ability, but he's a real strong playmaker who uses his size effectively. He's a strong skater and he has a lot of potential. He's one of the very few guys who could challenge the very top part of the draft, maybe even No. 1."

6 (8) - Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton (WHL), D -- "His brother was drafted by Calgary, and he has a younger brother up and coming. Griffin is different and the defensemen in the draft all have different qualities. They're big, strong and raw. But when he gets his confidence, size and physically matures, watch out, because he'll be a force."

5 (LV) - Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia (OHL), C -- "He's been out with the ACL, rehabbing and trying to get back to the ice before the end of the season. But he's another center, a dynamic playmaker. He makes others around him better and he's a really strong competitor."

4 (5) - Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw (WHL), D -- "Another top player who had ACL surgery … he had it in November. When I think of Morgan Rielly, I think of a guy who completes plays. He's always puts the puck on your stick, creates scoring chances. He gets out of trouble and the way the game is played now at the NHL level, guys that are so dynamic and can transition from defense to offense, are very desirable."

3 (1 Euros) - Filip Forsberg, Leksand (SWE), C -- "He was a member of Team Sweden's gold medal team at the World Junior Championship, where he played a regular shift. He's big and strong, and loves to shoot the puck. He's got great hands and a great release and he's hungry to score. He gets the puck and gets directly to the net. I see some shades of Brendan Shanahan in terms of that release he possesses."

2 (7) - Mathew Dumba, Red Deer (WHL), D -- "Every time I watch him play, all I see is continued progress in his game. I watch and I don't see any area of his game that he cannot only play in, but can dominant and excel in. He reminds me of Chris Chelios, with a little bit of Scott Stevens."

1 (1) - Nail Yakupov, Sarnia (OHL), RW -- "Suffered a knee injury but that won't hold him out. He's dynamic, electric. Not only is he a competitor, but he has the great skills to finish and make plays. He pulls people out of their seats. Hey NHL fans, he'll be a treat to watch once he reaches the NHL."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 10:02 AM

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

Grigorenko returns to form with Remparts

Top draft prospect Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has left little doubt that he remains an extremely viable draft option despite missing some time with an ankle injury this season.

Since returning to Remparts lineup two games ago on Jan. 21, Grigorenko has responded with two goals. On Tuesday, he scored in regulation and then connected for the decisive goal in the third round of a shootout to lead Quebec over the Chicoutimi Sagueneens at the Georges Centre in Chicoutimi.

Grigorenko scored both his goals against Chicoutimi's Christopher Gibson, a second-round (No. 49) draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings last June. A player many expect to be drafted among the top three choices at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh on June 22, Grigorenko took two shots on goal and won 7 of 18 face-offs in Tuesday's win.



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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:15 PM

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

Sabres set to welcome back Ehrhoff, Regehr

NEWARK, N.J. -- Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff finally had an opportunity to look on the bright side on Tuesday as his team prepared for the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
 
One day after learning defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who had been sidelined the past three weeks with a rib injury, would make his anticipated return, Ruff got word that fellow defenseman Robyn Regehr would also return following a four-game absence.
 
"I'm going to go out there and help us try and win a game … it's come around the last couple of days as I've been able to take some slap shots with the guys in practice," Regehr, who was suffering from an upper-body injury, said. "My strength seems to be back, so hopefully I can use some of it [Tuesday]. It's never fun when you're a player stuck on the sidelines having to watch -- you really don't feel you're part of the team.
 
"I like being around the guys and being a part of the solution. We're on a slide right now and we have one game to turn it around and then enjoy a few-days break so I think everyone is looking forward to that opportunity."
 
Since Ehrhoff suffered his injury on Dec. 30 in a fight with Troy Brouwer of the Washington Capitals, the Sabres have gone 2-7-2. The Sabres' power play has also faltered without Ehrhoff, going 4-for-28 over that 11-game stretch.
 
"It's huge to have those guys back, just having their presence in the locker room is big," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "They are two of our top defensemen and they're going to log a lot of minutes. Robyn usually plays against the top line and Christian is really good on the power play and penalty kill. They're going to add a lot to our team and we're excited to have them both back."
 
Will it make a difference for the struggling Sabres, who currently sit last in the Eastern Conference?
 
The Sabres have lost 12 straight games on the road in regulation -- they've never before dropped more than seven in a row at any point in their history. The team is 8-15 away from First Niagara Center in 2011-12 with just 41 goals in 23 games for an NHL-low 1.78 per game.
 
Buffalo has been outscored 50-17 during its 12-game road losing streak, and 11 of those losses have been by two or more goals. Their seven-game road trip concludes next Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Entering the sixth game of the current swing against the Devils, the Sabres have been outscored 23-7.
 
Goalie Ryan Miller is just 3-9-0 in his last 12 decisions and backup Jonas Enroth is 1-8-3 in his last 12 outings. Miller, who sports a 5.00 goals-against average and .836 save percentage during the team's current five-game losing streak, needs just two victories to equal Dominik Hasek's franchise record of 234 career wins.
 
Nearing the end of the Tuesday's practice, Miller took a hard slap shot to the collarbone off a shot by Marc-Andre Gragnani. He quickly skated off the ice but later told the media, "I am fine."
 
"I think he's OK," Ruff said. "He took a shot there. I didn't see it but I think he's OK."
 
Ruff is obviously happy to have both Ehrhoff and Regehr back in the lineup against the Devils.
 
"It should really help our defending," Ruff said. "I think up ice we've done a better job of getting inside but it's in our own end where we've had a tough time and two get two NHL defensemen back should help us."
 
Forward Brad Boyes, who missed practice on Monday with the flu, was again with the team at Tuesday's skate. He'll resume his normal role at center alongside Ville Leino and Drew Stafford. The team returned defenseman Joe Finley to their American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
 
Here is the projected lineup for the Sabres against the Devils:
 
SABRES

 
Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Nathan Gerbe - Jochen Hecht - Patrick Kaleta
Ville Leino - Brad Boyes - Drew Stafford
Matt Ellis - Luke Adam - Cody McCormick
 
Andrej Sekera - Tyler Myers
Christian Ehrhoff - Jordan Leopold
Mike Weber - Robyn Regehr
 
Miller is likely to get the start in goal, while Enroth serves as backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 11:53 AM

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

Devils' defenseman Harrold to start game at forward

NEWARK, N.J. -- Defenseman Peter Harrold will make his New Jersey Devils debut Tuesday -- as a forward.
 
Harrold, who has one goal, 12 points, 26 penalty minutes and a plus-3 rating in 41 games with the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany this season, will open at right wing, on a line with left wing Eric Boulton and center Ryan Carter when the Devils host the Buffalo Sabres.
 
Just because the 28-year-old Harrold is starting the game at forward, however, doesn't necessarily mean he'll remain there the entire game.
 
"He gives us seven defensemen," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's an opportunity to kind of monitor our defense. He's an extra body if someone is not going and he's capable of helping out on the power play. He has some versatility."
 
Harrold has 8 goals and 18 assists in 164 career NHL games -- all with the Los Angeles Kings. He signed with the Devils as an unrestricted free agent last summer.

He has played forward in the past with the Kings.
 
"I played forward two years ago [under then-Kings coach Terry Murray]," Harrold said. "I played there about 20-25 games and it's a little different. You get into it more on the offensive end and I enjoy that part of the game, but playing defense is what counts the most."
 
The Devils only have six healthy defensemen on the roster, with Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder sidelined by injuries. Greene resumed skating last week and could be back after the All-Star break.
 
"The big thing for me is making sure I know the system and I have to be defensively reliable," Harrold said. "I think that's going to be my biggest focus as a forward. Clearly if I can pitch in offensively, I'd like to, but taking care of our own end would be the biggest thing."
 
The Devils are coming off two straight losses, to the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, by identical 4-1 scores.
 
The optional morning skate Tuesday did not include Ilya Kovalchuk, Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador or Brad Mills.

This will be the Devils' final game before the All-Star break. Their next game will be Jan. 31, when they host the New York Rangers.
 
Here is the projected lineup for the Devils tonight:
 
Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Peter Harrold
 
Bryce Salvador - Mark Fayne
Matt Taormina - Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov - Kurtis Foster
 
Martin Brodeur will get his fifth straight start in goal; Johan Hedberg will serve as the backup.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike _morreale
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 12:51 PM

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

After lift from old team, Ponikarovsky to make Devils debut

NEWARK, N.J. -- Forward Alexei Ponikarovsky traveled  with his former team, the Carolina Hurricanes, on Friday, in order to get acquainted with his new mates Saturday, the New Jersey Devils.
 
Ponikarovsky, who was acquired by the Devils from the Hurricanes in exchange for minor-league defenseman Joe Sova and a 2012 fourth-round draft pick on Friday night, is eager and excited to get started. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ponikarovsky will make his Devils debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday at Prudential Center on the team's third line with David Clarkson and center Jacob Josefson.
 
"I'm excited to be here," Ponikarovsky said. "This team is battling for a playoff spot and it's always nice to be in a scrum like that. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play here and do my best."
 
Coach Peter DeBoer is hoping Ponikarovsky will add some scoring depth.
 
"I think Lou [Lamoriello] and I have talked over the last couple of months, and I think he saw an opportunity to get a guy that can give us depth on third line … a veteran NHL presence who makes us deeper and bigger, and hopefully better," DeBoer said. "He'll play with Josefson and Clarkie. We've liked out first two lines. There's been chemistry there, so I think the upgrade was to try to get three lines that can score on a regular basis."
 
Ponikarovsky, 31, had seven goals and 15 points in 49 games for Carolina this season. He was scoreless in 15:20 of ice time in a 3-0 win Friday against Washington. He got word of the trade immediately following the victory against the Capitals.
 
"I got the news after finishing the game, got on the plane and got here and then got some sleep," Ponikarovsky said. "I was here [Friday] night because [Carolina] had to fly to New York anyway since we were playing the Islanders. I just got off plane and came here."
 
Was he surprised by the trade?
 
"It's part of the job," he said. "You play for one team one day, and then everything changes, so you just basically pack up [and] go wherever they send you. Carolina was in a position to trade some players and I was a free agent after the season, so maybe I was a target. But those things happen and you just move on and go and play as best you can for the other team."
 
Ponikarovsky is a four-time 20-goal scorer, most recently in 2009-10, but had just five goals and 15 points with the Los Angeles Kings last season. He signed with Carolina this summer as a free agent.
 
"Along with adding size and strength, Ponikarovsky also has the ability to play all three forward positions," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "He's a left shot and he's going to help our third line. We just have to get our third and fourth line straightened out and this is one step towards it."
 
In 603 regular-season games, Ponikarovsky has 128 goals, 296 points and 397 penalty minutes. He also has three goals and 10 points in 38 playoff games.
 
"I'm not thinking about [playing time] right now … I'm just taking it day-by-day and we'll go from there," Ponikarovsky said. "I learned a little about the system [on Saturday] and I'm going out there and bringing what I can. My size, shots and everything else … I'll bring my A-game. I'm never going to say I'm going to score 30 goals, but I'll play the system and be accountable."
 
DeBoer doesn't doubt that Ponikarovsky will play determined and hard.
 
"He's played with good coaches over the years," DeBoer said. "There were minor details he went over with [assistant coach] Dave Barr this morning that maybe we do differently than other teams.
 
"But you can never have enough size," he added. "We want to be a big, strong, hard team to play against and that's the identity we want to play with and he fits that. You can never have enough big bodies, especially come playoff time."
 
The deal comes one day after the 'Canes sent Jon Matsumoto and Mattias Lindstrom to Florida for Evgeni Dadonov and AJ Jenks in a four-forward swap. Ponikarovsky, who will wear jersey No. 12, is on a one-year contract for $1.5 million.
 
Lamoriello assigned right wing Mattias Tedenby to the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany. DeBoer said his fourth line against the Flyers will have Brad Mills centering Eric Boulton and Ryan Carter. Steven Zalewski, who has played seven games with the Devils this season, will be a healthy scratch.
 
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette will start Ilya Bryzgalov between the pipes against the Devils. Bryzgalov is 2-1-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in three career appearances against New Jersey.
 
Here are the projected lineups for a Saturday afternoon game between the Devils and Flyers at Prudential Center:
 
DEVILS
 
Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Brad Mills - Ryan Carter
 
Bryce Salvador - Mark Fayne
Matt Taormina - Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov - Kurtis Foster.
 
Martin Brodeur will get the start in goal; Johan Hedberg will serve as backup.
 
FLYERS
 
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Max Talbot - Danny Briere - Jakub Voracek
Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Wayne Simmonds
Jody Shelley - Bryaden Schenn - Harry Zolnierczyk
 
Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Matt Carle
Erik Gustafsson - Andrej Meszaros
 
Ilya Bryzgalov gets the start in goal; Sergei Bobrovsky will serve as backup.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
 
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:11 PM

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

Players to watch at USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

There's no question power-forward Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints will be one player on the radar of NHL scouts and general managers during the inaugural USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game scheduled Tuesday at L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Mich.

For more on the big Latvian, who is ranked No. 12 among North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, click here.

The USHL Top Prospects game will include 40 of the league's top young players. In addition Girgensons, there's Matthew DeBlouw of the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Robert Baillargeon of the Indian Ice, goalie Jon Gillies of Indiana and defensemen Jordan Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers, Mike Matheson of Dubuque and Brian Cooper of the Fargo Force.

Here's a capsule look at a few other players considered to be first or second-round material when the NHL Draft is staged at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on June 22-23.
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Posted On Thursday, 01.19.2012 / 4:36 PM

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

Grigorenko could return to lineup on Tuesday

Top draft prospect Mikhail Grigorenko, who has missed the last four games for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League while recuperating from an ankle injury suffered at the 2012 World Junior Championship, is expected to make his anticipated return on Tuesday.

Remparts head coach Patrick Roy told local reporters that Grigorenko, who is ranked No. 2 among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, "seems fine."

"The goal has always been that he'll make his comeback [Jan. 24] in Chicoutimi," Roy said. Quebec has two more games on the schedule before meeting the Sagueneens on Jan. 24.

Grigorenko suffered his injury playing for silver medal-winning Team Russia at the WJC. During the second period of an eventual 14-0 victory over Latvia in the preliminary round, Grigorenko collided with Latvian defender Arturs Salija at the Russian blueline -- sending him to the ice in pain. He'd miss one game and finish the tournament with 2 goals, 5 points and a plus-2 rating in six appearances.

Despite not playing a period of hockey for the Remparts upon returning from the WJC, Grigorenko still stands 11th in scoring in the league with 58 points (25 goals) in 36 games.

Once he returns to the lineup, the 6-foot-3 1/4, 200-pound center will certainly command the attention of NHL scouts and general managers.

According to NHL Director of Central Scouting, Dan Marr, Grigorenko is not too far behind No. 1-ranked Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting in terms of natural talent. At the time of Central Scouting's midterm release, Marr told NHL.com that Yakupov and Grigorenko were 1-A and 1-B in his mind.

"Right now, Yakupov has shown, with the level that he's played, that he does have the ability to make a difference in the game," Marr told NHL.com at the time. "That's not saying that Grigorenko doesn't make a difference. Grigorenko controls the play, can dictate how the game is played when he's on the ice. But, right now, the consensus was Yakupov has the potential to be a difference-maker in a game. He can just turn a game around in a couple of shifts; he's that dynamic a player."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 5:45 PM

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

Mason to start for Jets vs. Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel will ride the hot hand between the pipes when his club pays a visit to Prudential Center to face the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

Chris Mason, who made 25 saves in a 2-0 victory against the Senators in Ottawa on Monday, will get a second straight start against the Devils less than 24 hours later. It will be Mason's third career start against New Jersey (1-1-0, 2.93 goals-against average, .902 save percentage).

"He's played great all year and he's been hot lately," Jets captain Andrew Ladd told NHL.com. "He feels confident in net and we feel confident in having him back there so it's great to see. He's one of those guys who works so hard every day and is just a consummate professional so to see him get this opportunity is fun for us to be a part of."

Winnipeg is 0-6-0 this season when playing the second game of back-to-backs, so Mason will certainly have his work cut out for him. For the season, Mason is 6-3-0 with a 1.99 GAA and .923 save percentage in 12 appearances. It marks the first time this season he'll get back-to-back starts.

"For me, Mason has played well," Noel said. "Why wouldn't I give him back-to-back starts? He's earned the right. Our job as coaches is to try and help players get better and succeed and it's a tough task for him. He's played one of every four or five games, and he has an opportunity to feed off of [Monday night's] win and play well. We're trying to help him and that's why he's getting the start."

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