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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 11:13 AM

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

Halifax forward Martin Frk has regained confidence

After sitting out the first 29 games of the regular season and missing the 2012 World Junior Championships with concussion-like symptoms, Halifax Mooseheads right wing Martin Frk has regained his confidence.

Frk, who has 10 goals and 17 points in 24 matches with the Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is ranked No. 25 on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top draft eligible North American skaters.

He had 22 goals and 50 points in 62 games as a QMJHL rookie last season and 4 goals and 2 assists in three pre-season games in August before his injury.

First-year Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme, who might very well have the best draft-eligible prospect for 2013 on his roster in rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon, said Frk has been symptom-free since his return to the lineup.  

"I think we should see the best of him in the playoffs," Ducharme told NHL.com. "That's where we're going to see him playing at 100 percent. I don't think his injury is playing any role in his head though.

"He's not tentative and not playing in a way not to get hit. He's 100 percent back from his concussion and he's showing no signs that it bothers him physically."
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 10:03 AM

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

Nail Yakupov heating up for Sarnia

There's no question Sarnia Sting right wing Nail Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, has scored plenty of highlight-reel goals in his two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.

But Sunday's marker in a 6-2 victory over the Canadian Hockey League's top team, the London Knights, may have surpassed all others.

With Sarnia holding a 4-2 lead midway through the third period, Yakupov collected the puck at his own blueline, curled London forward Andreas Athanasiou before speeding up ice and bringing a crowd of 5,100 to the edge of their seats in anticipation.

It was Yakupov's first home game since Dec. 11, as he had been sidelined by a knee and wrist injuries suffered at various points throughout the season.
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 1:10 PM

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

Selanne still having fun, producing for Ducks

NEWARK, N.J. -- How well the Anaheim Ducks close out the season will not only determine their playoff fate, but perhaps the career of 41-year-old Teemu Selanne.
 
"Over the last six years, I've always tried not to think about what my plan would be at the end of the regular season," Selanne told the media following his team's practice at Prudential Center on Friday. "I think there are times when you get the whole picture after the season … how much you really enjoy it and how your body feels. Then it's the right time to make a decision. So far I've really enjoyed the game and enjoy coming to the rink every morning."
 
There's no question Selanne is having fun, now that the Ducks have reeled off five wins over their last six games to move within eight points of eighth-seeded Los Angeles in the Western Conference standings.
 
"You know what, I enjoy this hockey way more now than when I was younger," he said with a huge grin. "Obviously, you start to appreciate what you have and appreciate that you can do some things that you love to do. When you get to the end of the road, you know that you have to enjoy every game and I think it's a great feeling.
 
"If I was able to enjoy the game more when I was younger, as I do now, that would have been unbelievable."
 
Selanne's next goal will move him past Brendan Shanahan and into sole possession of 12th place on the all-time NHL list. In a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, Selanne scored his 19th goal of the season and the 656th of his career to become the fifth player in League history to score 50 goals after turning 40-years-old.
 
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he joins Gordie Howe (113), Johnny Bucyk (61), Mark Recchi (60) and Mark Messier (51).
 
"I'm surprised with how good I still feel," he said. "It's not easy to compete on this level, at this age, but most of the nights I feel great so that's why I'm still around and enjoy this game. There's a lot of things you have to do better and concentrate on, so I think the recovery time is the biggest thing."
 
Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa, 22, hopes his recovery time is as good as Selanne's when he turns 40.
 
"Why is he still so good?" Sbisa said. "He's a guy everyone looks up to no matter if you’re 20- or 38-years-old ... you still look up to this guy. He's done everything possible in this League and just the passion he still has for this game is incredible. The guy works his tail off every game, every night, so you have to make sure you keep up with him. He's still one of the fastest guys out on the ice every game."
 
Here are the projected lineups for the Ducks:
 
Jason Blake - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Nick Bonino - Andrew Cogliano
Niklas Hagman - Rod Pelley - George Parros
 
Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa - Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank
 
Jonas Hiller will make his 17th straight start in goal, with Jeff Deslauriers serving as backup.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 11:51 AM

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

Palmieri back in lineup for Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Amidst all the rumors of a potential trade in the works for Minnesota Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky, the Devils went to work Friday morning at Prudential Center in preparation for the surging Anaheim Ducks.
 
The Ducks were 20 points out of eighth place Jan. 6, but have gone 14-2-3 in 19 games since and are in the hunt for a playoff berth. New Jersey, meanwhile, is 6-1-1 in their last eight games.
 
"They're a dynamic team and their best players have been their best players lately," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said of the Ducks. "That's why they're winning."
 
With the exception of rookie defenseman Adam Larsson, who is dealing with a bruised lower back, all active players on the Devils' roster were participants during Friday's morning skate.
 
The Devils recalled forward Nick Palmieri from the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on Tuesday and he'll be in the lineup Friday. Palmieri, who last was in the lineup Jan. 14 against Winnipeg, will begin the game on the fourth line, with center Jacob Josefson and Eric Boulton.
 
"We just want him to come in and play that regular role," DeBoer said. "We don't need a top-six power-play forward right now … we might need in that role down the road, but we need him coming off the bench with energy. I want him to be a player who's hard to play against, who's hard on the puck. A lot like (Steve) Bernier and (Alexei) Ponikarovsky have done for us."
 
One player leading the surge offensively for the Devils recently has been Ilya Kovalchuk, who recorded his 12th career hat trick and first as a Devil on Tuesday in a victory against the Buffalo Sabres. Kovalchuk has 13 goals and 26 assists in his last 17 games, 10 of which have been multi-point games.
 
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
 
Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - David Clarkson
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Dainius Zubrus - Steve Bernier
Eric Boulton - Jacob Josefson - Nick Palmieri
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Anton Volchenkov
Matt Taormina - Kurtis Foster
 
Martin Brodeur will get the start in goal, with Johan Hedberg serving as backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 3:11 PM

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

Grigorenko compared to two big legends

The closer we get to the 2012 NHL Draft, the more fans will want to know which Russian forward will be the first off the board -- Sarnia's Nail Yakupov of the Ontario Hockey League or Quebec's Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

While the odds are squarely in the corner of Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau wouldn't at all be surprised if Grigorenko gets the nod. Many draft pundits have compared Grigorenko with Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin, but Bordeleau offered another interesting take.

"Mikhail doesn't possess the speed of Malkin, but do you remember Alexander Yakushev, the big center on the Russian team from the 1972 Summit Series?" Bordeleau asked.

Yakushev, nicknamed 'The Big Yak', led the Soviets in scoring against Team Canada in the famous '72 Summit Series with 7 goals and 11 points. His goal total tied him with Canada's Phil Esposito and Paul Henderson for the tournament lead.

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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 11:12 AM

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

Kelowna's Colton Sissons suffers concussion

Might as well add Kelowna Rockets captain Colton Sissons to the long list of coveted 2012 draft prospects suffering from injury or illness this season.

According Dubnation Magazine, Sissons will be sidelined at least one month with a concussion.

The 6-foot-1, 189-pound forward, who is NHL Central Scouting's No. 14-ranked skater in North America, is first in goals (26) and second in points (41) for the Rockets this season. He also has a team-leading 13 power-play goals, and has produced two shorthanded goals.

Sissons was injured in the team's 3-2 loss to the Kamloops Blazers on Feb. 11 at Prospera Place in Kelowna.

There are some scouts who feel Sissons might just be the best two-way forward available in the upcoming draft.

"I definitely look up to a guy like Ryan Kesler," Sissons told NHL.com at the 2012 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1. "I like watching Mike Richards also. I like those type of guys who are reliable in their own zone and put up numbers in the offensive zone. They're always working and they're always moving their feet. Kesler and Richards are definitely guys I look up to and want to be like one day in the NHL."

Sissons said he could be put in any situation on the ice.

"I could pretty much play any position … wing or center," he said. "I'd prefer center, no doubt about that, but I've been adjusting to wing a lot in my career."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 9:19 AM

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

Yakupov scores first shorthanded goal

The wrist injury that forced Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov from the third period on Saturday, didn't keep him sidelined very long.

Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, scored two goals and was the only player of six to score in a shootout when the Sting earned a 7-6 victory over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Sunday.

Yakupov returned to the Sting lineup on Saturday and scored a goal in a 5-3 loss to the Sudbury Wolves, but suffered a wrist injury in the third period that forced him to the dressing room.

Yakupov was given a two-game suspension for skipping the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1 in Kelowna, B.C. He returned to the lineup on Saturday.

Despite playing with what the team deemed a "sore wrist" on Sunday, Yakupov appeared to be his usually effective self.

"Ryan [Spooner] and Nail took over in the third period and they couldn't be stopped [against the Greyhounds]," Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu told Dave Borody of sarniasting.com

Yakupov pulled Sarnia into a 6-6 tie at 18:29 of the third when he connected for his first shorthanded goal in two seasons with the Sting. Yakupov is 21st in the Ontario Hockey League with 59 points, including 25 goals this season, in 31 games.

Following a scoreless overtime, Yakupov scored the only goal of the shootout to give the Sting the win.

Sarnia will next visit Guelph on Friday before traveling to Saginaw on Saturday. The Sting will then return home to host London on Feb. 20 at RBC Centre.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 7:29 AM

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

Yakupov suffers wrist injury in return to lineup

Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, returned to the lineup on Saturday after serving a two-game suspension but would ultimately return to the dressing room with a wrist injury.

Yakupov, who did score his 23rd goal of the season in a 5-3 loss to the Sudbury Wolves, apparently suffered his ailment in the third period.

 "He’s got a bad wrist and couldn’t finish the game," said Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. We don’t know if he can play in Sault Ste. Marie [on Sunday].”

Yakupov had been sidelined the previous two games for skipping the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1 in Kelowna, B.C.

The extent of the injury to Yakupov, who has 23 goals and 33 assists in 30 games, was unknown after the Saturday's game.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 1:30 PM

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

Langenbrunner set for first game back in New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. -- St. Louis Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner said he has no idea what type of reception he'll receive on Thursday when he makes his first appearance at Prudential Center since being dealt by New Jersey Devils last year.
 
But he does admit to being a tad nervous.
 
"It feels a little weird coming back for the team you played for, and obviously I was here for a lot of years, but it's good to come back," Langenbrunner told the media following his team's practice on Thursday morning. "It's a little weird walking through the [visitor's] door instead of the other one."
 
Not only was the ex-Devils captain a key member of New Jersey's Stanley Cup run in 2003, leading the League with 11 goals and 18 points in 24 playoff games, but Langenbrunner was also a popular member of the team's "ZZ Pop" line alongside current captain Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. He said he went out to dinner with Parise on Wednesday before speaking to a few former teammates on Thursday.
 
Langenbrunner played 564 regular-season games in New Jersey spanning seven-plus seasons from 2001-02 to 2010-11, producing 142 goals, 243 assists and 385 points. Jason Arnott, who spent parts of four-plus seasons in New Jersey and was dealt to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline last year, will sit out Thursday's game with a sore shoulder.
 
"I think of all of all the good things that happened while I was here," Langenbrunner said. "The friendships you made and successes you had. I really enjoyed my time in New Jersey and am proud to have played for this organization."
 
Langenbrunner was traded to the Dallas Stars last Jan. 6 before signing a one-year deal with the Blues over the summer.
 
"It's been great and I've really enjoyed my time [in St. Louis]," Langenbrunner said. "I didn't know a whole lot about it, to be honest with you. I played in [New Jersey] so long that you don't pay too much attention to the team's out west, but I've really enjoyed it. Obviously, since [Ken Hitchcock] has come in, we've given ourselves a chance.
 
"He's brought experience and calm to the bench. He brings a simplified way of playing the game and everyone has brought into that and has enjoyed playing for him."
 
The feeling is mutual.
 
"Langer and [Jason Arnott] have been valuable pieces for what we need," Hitchcock said. "In those competitive games, Jamie has been a very competitive player. The harder the opposition plays, he recognizes that and his experience and competitiveness just takes over; he dials it up and it drags other people into the fight. I think when you have a young team that suddenly finds the opposition dialing up the checking, they might get overwhelmed, but Jamie and Arnott have helped us plow through it."
 
Forward T.J. Oshie has also benefitted from Langenbrunner's presence.
 
"I think he brings that hard work ethic," he said. "Langer never takes a shift off, he doesn't complain about anything. He doesn't complain about ice time and just goes out there and plays hard when he gets his minutes. I think that's an inspiration to us younger guys to keep playing hard."
 
In other news, Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal and Brian Elliott will get the nod at home against Colorado on Saturday.
 
Also, the Blues recalled 21-year-old Russian forward Evgeny Grachev from their American Hockey affiliate in Peoria on Wednesday. Grachev has played in 24 games for the Blues this season, notching 1 goal and 4 points. In 13 games for the Rivermen, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Grachev had 2 goals and 5 points.
 
Grachev was acquired by the Blues from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2011 third-round draft choice (Steven Fogarty) last June.
 
"He was really good when we had him from a checking standpoint, but in Peoria, we wanted him to be more assertive offensively and he was," Hitchcock said. "Rather then being a guy who deferred to other people, we wanted him to kind of put the puck in his hip pocket and drive to the net and he did that. He's a trusted defensive player, but we think there's a lot more he can do offensively if he uses his body to take the puck to the net."
 
Here's the projected lineup for the Blues:
 
Jamie Langenbrunner - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Chris Porter - Vladimir Sobotka - Evgeny Grachev
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves
 
Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Kris Russell - Roman Polak
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
 
Jaroslav Halak will get the start in net and Brian Elliott will serve as backup.

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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 11:42 AM

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

Hedberg starts as Devils go for six straight

NEWARK, N.J. -- Johan Hedberg will make his first start in three games on Thursday when the surging New Jersey Devils play host to the red-hot St. Louis Blues at Prudential Center.
 
The Devils are looking to build upon a season-high five-game winning streak while the Blues enter the game having earned 22 of a possible 24 points against teams from the East this season.
 
The 38-year-old veteran has won six of his last eight decisions -- the last coming on Saturday in a 6-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. For the season, Hedberg is 13-7-1 with two shutouts, a 2.52 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
 
The decision comes two days after Martin Brodeur twisted his right ankle in a shutout victory over the New York Rangers. Brodeur didn't practice with the team on Wednesday but did return to the ice for the team's optional skate on Thursday.
 
"If it's a playoff game, he probably starts, but we want to do the right thing long term here," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We have to emotionally re-engage here and be ready to go."
 
Four of the Devils' five victories during their current run have come against teams currently holding postseason spots in the East. The steak began with a 4-3 shootout win over the East-leading New York Rangers on Jan. 31.
 
It isn't known if Brodeur will serve as Hedberg's backup, but the team did recall goalie Jeff Frazee from Albany of the AHL.
 
"I'm capable of coming in and playing if need be," Brodeur said.
 
"He looked pretty good in practice," DeBoer said of Brodeur. "I'll sit down with [Devils GM] Lou [Lamoriello] and we'll see how [Brodeur] feels when he gets off the bike and has done his workout."
 
Meanwhile, defenseman Adam Larsson, who will miss his fourth straight game with a bruised lower back, is progressing nicely according to DeBoer.
 
"He's getting better and did some light exercise [Thursday morning]," DeBoer said. "All the results on him have been negative, so it's just a matter of time."
 
DeBoer also said that while wing David Clarkson did not participate in the morning skate, he will suit up Thursday against the Blues. Clarkson, who is having a career-season with 21 goals and 30 points, was the only healthy player not to participate at Thursday's skate.
 
Here are the projected lineups for Tuesday game for the Devils:
 
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - Steve Bernier
Eric Boulton - Jacob Josefson - Cam Janssen
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Anton Volchenkov
Matt Taormina - Kurtis Foster
 
Johan Hedberg gets the start; either Martin Brodeur (ankle) or Jeff Frazee will serve as backup.
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Quote of the Day

You know what? We've played in some pretty special buildings along this playoff run so far. You start in Detroit, you go to Montreal, you come here … I think it's the first team to beat three Original Six teams to get to the Final if I'm not mistaken. That says how tough the road has been. Those are tough places to win.

— Lightning forward Steven Stamkos after Game 7 win vs. Rangers on Friday in New York