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Features

Stastny fitting in with hometown St. Louis Blues

Sunday, 03.22.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL Insider

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- Paul Stastny entered the summer of 2014 with a choice, one that would affect his immediate NHL future.

When that choice involved a chance to go home for the 29-year-old Quebec City native who lived most of his childhood in St. Louis because his Hall of Fame father (Peter Stastny) played his final two NHL seasons with the St. Louis Blues, Stastny was excited about the next chapter in his life.

But after signing a four-year, $28 million contract with St. Louis on July 1, there were naturally expectations to live up to, most of which would come from those judging from the outside. Those expectations come with the territory when you're arguably the biggest free-agent center on the market.

Through 64 games in his first season with the Blues, Stastny had 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists), or 0.66 points per game, which is below his career average of 0.85 entering this season. But to those on the inside, particularly Stastny's teammates, coaches, and management, his performance has been on the rise just in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Stastny enters the Blues' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings [Noon ET; NBC, SN360] sixth on the team in scoring. In 2013-14, his final season with the Colorado Avalanche, he had 25 goals, the most since scoring 28 in his rookie season, and 60 points in 71 games.

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Sunday Long Read: Kelowna develops defensemen

Sunday, 03.22.2015 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The murals on the walls of Prospera Place, home of the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, are striking for their size and the stories they tell.

They trace a genealogy of winning; the Rockets have made the WHL playoffs 18 times in 20 years in Kelowna, won the championship three times, played in four Memorial Cup tournaments (they're one of five teams since 1972 to play in three straight (2003-05)), and won the Memorial Cup in 2004.

Along the way, the Rockets, led by owner/general manager Bruce Hamilton and assistant GM Lorne Frey, have produced an alumni list full of well-known NHL players.

Among them are 11 defensemen who opened the 2014-15 season on an NHL roster, more than any junior or European development program.

If the Penn State University football team is known as Linebacker U., then the Kelowna Rockets could be called the Cradle of Defensemen.

"Maybe Lorne Frey has some special thing going on up there," said Scott Hannan, a San Jose Sharks defenseman and Kelowna alum. "He knows where to draft. … They're just smart hockey guys. And I think when you see that, and to be able to have good coaching staffs and a good facility to train the right way, you've seen that [NHL development] with the defensemen especially. They've been able to develop some really, really good defensemen.

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Lorne Frey chief pilot for Rockets

Sunday, 03.22.2015 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League had 11 defensemen on NHL opening-night rosters this season, each featuring a unique skill set.

There's the all-around brilliance of Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, the offensively gifted Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche, and defensive-minded Scott Hannan of the San Jose Sharks.

The common denominator among all of them is 64-year-old Kelowna assistant general manager Lorne Frey, a scout so dedicated to the business he might have some coffee in his blood stream.

"I hired him before we had control of the expansion franchise," Kelowna owner and general manager Bruce Hamilton said. "He's as close to me as anybody is. We don't make any decisions without both of us being involved.

"At the end of the day, my say is the last one, but generally we both agree before we come to that. We've been doing it that way for 20-some years now."

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Kings prospect Miller continuing breakout season

Friday, 03.20.2015 / 2:12 PM / AHL Update

Kinsey Janke - Special to NHL.com

Colin Miller hasn't yet finished his second season with the Manchester Monarchs, but he's already written himself into the American Hockey League history book.

During the AHL All-Star event in Utica, N.Y., the 22-year-old defenseman fired a 105.5 mph shot during the AHL All-Star Skills Competition, the hardest shot in the event's 20-year history.

"I had never done anything like that before so I was really kind of going into the whole thing blind and just trying to really not embarrass myself too much," Miller said. "I was happy when I hit the net and had a really good time at the entire event."

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Lightning D-man Stralman effective in many roles

Friday, 03.20.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL Insider

Corey Long - NHL.com Correspondent

TAMPA -- When defenseman Anton Stralman signed a five-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on the opening day of NHL free agency last July, he did so with the hopes of becoming a top-pair defenseman.

Nine months later, Stralman has exceeded expectations in many ways. He has played in all 71 games and held the Lightning blue line together when it was dealing with injuries to Victor Hedman, Matthew Carle and recently acquired Braydon Coburn.

It's the opportunity that Stralman, a 28-year-old native of Tibro, Sweden, has embraced. He has remained a steady presence on defense and become a valuable part of the power play. He has matched a career high with 34 points (six goals) and is plus-20 averaging about 22 minutes a game.

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Barrie improving his defensive game for Avalanche

Friday, 03.20.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL Insider

Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent

DENVER -- Like most young defensemen, Tyson Barrie struggles at times in his end. But he's improved so much since the beginning of the season that Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy no longer considers him to be a defensive liability.

"It can be tough," Barrie said. "Earlier, I was having some problems with it. It's something you work on, watching video and working with the coaches. The offensive instincts, you don't want to mess with those too much. You learn, try not to be reckless. It's something I'll need to focus on my whole career."

Barrie, 23, has the offensive part down. A fluid skater and puck-handler, he has five goals and 10 assists in his past 14 games and is among the NHL's top-scoring defensemen with 11 goals and 35 assists (46 points) in 68 games.

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Super 16: Second place in '15 draft not bad place to be

Friday, 03.20.2015 / 3:00 AM / Super 16: NHL Power Rankings

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

Connor McDavid's credentials to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft are beyond reproach. The sensational center for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League is one of the most-hyped prospects of the past 25 years, reaching a level only Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby and maybe John Tavares have.

Jack Eichel's resume is also pretty great. The freshman forward at Boston University is also one of the best prospects to enter the draft of the past quarter century. He'd have a chance to go No. 1 in any of the seasons since Tavares was picked in 2009, but he's likely destined to be the second half of the "McEichel" sweepstakes.

Craig Custance from ESPN.com recently wrote about the astronomical price another team would have to pay if whoever gets the No. 1 pick would consider moving it and passing on the chance to add McDavid. One general manager, Tim Murray of the Buffalo Sabres, told Custance on the record he'd try to trade for the No. 1 pick if the Sabres end up in the No. 2 spot.

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Fantasy top 30 goalies: Future is now for Gibson

Thursday, 03.19.2015 / 12:00 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

Evan Sporer - NHL.com Staff Writer

Every Thursday during the season, NHL.com's Evan Sporer will provide you with in-depth analysis of goaltenders. From updated weekly top-30 rankings to trending players and more, Sporer will be your go-to guy for advice on fantasy goalies all season long.

John Gibson was always the future when it came to the Anaheim Ducks' crease. The only question was, when would the future arrive?

Gibson burst onto the scene last season, a highly touted second-round pick (No. 39) from the 2011 NHL Draft who won two gold medals playing for United States junior teams in international competitions.

The rookie did not disappoint, winning his first start via an 18-save shutout against the Vancouver Canucks, and then winning his first postseason start -- another shutout -- against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

Going into this season, Anaheim had a good problem on its goalie depth chart. Gibson and Frederik Andersen each figured to compete for minutes, only an injury in November kept Gibson out for an extended period, then landed him in the American Hockey League with Andersen playing so well.

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Goalie Darling delivers to power surging Blackhawks

Thursday, 03.19.2015 / 11:45 AM / Top Performer

NHL.com

His Chicago Blackhawks facing the second of a back-to-back set against the top team in the NHL, coach Joel Quenneville decided to start rookie goalie Scott Darling over Corey Crawford against the New York Rangers on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Crawford is 6-0-1 with a 1.13 goals-against average and .964 save percentage in his past seven games but also made 38 saves Tuesday in a win against the New York Islanders at United Center.

Starting his first game in three weeks, Darling vindicated Quenneville's decision with 25 saves in a 1-0 win against the Rangers to give Chicago its fourth straight victory for the first time since winning eight straight in late November-early December.

Darling is 7-3-0 with a 1.96 GAA, .936 save percentage and his first NHL shutout.

"I'm just thrilled; it's an amazing stage to [get a shutout] at Madison Square Garden," Darling said. "It feels great to just get back in the net and do my job. This is one of the most famous arenas in the world against one of the most iconic jerseys there is. An 'Original Six' matchup on the NBC Sports Network; you really can't ask for much more."

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Unmasked: Remarkable journey for Rangers' Skapski

Thursday, 03.19.2015 / 10:43 AM / Unmasked

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Mackenzie Skapski had just won his first NHL start, but there was something the rookie goalie for the New York Rangers needed to do before the celebrations could start in earnest.

Skapski, 20, called home to share the moment with his parents. It was a conversation that left Skapski's father, Denis, a wreck.

"He was pretty happy when I talked to him, and then my mom told me later that he got pretty emotional afterward," Skapski said, noting the uncharacteristic display of emotion from his dad had other family members asking what was wrong. "I've never seen him like that personally. My mom said the only other time she's seen him like that was my bus accident."

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Quote of the Day

I have been blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL; it has been an amazing ride. I would like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers organizations and owners for providing me the opportunity to play the sport I love for so many years. I could have never played for so long or accomplished all that I have without the unwavering love and support from my wife, Heather, our three sons, Ryan, Lucas, and Mason, and my parents.

— Martin St. Louis after announcing his retirement from the NHL on Thursday