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Panthers' Bjugstad learning how to succeed in NHL

Friday, 09.25.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Tim Wharnsby - Correspondent

TORONTO -- When the Florida Panthers acquired veteran Jaromir Jagr seven months ago to help their push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was a thrill of a lifetime for the young core of Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad, none of whom had been born when Jagr made his NHL debut.

The addition of Jagr was the latest piece in the organization's culture change since general manager Dale Tallon arrived on the scene five years ago.

Ownership switched hands to Vincent Viola in September 2013. Tallon brought in a new coach in Gerard Gallant, a top-tier goalie in Roberto Luongo, and Stanley Cup experience with gritty forwards David Boland and Shawn Thornton as well defenseman Willie Mitchell last summer.

Then, Jagr was acquired Feb. 26 in a trade with the New Jersey Devils for a second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and a 2016 third-round pick. He signed a one-year contract to return this season.

The 43-year-old Czech, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, immediately fit in on the ice alongside Barkov and Huberdeau.

But he also was a dressing-room sage for others like Bjugstad, who sat next to Jagr.

Stars hope added Cup experience keys playoff return

Friday, 09.25.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Steve Hunt - Correspondent continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams.

DALLAS -- After ending a five-season Stanley Cup Playoff drought, the Dallas Stars were expected to not only make it back to the postseason, but go on a run after being eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2014 Western Conference First Round.

However, the Stars missed the playoffs last season, finishing seven points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the final wild card in the West.

Dallas general manager Jim Nill made three key additions this summer, and all of them bring Stanley Cup rings. He acquired veteran left wing Patrick Sharp in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks and signed defenseman Johnny Oduya, another member of the 2015 Stanley Cup champions, as a free agent. Nill also acquired goaltender Antti Niemi from the San Jose Sharks; he won the Cup with the 2010 Blackhawks.

The pieces are in place, but it remains to be seen whether the Stars take the next step.

Penguins staffers excited for Hockeyville homecoming

Friday, 09.25.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015 Kraft Hockeyville

Kristen Nelson - Staff Writer

Chris Stewart and Dana Heinze stood in the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown, Pa., on May 2, anxiously awaiting the announcement as to which city was going to win the title of Kraft Hockeyville, USA.

Johnstown was one of 10 finalists for the first Kraft Hockeyville USA title, and Heinze, the head equipment manager for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Stewart, the Penguins' head athletic trainer, had a strong feeling their hometown had won.

They were right.

"Coming together as a community was the big thing that you saw throughout the whole process," Stewart said. "Once they got it, it was just a sense of pride in the community with the way they stood and really took action to get this game there."

Stewart and Heinze attended the announcement party after the Penguins' run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs ended with a loss in the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Rangers. But both are excited to return to Johnstown with their team when the Penguins play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Nichushkin, strong start are X-factors for Stars

Friday, 09.25.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Steve Hunt - Correspondent

DALLAS -- In the Dallas Stars' second season under coach Lindy Ruff, they increased their point total from 91 to 92; however, they found themselves going from a participant in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs to finishing sixth in the Central Division and 10th in the Western Conference, on the outside of the postseason picture for the sixth time in seven seasons.

With reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn, the dynamic Tyler Seguin and veteran Jason Spezza, the Stars certainly have the scoring talent for Ruff to guide them back to the playoffs.

Here are three X-factors that will help determine whether the Stars make the postseason:

Panthers' X-factors include culture change, Crouse

Friday, 09.25.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Alain Poupart - Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After being the most improved team in the NHL last season, the Florida Panthers are confident they can take the next step in 2015-16 and push their way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in more than a decade.

Here are three X-factors that will impact whether the Panthers will be able to accomplish their goal:

Panthers hoping mix of youth, Jagr leads to playoffs

Friday, 09.25.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Alain Poupart - Correspondent continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams.

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers made a run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season before falling short, but they're confident they can get over the hump with pretty much the same cast of characters.

What they believe could make the difference is having active NHL scoring leader Jaromir Jagr for an entire season and budding star center Nick Bjugstad back healthy after he missed the end of last season with a back injury.

The offseason featured more subtractions than additions for the Panthers, with the idea being to create space for some of their young prospects.

And in reality, there probably aren't enough openings to accommodate a large group of young players who could be ready to contribute at the NHL level.

"My opening statement (at the start of training camp) was we have 51 guys here, only 23 jobs," general manager Dale Tallon said. "And a lot of them are our own guys. We've got lots of guys for few jobs. So I said, do the math. We want the best team, the best players. We've got good young prospects that are first-year pros and we've got other guys coming, so it's starting to really come together."

McInnis scores winner in USA Hockey prospects game

Friday, 09.25.2015 / 12:05 AM / Prospects

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Former NHL forward Derek Plante finds it hard to believe that many of the most gifted American-born skaters in the crosshairs of NHL scouts and general managers also happen to be some of the largest.

Serving as one of the coaches in the fourth CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Thursday, Plante witnessed a few of those agile big skaters when the line of Logan Brown (6-foot-6, 223 pounds), left wing Max Jones (6-foot-2, 205) and right wing Willie Knierim (6-foot-3, 213) combined for three goals and four assists to help Team Plante to a 6-4 victory against Team Roenick at First Niagara Center.

"The only thing that slowed them down were the [television] timeouts, because when play got going, it was fun to watch," Plante said. "These guys were making plays. To have this skill at the size of some of these players is unbelievable. Many of the players that size when I played were a lot slower."

Rangers' Zuccarello to play first game since injury

Thursday, 09.24.2015 / 2:16 PM / NHL Insider

New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello is set to make his preseason debut Thursday against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.

Last season came to a scary end for Zuccarello when he was hit in the head by a shot from teammate Ryan McDonagh in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Zuccarello missed the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after sustaining a fractured skull and brain contusion that initially left him unable to speak for several days.

"I am happy to be here today and it's an exciting day for me to come back," Zuccarello told reporters according to Blueshirts United.

Roenick likes choice of Tortorella as Team USA coach

Thursday, 09.24.2015 / 2:12 PM / World Cup of Hockey 2016

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- USA Hockey made an excellent choice in hiring John Tortorella as coach of Team USA for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, former NHL player Jeremy Roenick said.

Roenick is serving as a coach for one of the teams in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at First Niagara Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN). USA Hockey announced Tortorella as coach on Monday.

"I was happy for him," Roenick said Thursday. "He was my assistant coach when I played for the Phoenix Coyotes, and I have a great relationship with him. I like that passion that he brings to the game. He wears his heart on his sleeve.

"Yes, he does get very verbal and is tough on players, but I like that type of coach. I like that type of motivator, and he deserves to be in hockey."

Sabres forward Akeson to have Player Safety hearing

Thursday, 09.24.2015 / 12:38 PM / Department of Player Safety News

Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Akeson will have a hearing Friday with the NHL Department of Player Safety for a hit on Ottawa Senators forward Colin Greening during a preseason game Wednesday.

Greening was hit by Akeson at approximately 7:49 of the third period. No penalty was assessed on the play. Greening left the game and did not return. Akeson received a five-minute fighting major for an altercation with Travis Ewanyk that occurred after the hit.

The following grounds are being considered for supplemental discipline: charging/illegal check to the head. However, the Department of Player Safety retains the right to make adjustments to the infraction upon review.

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Quote of the Day

It's an incredible feeling just to see it go in and see the Joe go pretty crazy.  Ever since the introduction there, I was kind of feeling the nerves, and to put that one home, I started to feel comfortable and I thought my play started to pick up.

— Nineteen-year-old Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin after scoring a goal in his NHL debut
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