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After strong finish, expectations high for Blue Jackets

Wednesday, 09.23.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Craig Merz - NHL.com Correspondent

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

COLUMBUS -- There are high expectations for the Columbus Blue Jackets after a strong finish to the 2014-15 season.

But even with a 12-0-1 finish, the Blue Jackets' 42-35-5 record left them nine points shy of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

"You can't just pick up where you left off," defenseman Kevin Connauton said. "But that run at the end of last year shows our potential."

Schenn's spot, Mason repeat among Flyers' X-factors

Wednesday, 09.23.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The biggest question surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers this season is how their new coach, Dave Hakstol, will handle the adjustment from NCAA hockey to the NHL.

Hakstol is the first coach to jump from the college ranks to the NHL without having played or coached in the League since the Calgary Flames hired Bob Johnson in 1982. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is confident Hakstol will be a success.

"I think Dave is a really good leader," Hextall said. "I think that's the biggest thing that our group is going to notice, his leadership skills. They're off the charts. From what I knew prior, watching him coach and watching him operate, the way he carries himself, his work ethic, he's very calm under pressure. He's got a lot of really good attributes. When I look at it, Dave was like a player in the draft. You're looking at a guy with potential. So when I looked at Dave it was no different than looking at a player we drafted in this past draft. You see his potential and you get excited."

Hakstol, Flyers hope to ride fast start to playoff berth

Wednesday, 09.23.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall believes the biggest reason the Flyers have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs two of the past three seasons is slow starts.

Last season, the Flyers started 1-3-2 and finished 14 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. In 2013-14, the Flyers started 1-7-0 but were able to make the playoffs. In 2012-13, they started 2-6-0 and finished six points out of a playoff spot.

"We need to really stamp the fact that we need to get off to a good start," Hextall said. "Holes are hard to climb out of. Two years ago we did, last year we didn't. It takes a lot of effort from your whole group. It takes a lot of emotional energy as well. … There's a lot of little things you can point to and say this is why. It's one of those things that quite honestly, why do 20 players play poorly for six or eight games? It's a hard one to answer."

Capitals set to entrust Kuznetsov with enhanced role

Tuesday, 09.22.2015 / 5:13 PM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

WASHINGTON -- Center Evgeny Kuznetsov is going to have to do his best Nicklas Backstrom impersonation to help the Washington Capitals start off strong this season.

Backstrom, the Capitals' longtime No. 1 center, is expected to miss at least a handful of games in October while he continues to recover from hip surgery he had in May. That means Kuznetsov is expected to be Washington's new No. 1 center for the time being, likely playing between Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie.

Team USA's Tortorella, Lombardi find quick chemistry

Tuesday, 09.22.2015 / 4:51 PM / World Cup of Hockey 2016

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

In all their years working in the NHL, Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi and John Tortorella never crossed paths. But when Lombardi, the GM for Team USA at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, approached Tortorella about being his coach, it didn't take long for a connection to form.

Tortorella was announced as coach for Team USA on Monday. He said Tuesday that after being asked to interview with Lombardi and his management staff, he put together notes for the initial meeting. Then he heard Lombardi speak at his introduction as Team USA GM in August and something clicked.

"I listened to him speak … and I looked at my notes and the bullet points I had, and I said I think we're thinking pretty similar," Tortorella said. "It's pretty neat for me. I just thought it was a good connection. In the time and process I've gone through with him, I think I've connected with him. It doesn't always happen that way."

Sabres' Eichel recalls star turn at '14 prospects game

Tuesday, 09.22.2015 / 4:27 PM / Prospects

Joe Yerdon - NHL.com Correspondent

BUFFALO -- The perspective on the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game has changed a lot in a year for Jack Eichel.

A year ago, Eichel arrived in Buffalo for the first time and won the Most Outstanding Player award in the 2014 game. Now he's trying to make the Buffalo Sabres roster and is helping to provide an example to future American players as they prepare for the 2015 All-American Prospects Game on Thursday at First Niagara Center (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US).

"It was really important for me," Eichel said about playing in the game. "Obviously this game is pretty highly touted and there's so many great prospects and great players here. I just wanted to come in here and have a good start to my year, and I think I did that. It was a great experience for me getting here, seeing a lot of my friends, and playing a game in front of thousands and thousands of people. It's a really exciting event to be a part of. These kids are really going to enjoy it; it's a night they're never going to forget."

Canucks' Cracknell hometown hero at Hockeyville

Tuesday, 09.22.2015 / 3:00 AM / Kraft Hockeyville

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VICTORIA, British Columbia -- Playing street hockey while growing up in Victoria, forward Adam Cracknell imagined scoring a lot of game-winning goals for the Vancouver Canucks one day.

On Monday, his dream came to fruition.

Wearing a Canucks jersey for the first time and playing in front of family and friends in his hometown as part of Kraft Hockeyville, Cracknell scored the only goal 1:39 into 3-on-3 overtime to lead the Canucks to a 1-0 preseason victory against the San Jose Sharks at Q Centre.

With his picture hanging from a minor hockey wall of fame in the concourse at the other end of the arena and an extra Canucks skater on the ice for a delayed penalty, Cracknell walked into the high slot and beat Sharks goalie Aaron Dell cleanly over the blocker.

Five Questions: Stamkos on Hedman, playoff success

Tuesday, 09.22.2015 / 3:00 AM / Five Questions With…

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Tampa Bay Lighting center Steven Stamkos:

TORONTO -- The questions are simple and direct. The answers leave room for debate and conjecture.

To Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos: Do you consider yourself a right wing or a center?

"I'm a natural center, have played center my whole life, so if the question is where am I more comfortable, I'm more comfortable playing center," Stamkos told NHL.com during the NHL's Player Media Tour earlier this month. "But I think I proved last year I could play both and still be effective."

To Lightning coach Jon Cooper: Is Stamkos going to play center or right wing?

"Steven has clearly played more at center than on the wing in his career so obviously he's more comfortable at center," Cooper said. "However, he just proved in the playoffs that he can excel on the wing. It's a great weapon as a coach to have players that can play both center and wing."

Analysis of 2015-16 NHL.com fantasy mock draft

Pete Jensen - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

The NHL preseason is underway and fans around the world are putting together their fantasy leagues, so we've created a simulation to help you be as prepared as possible for draft day.

NHL.com's fantasy staff of Matt Cubeta, Pete Jensen, Brian Metzer, David Satriano, Eric Goodman and Sean McCullen joined LNH.com's Sebastien Deschambault, Yahoo's Scott Pianowski and NHL.com's Brian Compton, Mike Morreale, Darryl Haberman and Thomas Imperato to participate in this 12-team mock draft. The league has 192 draftees and standard Yahoo scoring.

Below are the results of the simulation with commentary pertaining to the first eight rounds and observations for later rounds. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect every trend of this mock draft to translate to your league format, but we recommend using NHL.com's top 250 ranks, analysis stories, Yahoo average draft positions and this exercise to shape your draft-day decisions.

Eric Staal, Ward among Hurricanes' X-factors

Tuesday, 09.22.2015 / 3:00 AM / 2015-2016 Season Preview

Kurt Dusterberg - NHL.com Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes' six-year absence from the Stanley Cup Playoffs has led management to evaluate the long-term direction of the franchise. With a full season under their belts, general manager Ron Francis and coach Bill Peters will use 2015-16 to make a number of critical decisions.

Here are three X-factors that will have an impact on how quickly change occurs in Carolina:

The cornerstones -- Center Eric Staal and goaltender Cam Ward, the last remaining players from the Hurricanes' 2006 Stanley Cup-winning team, are entering the final seasons of long-term contracts. Their futures with the Hurricanes are unresolved. Each would like to remain, but Francis has explored trades for them during the past two summers.

Staal consistently reached the 70-point plateau for most of his career, but he's dropped to 61 and 54 points, respectively, the past two seasons.

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