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NHL Insider

Kucherov settles in, surges during second season

Tuesday, 03.03.2015 / 4:25 PM / NHL Insider

Corey Long - NHL.com Correspondent

TAMPA – Before Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov could enjoy the success he has had during his second season in the NHL, he had to go through the growing pains of being a rookie.

After scoring his first career NHL goal on his first shot, Kucherov's rookie season featured everything someone might expect a 20-year-old from Russia to go through. He had scoring droughts, he was the target of physical play and he dealt with the natural culture shock of being in a new place.

On the surface Kucherov's rookie season was a slight disappointment. He had nine goals and nine assists in 52 games. His struggles were magnified when he became a healthy scratch for two games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it was a valuable learning experience that he needed.

"He dealt with a lot of adversity as a rookie," Cooper said. "He took a lot of lumps and he learned some important lessons. He came out strong and I think he felt like he was going to score all the time, and that's the mentality of most scorers. But it didn't happen and he had to learn how to create opportunities for himself and a big part of that was improving his play without the puck."

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Flames' Gaudreau relishes homecoming, facing Flyers

Tuesday, 03.03.2015 / 3:50 PM / NHL Insider

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

PHILADELPHIA -- The stands were crowded with fans and media, watching every shot, every pass, every lap on the ice turned by Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau on Tuesday.

And that was just for the morning skate.

Gaudreau has been the center of attention since Saturday when the Flames arrived in Philadelphia. The 21-year-old grew up just across the Delaware River in Carneys Point, N.J., and the rookie's return to the Delaware Valley has seen him treated like a hero.

"It's been exciting getting the chance to come home," Gaudreau said after the Flames morning skate Tuesday. "I think this is one of the biggest breaks we've had in our season throughout the whole season [and] I'm fortunate it's here in Philly where I get to go home and get home-cooked meals and sleep in my own bed. See my little sister who I haven't seen, see my older sister who is due in a couple days for her first kid. Just a great time to be home right now."

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Leopold joins Wild, discusses daughter's letter

Tuesday, 03.03.2015 / 2:20 PM / NHL Insider

Dan Myers - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- New Minnesota Wild defenseman Jordan Leopold has had an emotional 24 hours. It will be capped off Tuesday when Leopold makes his debut with his hometown Wild against the Ottawa Senators at Xcel Energy Center.

"This is up there. This is home to me and this is pretty special," Leopold said. "I got the phone call [Monday] from [Columbus Blue Jackets general manager] Jarmo [Kekalainen] and didn't know what to make of it. I've always dreamed of it and knew it was possible, but the fact that it becomes reality tonight is something special."

Leopold met his family at the airport Monday night, where he said he had an emotional reunion with his wife Jamie and four children.

His oldest daughter Jordyn, who turns 11 next month, has become a national sensation for the letter she wrote to Minnesota Wild coaches in January, asking them to trade for her father so he could come home.

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Zuccarello, Rangers excited forward is staying put

Tuesday, 03.03.2015 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello is happy he'll have the chance to remain "home."

The 27-year-old right wing had been on pins and needles all weekend after reports surfaced of a possible trade in the works as general manager Glen Sather looked to upgrade his team for the stretch run of the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Discussions with Zuccarello's agent, Don Meehan, on a new contract had slowed and Sather at the time began exploring his options with the NHL Trade Deadline slated for Monday at 3 p.m. ET. The Norwegian forward was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and Sather had no intentions of losing his top-line player for nothing.

The trade never happened, however, and Zuccarello on Monday agreed to terms with the Rangers on a reported four-year contract worth $18 million for an annual average salary cap charge of $4.5 million. The deal also included a full no-trade clause in the first season (2015-16), according to Northjersey.com.

"I am glad that it worked out, he is a young player that is only in his first couple years in the NHL," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's a very competitive player and highly skilled and is only going to get better. I'm very happy we have him locked up for the next four years."

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Leopold's daughter asked for trade to Wild in letter

Monday, 03.02.2015 / 8:26 PM / NHL Insider

NHL.com

Maybe Jordyn Leopold has a future in hockey management.

A handwritten letter from the 11-year-old daughter of Jordan Leopold to the Minnesota Wild coaching staff surfaced Monday shortly after the defenseman was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Wild.

The Wild added Leopold, a Golden Valley, Minn., native, from the Blue Jackets for defenseman Justin Falk and a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I didn’t even know she wrote it," her mom Jamie Leopold told KFAN radio in Minneapolis. "She left it on the counter, went to school one day, and I read it and just started bawling."

Jordyn Leopold's letter was a plea for the Wild to start winning more games (it was sent before goaltender Devan Dubnyk arrived and Minnesota became one of the hottest teams in the NHL), because her father was lonely in Ohio without her, her mother and her three siblings.

"My dad is very [lonely] without his family," Jordyn Leopold wrote. "We are living in Minnesota right now and I am lost without my dad and so is my mom, my two sisters and my brother."

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Small deadline moves reveal confidence of Islanders

Monday, 03.02.2015 / 7:25 PM / NHL Insider

Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- Judging by the smiles and the lack of nerves at Islanders Iceworks on Monday, one never would have known it was a few hours away from the NHL Trade Deadline.

It felt like a routine practice for the New York Islanders, who skated for about an hour before heading to the airport to board a flight to Dallas, where they will begin a four-game road trip Tuesday.

One could understand why the Islanders seemed so relaxed. They entered Monday with 41 wins and were atop the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the New York Rangers.

"We're really excited about the group we have in here," defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "... If (general manager) Garth [Snow] decides to do something, it's not up to us.

"We're certainly a very tight-knit group. A big group of us have been together for a long time now. We've been through some of the down years and it's certainly been a lot of fun winning together and it's been a good atmosphere around this room (this season).

"I understand there's decisions to be made, [but] it doesn't necessarily come into our minds. Obviously it's done for us, but we hope we can do something really special with this group."

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Vokoun returns to Nashville, reflects on career

Sunday, 03.01.2015 / 11:05 AM / NHL Insider

Robby Stanley - NHL.com Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- Longtime NHL goaltender Tomas Vokoun returned to Nashville this past week to be honored after spending eight seasons as a member of the Nashville Predators from 1998-2007.

Vokoun was honored by Nashville during its game Thursday against the Minnesota Wild and participated in an alumni game against the Detroit Red Wings alumni following Nashville’s game against Detroit on Saturday. Vokoun led Nashville’s alumni to a 9-8 shootout win.

Vokoun played in 700 games in 15 seasons before deciding to retire this past December. While there are some aspects of being an NHL player that he said he misses, Vokoun doesn’t have any regrets about making the decision to retire.

“When I was retiring, two things happened,” Vokoun said. “I still felt like I could have played at a high level, but I also understood the role I would have or the opportunities I had in the market, where I would kind of stand. I thought it was work for me to leave my family for eight months and being the guy who’s maybe a few months here and a few months there.

“Truthfully I’m not sure what my answer should be. I do not miss playing. I think I miss a lot of parts of being a hockey player and being with the guys every day and the comradery, traveling and all that. I do not miss dressing up every day and getting hit with the puck 700 times. When things aren’t going well, obviously a lot of pressure and stuff like that. I don’t have that now. I have different kinds of pressures.”

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NHL teams learning from other sports at Sloan

Sunday, 03.01.2015 / 3:00 AM / NHL Insider

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Most hockey fans probably have no idea who Michael Niemeyer is. Many of them probably do know who Shane Battier is.

Niemeyer is the head of match analysis for FC Bayern, one of the most successful soccer clubs in the world. Battier played in the NBA for 13 seasons after a decorated college career at Duke and now works for ESPN.

They were among the featured panelists at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and though it might not seem like they have anything to do with hockey, at this two-day event they can. The conference, in its ninth year, has grown into a massive gathering of analytically-inclined minds from all types of sports.

"It is great. I've been coming here for five years," Washington Capitals assistant general manager Don Fishman said. "It just opens your eyes to what people are doing in other sports, what they're doing, what the themes and trends are. As you can see, the conference has grown immensely in popularity. For our sport in particular, there's not that much content. It is growing, but it is a great eye-opener."

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Jagr finds 'new motivation' in debut with Panthers

Saturday, 02.28.2015 / 7:47 PM / NHL Insider

Alain Poupart - NHL.com Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Wearing a T-shirt and a smile, Jaromir Jagr talked about his Florida Panthers debut in an interview room at BB&T Center that hadn't been used since the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Jagr didn't have a storybook first game with the Panthers (he was held off the scoresheet against the Buffalo Sabres in a 5-3 win), but all that mattered to him was the result.

"I wish I could score, but it doesn't matter. We won," Jagr said. "It's new motivation. When you come to a new team, you just want the first game to be a victory and I'm happy about that."

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Dubas explains value of hockey analytics at Sloan

Saturday, 02.28.2015 / 5:50 PM / NHL Insider

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Kyle Dubas was putting the finishing touches on his list of prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft when he noticed a troubling trend.

The ones who played in the IIHF World Junior Championship were, relatively speaking, ranked higher than similar prospects who did not. Dubas found this to be a form of bias, something he was desperately trying to weed out of his rankings.

"Does playing in the world juniors at 17 make you a better prospect than someone that doesn't?" Dubas said during his presentation of "How Analytics has Limited the Impact of Cognitive Bias on Personnel Decisions" at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. "I don't think so. I think we know that from years of going through and measuring at different points."

Dubas, whose hire as an assistant general manager by the Toronto Maple Leafs was the highlight of the NHL's "Summer of Analytics" in 2014, spoke for more than 20 minutes Saturday about his experiences as general manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

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Quote of the Day

For six months, it's a really good accomplishment. But as soon as April [11, the end of the regular season] comes around, no one thinks about the regular season anymore. For six months, it's a real battle to get into the playoffs in the NHL these days. There are a lot of good teams, and it takes consistency over a long time.

— Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau after a win against the Islanders on Saturday clinched a playoff berth for Anaheim
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