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Hradek: Doughty, Crosby, '11 draft picks making news

by EJ Hradek
It's Flash Friday! Here are several headlines, with some puck thoughts on each.

FLASH: Late Thursday, the Kings finally signed elite young defenseman Drew Doughty to a new contract. The details: eight years, $56 million, for an annual cap hit of $7 million.

Kings management wasted most of the summer insisting they wouldn't do a new deal with Doughty that exceeded the $6.8 million cap hit of top center Anze Kopitar. I guess they didn't really mean it.

If they were willing to do this deal, they should've done it in July or August, or even early September. Then, Doughty wouldn't have to play catch-up after missing the first two weeks of training camp. Too often, the guys who miss camp time end up getting some type of injury as they try to make up for lost time. Maybe that won't happen to Doughty, but the length of these negotiations was a waste of everyone's time.

EJ's Instant Analysis

Every Tuesday and Friday, analyst EJ Hradek shares his take on all the offseason news.

In the bigger picture, the Kings have their No. 1 defenseman locked in long-term. The two sides can put these talks behind them and get back to the business of trying to win the first Cup in franchise history.

FLASH: Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock gives fans a key to gauge their team's potential for success.

Speaking earlier in the week on "NHL Live," Hitchcock advised fans to focus on the structure of their team's defense group when trying to judge whether or not they're a real playoff contender.

I can't argue with the coach. In today's NHL, more than ever before, teams need speed and skill on the blue line to help move the puck quickly out of the defensive zone. After all, the longer the puck stays in your zone, the more likely it is to end up in your net.

Using Hitchcock's measuring stick, you have to like the Penguins, Bruins and Flyers in the East and the Blackhawks, Predators, Sharks, Kings and Red Wings in the West. They all have elite defenders, balance and depth on defense.

FLASH: Several 2011 draft picks making a push for NHL jobs.

In Edmonton, they're talking about top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Down in South Florida, they're keeping an eye on the third pick, Jonathan Huberdeau. And the Panthers' Southeast Division rival Winnipeg (that sounds strange, right?) is pondering the idea of keeping the seventh pick, Mark Scheifele.

In several other NHL cities, general managers and coaches are mulling keeping their own talented kids on the big-league roster.

I figure Nugent-Hopkins and Scheifele will stick in their respective Canadian cities. Both have been pretty productive in the preseason -- Scheifele has 7 points in four games, while Nugent-Hopkins has 6 points in his seven games.

Huberdeau scored his third goal of the preseason Thursday in Dallas. However, after listening to Florida General Manager Dale Tallon, I'd say it's more likely Huberdeau will be sent back to his junior team. Tallon said no final decision has been made, but he did voice concern about Huberdeau's size, particularly his weight (6-foot-1, 171 pounds). Tallon doesn't want a prized prospect getting injured because he was rushed to the game's highest level. If they do decide to keep him, he has to be signed to an NHL deal by Monday.

The Devils' 2011 NHL Entry Draft first-round pick, Adam Larsson, may have secured himself a roster spot for this season. (Photo: Getty Images)
In New Jersey, the fourth pick, Adam Larsson, pretty much has wrapped up a roster spot. On Thursday in Philadelphia, the big defenseman logged a game-high 24:48, had a plus-1 rating and was credited with three hits.

FLASH: Sidney Crosby likely to travel with the Penguins to Vancouver for Thursday's season-opener against the Canucks.

OK, first things first -- I do not expect Crosby to play against the Western Conference champs. He hasn't even been cleared for contact yet.

I do, however, see this as another positive step forward in his recovery. Let's face it -- the team wouldn't be taking him on a Western Canada trip if he wasn't feeling good.

Once Crosby is cleared for contact (and I believe he will), I wonder how long it will be until he's ready for game action. I imagine I'm not the only one wondering about that.

FLASH: Stars center Mike Ribeiro sinks the Panthers.

You don't see too many 6-point games, even during the preseason. On Thursday, Ribeiro had a goal and 5 assists during a 7-1 rout of the visiting Panthers.

Here's a stick tap for the playmaking center, and one bit of advice -- save some of those points for the real games!
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