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Mailbag: Where Ovechkin stands among top Russian players

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the June 13 edition of Dan Rosen's mailbag, which will run Wednesday periodically throughout the offseason. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Seems like there's no better time for this question: Who are the top five Russian hockey players in the NHL right now? -- @briantodd34

You're right, there probably is no better time to ask this question. Before I get to the list, I wanted to add a caveat: I'm only naming skaters because trying to rank goalies among skaters is, to me, an impossible endeavor. The top two Russia-born goalies are Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now, to the top five Russia-born skaters:

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin are the top two. Who is first and who is second seems to change by the week. Right now, obviously, it's Ovechkin because he won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy. A year ago, it was Malkin, who had won his third Stanley Cup championship and led the Stanley Cup Playoffs in scoring with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists).

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Malkin dives to jam in PPG for lead

No. 3 is Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov. I wish he did more in the Eastern Conference Final against the Capitals (one goal, four assists), but he had 100 points (39 goals, 61 assists) in the regular season to finish third in the NHL in scoring. He's 24. He's elite.

Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov is fourth. He led the NHL with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in the playoffs after putting up 83 points (27 goals, 56 assists) in the regular season. At 26, he has hit his prime. 

I hemmed and hawed for No. 5 between Blue Jackets left wing Artemi Panarin and St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, but Panarin had the better season so he gets the nod. Panarin had 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games; Tarasenko had 66 points (33 goals, 33 assists) in 80 games. Tarasenko is the better goal-scorer, but Panarin, at least this season, was the better all-around player. 

Video: WSH@STL: Tarasenko drives to the slot and scores

Up-and-comers are Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov; Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev; and, if he can figure out a way to put it all together, New York Rangers right wing Pavel Buchnevich.

 

Who is the most likely candidate for New York Islanders coach? -- @johnfiorino97

Lou Lamoriello, the Islanders' new president and general manager, won't let anything leak out of his office, but the names below have been reportedly linked to them since June 5, when Lamoriello fired coach Doug Weight and general manager Garth Snow.

The wild card is Capitals coach Barry Trotz, whose contract expires July 1. I believe the Capitals will bring him back, but it's going to be on Trotz's terms. If it were done last offseason, it would have been on the Capitals' terms. If Trotz doesn't get the offer he wants, he'll probably walk. The Islanders would be waiting with open arms and, ideally, an open checkbook.

Video: Recapping dismissals made by the Islanders

If it's not Trotz, Sheldon Keefe, the coach of the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League, should be a top candidate. The 37-year-old is well-known enough now because of the success he's had with the Marlies that he wouldn't be an out-of-the-box choice. Lamoriello knows Keefe from his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but does he know him well enough to be willing to give him his first NHL job? I'd say the odds are against Keefe for that reason, but I always root for progressive thinking, and hiring Keefe would be a progressive move. I'm not sure what more he has to do to prove he's ready. 

After Trotz and Keefe, you're probably looking at the pool of Alain Vigneault, Dave Tippett and Michel Therrien. Maple Leafs assistant D.J. Smith is another name that has come up, but if Lamoriello balks at Keefe for inexperience, he may do the same with Smith, who has never been an NHL coach.

 

What team is the best fit for Ilya Kovalchuk? What do you think is his ceiling if he plays in the NHL? -- @bloodfury_96

I like the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins for Kovalchuk. I think the bar for Kovalchuk, provided he plays a full season, should be in the range of 50-60 points. If the 35-year-old exceeds that, you're getting a great return on your investment. Anything short of that would be a disappointment, especially if he signs a three-year contract. He had 63 points (31 goals, 32 assists) in 53 games to lead the Kontinental Hockey League this season. A two-year contract would be ideal, but if there is a bidding war, it might take that extra year to get it done. 

Video: Ilya Kovalchuk is officially now an NHL UFA

He could fit as a second-line left wing for either the Kings or Bruins, and potentially even a first-line left wing to play with center Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles. Those teams play a heavy game and could use an infusion of skill in their top six. The Bruins might find Kovalchuk to be a better fit than Rick Nash was on a line with David Krejci. Nash, like Kovalchuk, would be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Maybe the Bruins move David Pastrnak to that line to play with Kovalchuk and Krejci, leaving Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to play with one of their top young forwards: Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato or Danton Heinen. Or maybe the Bruins leave Pastrnak where he is, which I think is the prudent thing to do, and figure out who plays with Kovalchuk and Krejci to build scoring depth. The Kings could use a line of Kovalchuk, Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli, or Kovalchuk, Jeff Carter and Toffoli. 

 

What do you think will be the offseason plans for general manager Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning for their restricted free agents such as J.T. Miller and unrestricted free agents such as Chris Kunitz? What is your view on their outlook for next season? -- @AustinCybulski

The Lightning like Miller and I think they'll try to re-sign him provided something bigger doesn't come along, such as a potential trade for defenseman Erik Karlsson or signing center John Tavares. I wouldn't rule either out, though I think each could be considered a long shot even with the NHL salary cap expected to go up between $3 million and $7 million. If in the unlikely circumstance Tavares does sign with the Lightning, it would mean that Steven Stamkos would move to wing. However, Stamkos is a righty and Tavares is a lefty, so they could split duties if necessary. Miller is arbitration eligible, so negotiations could carry well into July, but the Lightning like his versatility and his ability to combine power and skill. He could play on any of their top three lines. I don't think Kunitz will return because the Lightning might want to give some of their younger players a chance.

Video: Tampa Bay's core can remain intact in 2018-19

Signing Miller would be made easier if Yzerman trades forward Tyler Johnson before July 1, when his no-trade clause kicks in, according to The Athletic. Trading Johnson, who carries a $5 million salary cap charge, would open room to get Miller under contract and leave cap space to use toward the inevitable new contracts for Kucherov and center Brayden Point, who each has one year remaining on his contract. However, maybe Johnson is used as part of a trade with the Ottawa Senators to acquire Karlsson, who would also need a new contract after next season. The Lightning defensemen are going to be due for a makeover soon because Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi each has one year left on his contract. Victor Hedman is locked in, Sergachev is a huge part of the future of Tampa Bay's defense, and maybe Cal Foote will be too. But Karlsson is certainly an attractive option, and the only way to get him now is in a trade.

 

After winning the Stanley Cup, where do you rank Ovechkin all time? His stats are incredible, but then again, his playoff record was bad until 10 days ago. -- @Andershow8

Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Sidney Crosby will remain my top five of all time unless or until Connor McDavid does enough to get in there. Nicklas Lidstrom is so close to being in that group too. I'll put Ovechkin in the group with Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, Mike Bossy, Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Denis Potvin, Guy Lafleur and Scott Niedermayer, who is such an underrated all-time great it's almost silly. We can argue all day where Jean Beliveau, Phil Esposito, Ted Lindsay, Maurice Richard and the like fit in. The point here is that Ovechkin solidified his status as an all-time great by winning the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. To jump into the next level, he'll have to win more and continue to keep scoring at an incredible rate. But he's in the mix.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Ovechkin on winning the Stanley Cup

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