News and notes from around the NHL…
The biggest beneficiary of the Martin St. Louis trade? Try Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Ondrej Palat. With just three assists to show for his first eight games in New York, St. Louis hasn’t exactly taken the Rangers’ offense into brave, new directions as expected. He’s looked disengaged at times, frustrated at others and has just two shots on net over his past three games. He’ll snap out of this slump eventually (he survived a nine-game drought earlier this season), but it won’t matter much if the Blueshirts don’t start piling up some wins. Given the importance of Friday night’s game against Columbus, this would be a good time for him to show up. Meanwhile, Palat has put up 11 points since St. Louis pouted his way out of Tampa, and he’s done it while meshing seamlessly with new linemates. Funny how that works when you don’t need an excuse. Then again, the kid isn’t looking for one. Watch Palat and you can see his work ethic and focus every shift. That’s where the results are coming from, and that’s the difference right now between him and his old linemate.
The other Colorado kid
He won’t get much attention when Calder Trophy votes are being cast, but one of the most impressive rookies this season has been Colorado’s Tyson Barrie. Give coach Patrick Roy the primary assist for Barrie’s quick assimilation to the league. Instead of asking him to be something he’s not, Roy’s given the 22-year-old blueliner the green light to read the play and take advantage of his offensive skills when appropriate. The result: Seven goals and 23 points since the calendar flipped to 2014 and a solid effort in his own end. “He’s a smart kid and he does a good job picking his spots,” one Western Conference scout said. “But Roy … well, you know that’s not a risk a lot of coaches would be willing to take with a rookie. Most would do everything they could to minimize the risk, but that’s how you ruin a player. You get him second-guessing himself and that’s when the mistakes come. But he trusted him, you know, built up his confidence and Barrie’s really come through nicely. He’s a player.”
The kid’s versatile, too. With checking forward John Mitchell out of the lineup, Barrie has stepped up to play forward the past two games for the Avs.
As the Maple Leafs turn
It’s a soap opera in Toronto, but the apparent estrangement between goalie James Reimer and coach Randy Carlyle isn’t the end of the world. The Leafs have won just four of Reimer’s past 17 starts and while that’s not all on him, it suggests that they’ll survive if they take the chance of moving forward without him. And still, there will be more than one bidder for his services over the summer — the Jets and Islanders should be at the front of the line — and there are plenty of backups heading to market who can take his place. Winnipeg’s Al Montoya might be a nice fit.
Meanwhile, hopes are rising in Hogtown after Dave Bolland skated with regular linemates David Clarkson and Mason Raymond on Friday. The veteran center could return to action as soon as Saturday after missing 56 games with a ruptured tendon in his ankle. His grit would be a nice add for a team that’s struggling defensively, but Leafs fans might want to tap the brakes on their expectations. You can come back from these injuries without being anywhere near 100 percent, and even a fully healthy Bolland won’t be enough to solve the problems that this team has in its own zone.
It’s exhausting constantly beating down on the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for disciplinary decisions that seem to have everything but punishment and/or deterrence in mind. That’s why there’s little to be said about Friday’s decision to fine repeat offender James Neal a whopping five grand for his vicious crosscheck to the face of Detroit’s Luke Glendening on Thursday night. Neal is a solid player, but he clearly has little respect for the safety of his opponents. Judging by this latest slap on the wrist, the DOPS doesn’t either.
There’s a lot to like about Christian Folin. The U-Mass Lowell defender has premium size (6′-3″, 209 pounds), an unpleasant disposition, and a smart two-way game.
Oh, and he shoots the puck hard. Really, really hard.
Folin earned a moment of notoriety last weekend when he hammered a shot through the net in a Hockey East Tournament game against Vermont. But long before that made-for-YouTube moment, Folin had caught the eyes of scouts who are scouring the college scene for free agents with big league potential. And Folin, arguably the premier UFA up for grabs this spring, has plenty of that.
While that heavy shot makes for a great hook, he’s at his best in his own zone where he is very effective with his body and his stick. He’d be the ideal complement to a more offensive-minded partner and, given the right situation, could immediately challenge for a spot on an NHL roster.
Scouts suggest there are plenty of teams waiting to make a pitch to the big Swede when his season ends, and while there’s a chance he could return to UML for his junior year, he’s expected to forgo his remaining eligibility to turn pro.
The Senators and Canucks are said to be in the thick of the hunt, along with the Oilers, Bruins, Sabres, Red Wings, Flyers and Flames.
Teams that miss out on Folin might look at Boston University’s Ahti Oksanen as an intriguing fall-back. The backliner has the size (6′-3″, 201) and offensive game that could translate into a No. 3 defender over time, but he needs to polish his defensive game. The Canucks are thought to have a bead on Notre Dame blueliner Shayne Taker, a Surrey BC native with a similar skill set. He’s not just a local boy: he’s previously attended one of their prospect camps.
• If the Red Wings manage to extend their playoff streak to 23 years, credit their turnaround to home improvement. Detroit is on an 8-0-2 tear at Joe Louis Arena after losing 16 of 20 in their own barn from Oct. 23 to Dec. 23. Part of the difference? Ending up on the right side of games that go to extra time. The Wings, 1-5 in the shootout/OT during that losing skid, are 4-2 during the hot streak.
• The quiet whispers over the past few days suggesting that Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg’s recovery from a devastating knee injury is ahead of schedule turned to real news on Friday afternoon, as did the rumor he could be available at some point during the playoffs. Never say never, but I’m not sure dropping a guy who’s been out since Christmas into the middle of a postseason battle makes a lot of sense.
• A scout on the hockey future of Dallas forward Rich Peverley: “How do you put him on the bench again with those guys after what happened last time? Maybe the doctors figure it out, maybe everything’s fine, but there’s always going to be that doubt, that worry. How do you do that to the team?”
• The Blackhawks have until Aug. 15 to sign 2010 first rounder Kevin Hayes or risk losing him to free agency. The Boston College senior, named one of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award on Thursday, was the second-leading scorer in the nation this season, but would be in tough to earn a spot in Chicago any time soon. Word is he’d like to sign with the Hawks, but he’d be crazy not to explore his options if he’s looking to fast-track his NHL career. Buffalo and Calgary (which owns the rights to his BC linemate Johnny Gaudreau) might be appealing. The Hawks also need to make a call by that date on 2010 second rounder Stephen Johns.
• Reports out of Russia suggest the Sochi Shayba arena that saw action in the Olympics will be disassembled and moved elsewhere in the country. Crimea is said to be an option. Really.