Once again, it’s time for a Screen Shots column. Here, we break down a few hockey topics into smaller bites for your reading pleasure. On we go:
– The Toronto Maple Leafs announced Saturday they’d signed forward Nick Abruzzese to a two-year, entry-level contract. The NCAA star at Harvard University captained the team this season, and he posted 24 assists and 33 points in 28 games this year.
As virtually every promising young talent in the Leafs’ system usually does in the era of Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, Abruzzese should get a look in Toronto’s NHL lineup for a few games before the end of the regular season. The 22-year-old is likely to join as-yet-unsigned NCAA forward prospect Matthew Knies as some late-season experimenting for the veteran-laden Leafs. As some of the Leafs’ walking wounded aim to take a few games off before the playoffs, someone like Knies or Abruzzese could bring a different kind of chemistry.
Indeed, the best-case scenario is if both find ways to contribute in short order, and force Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe into making some difficult roster decisions come playoffs. As should be clear by now, most successful NHL teams can only stay that way with a continuous stream of young (read: cheap) players to offset the costs of paying their core players sizable chunks of their payroll. Dubas and the rest of Leafs brass have assembled a promising group of big-league talent, but the challenge is to keep churning them out as often as possible.
– The Tampa Bay Lightning have been on an uncharacteristic slide of late, and although they beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in overtime Saturday to end a three-game losing streak, the Bolts have dropped six of their past nine games (3-6-0), and they lost an important piece of the puzzle when defenseman Ryan McDonagh was officially sidelined indefinitely with an upper-body injury, suffered blocking a shot Thursday against Boston.
The Lightning are deep in all areas, but McDonagh plays a big role for them. He’s averaged 22:36 of ice time per game – second only to fellow blueliner Victor Hedman (25:20) – and he plays an excellent two-way game, producing 18 assists and 21 points, while leading the team in blocked shots, with 116. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper may lean more heavily on Hedman, or give increased time to Mikhail Sergachev. But if McDonagh is out for any significant period of time, Tampa Bay will feel it, and the Bolts could go into the playoffs without home-ice advantage.
– The Anaheim Ducks are in a spiral and, with a 1-7-2 record in their past 10 games, they’re the league’s worst team. After new GM Pat Verbeek dealt away defenseman Hampus Lindholm and forward Rickard Rakell at the trade deadline, this was to be expected. But at least Verbeek can disabuse himself of any notion the Ducks are on the verge of true Cup contention. Even with players like Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale and Troy Terry on board, the Ducks simply don’t have enough Grade-A talent just yet.
The positive news for Ducks fans is they have the entry draft capital to eventually get them there. After his haul at the deadline, Verbeek has 25 draft picks in the next three years, including four first-rounders and seven second-rounders. Verbeek’s management team needs to cultivate many of those into difference-makers. Anaheim will always have the weather working in its favor when it comes to attracting free agents, but the onus is on Verbeek to put together a roster to rival the Colorados and Floridas, and then augment it with free-agent help.