Rich Peverley still not skating

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:07
PM CT

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Dallas Stars forward Rich Peverley is doing off-ice workouts but still is unable to skate with the team six months after an irregular heartbeat led to him collapsing on the bench during a game.

General manager Jim Nill says doctors will continue to monitor Peverley, who was with the team Friday for the start of training camp.

Nill said Peverley has improved but still needs clearance from other doctors before he can take the next step and get back on the ice. Nill expects the situation to be week to week, and says the team isn't going to rush the player.

Peverley's irregular heartbeat was diagnosed during training camp last year. He collapsed during a game March 10, and had surgery the following week to correct an abnormal heart rhythm.


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Scott Burnside, Pierre LeBrun, Katie Strang and Craig Custance look at the teams in the NHL's Western Conference that improved in the offseason, and those that are starting to slide backward.

Standout players at Traverse City

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
10:31
AM CT

Top 10 prospects by team: Atlantic | Metro | Central | Pacific

I took in the annual prospect tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, this past weekend, featuring top young players from the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.

I was able to catch all eight teams play at least one full contest, and catch parts of others during intermissions (it's a very short walk between the two playing areas). There was a lot of talent at this event, and it was great to see these players matched up against one another.

Here's one player I felt was noteworthy for each of the teams in attendance, including where each currently ranks in his team's prospect pipeline:

Hawks storylines (No. 13): Central power

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
10:47
AM CT
ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 19 with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

And you thought the Central Division was competitive last season ...

The Chicago Blackhawks should have their work again cut out for them within their division. Four teams finished with a division record better than .500 last season, and the Blackhawks weren't one of them. The Blackhawks finished third in the Central based off points, but they had a 13-13-3 divisional record.

Here's a glance at the Central for the upcoming season:

Colorado Avalanche (52-22-8 overall last season, 19-6-3 Central)
The Avalanche won't surprise anyone this season. They got everyone's attention by excelling under first-year coach Patrick Roy and winning the Central last season. Their success was short-lived as the Wild knocked them out in the first round. The Avalanche weren't a terribly successful possession team last season, but were able to get by without it. They will have plenty of players with scoring ability again as they return Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon. They lost Paul Stastny to free agency and added Jarome Iginla. The Avalanche have a lot of defensive depth. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was often the difference last season. It could be difficult for him to duplicate such a career season.

St. Louis Blues (52-23-7 overall, 21-6-2 Central)
The Blues were ousted in the first round for the second consecutive season. To help fix that problem, the Blues went out and signed the 28-year-old Stastny, who had 25 goals and 35 assists in 71 games for the Avalanche last season. The Blues return plenty of other offensive weapons in David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Alex Pietrangelo again leads the defensemen. The Blues hand the net over to Brian Elliott, who has a .911 save percentage in 235 career NHL games. He has never started more than 36 games in a season for the Blues.

Minnesota Wild (43-27-12 overall, 14-12-3 Central)
The Wild proved themselves to be a legit playoff team by first eliminating the Avalanche and then pushing the Blackhawks to six games. The Blackhawks pulled out the series by winning the final two games with 2-1 scores. The Wild return Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu and added Thomas Vanek in the offseason. They also have some youth and skill in forwards Mikael Grandlund, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula and Nino Niederretier. Ryan Suter will again be the face of the defense. The Wild's goaltending situation is still the wild card.

Dallas Stars (40-31-11 overall, 13-11-5 Central)
The Stars were the fifth team from the Central to earn a playoff spot last season, and they pushed the Anaheim Ducks to six games in the first round. Tyler Seguin, 22, and Jamie Benn, 25, combined for 71 goals and 92 assists last season and will likely lead the way again this season. The Stars added forwards Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky in the offseason to give them some more depth. There are still some questions about their defensemen, but the Stars should be better this season.

Nashville Predators (38-32-12 overall, 12-13-4 Central)
The Predators made a push for a playoff spot last season, but fell short and replaced coach Barry Trotz with Peter Laviolette. Defenseman Shea Weber led the Predators in points, and the offense is likely a concern again this season. The Predators have a number of players under 25 who could give them an added push. Seth Jones is still 19 and should take a step this season. Forward Filip Forsberg, 20, is another player to keep an eye on.

Winnipeg Jets (37-35-10 overall, 9-15-5 Central)
The Jets got knocked around in the difficult Central last season, but they were pretty good elsewhere, going 28-20-5 outside the division. Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little combined for 51 goals and 82 assists last season. Also returning Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane and Toby Enstrom gives the Jets a chance again. The Jets allowed 2.82 goals per game last season, and their defense and goaltending could be weaknesses again.

Player poll: Who is top franchise player? 

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
11:03
AM CT
Sidney CrosbyGregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesSidney Crosby was the overwhelming favorite among players in the top franchise player voting.
Back in July, we conducted a poll of executives, coaches and a couple players to see which players they would build a franchise around if they were starting a team from scratch. It was an attempt to rank the league's franchise players, and it led to some fascinating results and debate.

Jonathan Toews edged Sidney Crosby for the top spot, with the Stanley Cup playoff performance of Drew Doughty still fresh in the mind of voters, who put him third on the list.

This week in New York, many of the franchise players who were named by executives gathered for the player media tour, the unofficial kickoff to the NHL season. It was an opportunity to give the players a chance to answer the same question. The same rules applied: Players were asked to list three players they'd want if they were starting a franchise from the ground up.

A few players wanted to add their own ground rules. Tyler Seguin felt compelled to pick teammates, so he added a rule that you couldn't pick your own teammates. Some guys followed the rule, others didn't.

Claude Giroux introduced the idea of picking himself, to which we had no objection. Henrik Lundqvist, however, saw a conflict of interest there.

"Am I the GM?" Lundqvist asked. "Then I'm not picking myself."

He quickly identified Sidney Crosby, then paused for a moment. "This is tough."

And with that, here are the results, giving three points to a first-place vote, two for a second and one for a third:

Sidney Crosby (19 points): Crosby finished a close second to Jonathan Toews when executives voted, but he ran away with it among the players.

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Scott Burnside and Craig Custance wrap up the unofficial start of the NHL season with day one of the player tour.

Stars rising quickly in the loaded West

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
9:23
AM CT
Valeri Nichushkin Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsValeri Nichuskin appears ready to take a big step in his second year in the NHL, says Stars GM Jim Nill.
In a league where one of the most common refrains is that it’s next to impossible to acquire top-end centers, Jim Nill picked up Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza just over a year on the job as general manager in Dallas.

Mercy.

No wonder the Stars are a trendy pick ahead of this season to continue their onward climb in the tough Western Conference.

"I think Dallas is ready to take a leap in with the big boys,’’ one Eastern Conference GM told ESPN.com last week.

"It's no surprise to anyone in the Western Conference that watched Jim Nill and his staff quietly weave his magic in Detroit ... that the same culture of excellence is evolving quickly in Dallas through solid drafting and astute trades and FA signings,’’ another rival Western Conference team executive told ESPN.com via email.

"Another contender in the West."

The forward combinations may very well change, but for now, the thought of having Seguin reconnect his magic with stud winger Jamie Benn and having Spezza and fellow newcomer Ales Hemsky continue what they began late last season in Ottawa certainly provides Dallas with an awesome top-two line attack.

Then again, the Stars weren’t alone in stocking up in the West. The Blues got better, the Ducks got better, and the list goes on as the Western Conference arms race continues.

"That was the message to the players at the end of the year last season, 'We've got to get better,’’’ Nill told ESPN.com last week. "I went through every team in the conference, and they’re all getting better. So we have to get better, too. With that comes expectations, if you want to be a winner, if you have to learn how to deal with that.’’

But it’s all good, Nill said. It’s a good kind of pressure. And the market in Dallas has responded after the Stars made it into the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008 and followed up with the big Spezza trade.

"Our season-ticket base is up. I know our season-ticket and marketing people have had a great summer. There’s a nice buzz down here,’’ Nill said.

Stars spokesman Tom Holy said the team right now has gone from about 6,000 season tickets last season to more than 10,000, and the hope is that they can use this month with camp opening to push that up to 12,000.

[+] EnlargeTyler Seguin
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTyler Seguin is part of what should be a dynamic offense in Dallas this season.
Those fans should see an improved Valeri Nichushkin, the 19-year-old Russian who electrified at times in his rookie NHL season and now has an important year under his belt.

"I think Nichushkin is going to be even better,” said Nill, not one for hyperbole. "Last year was just a brand-new year for him, for a kid who’s 18 to come over here and go through the NHL not knowing the language, the rinks. He stayed here all summer, trained here, his English got better, so I think you’ll see a big step from him.’’

Where the critics wonder about the Stars’ viability as true contender is on the back end. On paper, the blue-line corps doesn’t stack up with Los Angeles, Chicago, Anaheim or St. Louis.

And yet, that’s exactly the area where Nill feels much improvement is coming.

"I’m excited about our young defensemen, we have a group of young defensemen who won the Calder Cup, I’m excited to see what they can do,’’ said Nill.

Nill is referring to the likes of Patrick Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka -- all AHL champions last season -- plus John Klingberg is coming over this season from Sweden.

"We think we’ve added some depth to our back end,” said Nill. "I’m looking forward to the steps all these guys make.’’

The Stars allowed 30.4 shots per game last season, a number that needs to go down; they were 17th in goals against per game at 2.72 -- OK, but not great -- and that’s despite super-solid goaltending from Kari Lehtonen, who sported a .919 save percentage while facing the second-most shots (1,888, behind only Semyon Varlamov) of any goalie in the NHL.

Like Varlamov in Colorado, a goalie can help mask issues on defense by standing on his head. It’s just that it’s not a recipe for long-term sustainability. The Stars need better play from their back end this season.

If the kids on defense don’t make the kind of step the Stars hope, one suspects that’s where Nill will focus ahead of the trade deadline. But that’s looking way down the road.

There’s lots of hockey to be played, and while there’s excitement for the Stars, leave it to Nill to also bring into perspective.

"People forget, we’re all two or three wins from being a top team and we’re all two or three losses from being out of the playoffs,” Nill said. "Nashville only had two fewer wins than us last year, Winnipeg just three or four. There’s not much difference from being in or out of the playoffs.’’

No question the parity in this league makes many of us overestimate at times the reasons why some teams get in and some don’t when the reality, as Nill suggests, is that a hair separates so many of the NHL clubs. Still, in trying to get that sliver of separation, acquiring two stud centers over 13 months is one heck of a way to go about it.

Not sure the Stars have what it takes on the blue line to truly contend for an NHL championship yet, but they will be must-watch TV all year long with that offense. You can bank on that.

Chasing the Kings: Central Division 

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
10:22
AM CT
Jonathan Toews Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsThe Kings outlasted the Blackhawks in an epic playoff series, but Chicago is not far behind.
The champion may reside in the Pacific Division, but its biggest group of challengers is in the Central. While the Los Angeles Kings spent the summer just trying to retain their talent, on and off the ice, the clubs in the Central ramped up the aggression to try and bring the Kings down.

The Chicago Blackhawks brought in Brad Richards to strengthen the team down the middle. The St. Loius Blues added offense in the form of Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera. The Dallas Stars created another scoring line with the additions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, while the Minnesota Wild landed Thomas Vanek. Not to be outdone, the Nashville Predators signed every other veteran center remaining on the market.

It was a busy and successful offseason for the general managers among some of the Kings' biggest threats in the West, a development that didn't go unnoticed by Kings GM Dean Lombardi.

“Who went backwards?” Lombardi said and then joked that his counterparts in the Eastern Conference needed to pick up the slack.

“Can't they take some of these players?” Lombardi joked.

The Central, already strong, is better than ever and is the league’s deepest division. Earlier this week, we identified the five characteristics of the Kings that make them the ideal champion in a cap era: a franchise center, a strong top four anchored by a legit No. 1 defenseman, a playoff-tested goalie, a skilled fourth line and entry-level contributors.

We looked at the Atlantic Division on Wednesday, and here’s how the Central stacks up through the lens of those five characteristics

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Summer Skate: Stars

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
1:21
PM CT

Summer Skate series index

Although the weather doesn't necessarily make us think of winter pursuits, it's a good time to take the temperature of every NHL team. Hockey Prospectus will guide us through the league-wide tour, spotlighting one player trending up and one player trending down for each club, as well as a key statistic as we look ahead to the 2014-15 season. References will be made to goals versus threshold (GVT), a Hockey Prospectus proprietary statistic; for more on GVT, click here. All other advanced stats are courtesy of Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

Under the new management duo of GM Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff, the Dallas Stars returned to the postseason for the first time since the 2007-08 season. The most ostensible cause for getting over the hump was the trade for Tyler Seguin, the second pick in the 2010 NHL draft, from Boston. He teamed up with Canadian Olympian Jamie Benn, allowing the latter to return to his more natural position of left wing. The pair combined for 71 goals, playing together in more than 80 percent of their respective even-strength shifts.

Breaking a long playoff drought is all well and good, but the question on everyone's minds is whether the success seen last season is at all sustainable. If the young talents continue to be among the top 10 point producers in the NHL -- and their linemate Valeri Nichushkin joins them to form a three-pronged attacked on the first line -- while the additions of veteran offensive threats Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky prevent the opposition from loading up against the top line, we may just find that last season was only the first step to the Stars establishing themselves as a serious serial contender along the likes of Chicago and St. Louis.


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Top prospects by team: Central

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
2:35
PM CT

As part of the prospect rankings series this summer, we've looked at the Top 100 overall prospects, Top 10 goalie prospects and the ranking of all 30 NHL teams in order of their prospect pipelines.

We continue with a deeper look at the state of each team's pipeline, as I identify the top 10 prospects for each organization. Included in the analysis is an overview of the system, what kind of an impact will be made by the prospect group in 2014-15, and a particularly noteworthy player from each system.

A reminder that my rankings are determined by conversations with scouts, coaches and executives, as well as my own viewings. My assessment of forwards leans toward puck possession skills, and I tend to favor those players more than defensemen or goalies, whose development is harder to project.

The tour around the league continues Wednesday with the seven teams in the Central Division:

Top 10s by team: Atlantic | Metro | Central | Pacific


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NHL prospect pipeline rankings

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
2:31
PM CT

When I ranked prospect pipelines last year, the No. 1 system was the Tampa Bay Lightning, who produced two Calder Trophy finalists and had many young players throughout the team playing noteworthy roles en route to being a top team in the Eastern Conference. This year's top system, the Buffalo Sabres, are unlikely to do the same this upcoming season, especially the latter component, as they are about three years away from making the jump to playoff contention.

Strength of an organizational pipeline is considered as the totality of the players they have, however, additional value is given to teams with the very best prospects. Depth is considered, but it's depth in terms of quality prospects -- players who could project as a top-nine and preferably a top-six forward, a top-four defenseman or a starting goaltender.

These organizational rankings are done as a snapshot in time. They are not meant to rank team's draft and development abilities, there is no adjustment for prior draft successes or success from current young players at the NHL level, and they can change significantly by midseason due to graduations and player development. The profiles of the organizations are meant to be summaries of the farm systems and not detail every major prospect in the pipeline. Omission of particular names does not mean they were not considered, and remember to check back next week, as we'll have in-depth write-ups on the top 10 prospects for each organization.

As with any of my prospect files, the criteria for a prospect to no longer be eligible are more than 25 regular-season games played in any season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

Here is my ranking of all 30 NHL team pipelines as of this summer:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


1. Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres were tough on the eyes this past season. But at the prospect level, they have the best system in the NHL. With Rasmus Ristolainen graduated, eight of Buffalo's top 10 prospects are forwards, to go along with an elite defenseman prospect in Nikita Zadorov. In addition to the balance of forward positions, there is a balance of different playing styles. For instance, Sam Reinhart and Mikhail Grigorenko play different types of games than graduate Zemgus Girgensons. Hudson Fasching, J.T. Compher and Joel Armia are all different types of players, as well, yet are still top prospects. The future is bright in Buffalo, and not just because it's August.


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Top 10 goalie prospects

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
11:32
AM CT

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15. I provide a separate ranking for goalies due to the fact that I rank most of them fairly low relative to skaters. For example, my top two on this list would be ranked at about No. 50 and No. 80, respectively, in the overall top 100.

As part of this prospects package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

The following ranking and analysis are based on my own observations and include notes I've picked up in conversations with scouts and other NHL sources:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2013-14 team:
Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
2013-14 stats: 28 GP | 2.21 GAA | .923 SV%

I'm not exaggerating when I say this: Vasilevskiy is one of the best goalie prospects of the past 20 years. He's a special player who has excelled if not dominated at just about every level and major event he's participated in during the past five years, including the KHL playoffs. Vasilevskiy has good size -- 6-foot-3, 201 pounds -- elite athleticism, and a high hockey IQ and technical refinement you don't typically see in a goalie of his age (20).


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Top 100 NHL prospects: 51-100

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
1:53
PM CT

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15.

The 2014 draft class shows very well in these rankings, which is not a huge surprise given the number of new No. 1 prospects around the league.

Changes in my ranking philosophy from previous lists include more emphasis on upside, and a little less on older players who are closer to the NHL and have AHL experience. I also value defensive defenders a little more, thus a player like Scott Harrington makes the list in a significant spot after being previously omitted.

The criteria for a player to be no longer eligible for this list are: more than 25 regular-season games played in any one regular season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

As part of this package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks running this week, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

Here are prospects Nos. 51 through 100 for the 2014-15 season, listed with the highest-level team for which they played this past regular season. Previous ranking here refers to the ranking the player was given last summer:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


51. J.T. Compher, C, Buffalo Sabres (Previous ranking: 91)
2013-14 team:
Michigan (NCAA)
2013-14 stats: 35 GP | 11 G | 20 A | 22 PIM

Unfortunately, Compher missed out on the IIHF World Junior Championship this past season due to injury, but he was great as a freshman for Michigan, leading the team in scoring, which is quite unusual for a frosh. J.T. is a good all-around center who isn't dynamic in either end, but plays at an impressive level. His hockey sense is very good as a playmaker and reading the game without the puck, and he possesses a nice wrist shot.


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Top 100 NHL prospects: 1-50

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
3:31
PM CT

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15.

The 2014 draft class shows very well in these rankings, which is not a huge surprise given the number of new No. 1 prospects around the league.

Changes in my ranking philosophy from previous lists include more emphasis on upside, and a little less on older players who are closer to the NHL and have AHL experience. I also value defensive defenders a little more, thus a player like Scott Harrington makes the list in a significant spot after being previously omitted.

The criteria for a player to be no longer eligible for this list are: more than 25 games played in any one regular season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

As part of this package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

Here are prospects Nos. 1 through 50 for the 2014-15 season, listed with the highest-level team for which they played this past season. Previous ranking here refers to the ranking the player was given last summer:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


1. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (Previous ranking: 1)
2013-14 team:
Halifax (QMJHL)
2013-14 stats: 46 GP | 29 G | 79 A | 43 PIM

After the Lightning elected to not keep him on the NHL roster for 2013-14, Drouin had another elite season in the QMJHL, torching the league in terms of point production. He led the QMJHL playoffs in points (41 in 16 games) despite Halifax not advancing to the final round. His skill level and hockey sense are both off the charts, he's a very elusive skater and he has the ability to create a scoring chance at will. When you combine all of his offensive elements (all of which are high-end), Drouin is the clear best forward prospect outside the NHL. He converted to center this season, showing pretty effective play in the defensive zone, which was previously a weakness. With a good summer from a physical development standpoint, he should be a player to watch for next year's Calder Trophy.


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Top 100 NHL prospects index

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
2:51
PM CT

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15.

The 2014 draft class shows very well in these rankings, which is not a huge surprise given the number of new No. 1 prospects around the league.

Changes in my ranking philosophy from previous lists include more emphasis on upside, and a little less on older players who are closer to the NHL and have AHL experience. I also value defensive defenders a little more, thus a player like Scott Harrington makes the list in a significant spot after being previously omitted.

The criteria for a player to be no longer eligible for this list are: more than 25 regular-season games played in any one regular season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

As part of this package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

Here are my top 100 NHL prospects for the 2014-15 season in list form:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


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