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NHL Names Three Stars of the Week; USA Hockey Announces Junior Squad Captains; and More From Around the NHL

The National Hockey League’s three stars of the week ending on December 18 are, from first to third, Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers’ goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, and Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild.

Eric Staal had a bit of a rocky road last season, being dealt at the trade deadline by the Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers in hopes of a playoff push for the Rangers.  The Rangers were eliminated in the first round in five games by the Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.  In 83 games played last season (yes, 83), Staal had just 13 goals and 26 assists for a total of 39 points, his lowest production since his rookie season in 2003-04 with the ‘Canes.  Staal had just six points in 20 games with the Rangers.  After signing with the Minnesota Wild via free agency this past summer, the Thunder Bay, Ontario-native has accumulated ten goals and 14 assists in 30 games so far, including four game-winning goals.  In three matchups within the last week, Staal collected four goals and an assist, including the game-winning goal against the Nashville Predators on Thursday.  Eric Staal seems to have found his game once again playing pivot between Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle.  The Minnesota Wild are in second place in the Central Division at 18-8-4 (40 points) and are currently in a seven-game winning streak, the longest for the franchise since March of 2013.

Last week, Antti Raanta was named the NHL’s second star of the week after his stellar play.  Well this week, it’s none other than his teammate and fellow Rangers’ goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.  How fitting it is that The King is named one of the three stars upon his return to action after riding the pine four games in row, allowing Raanta to shine!  Henrik Lundqvist has proven all the naysayers wrong as the 34-year old netminder is 15-8-1 with a 2.34 goals against average, a .920 save percentage, and one shutout, coming against the Dallas Stars on Thursday, despite a scary collision with Stars’ forward Cody Eakin.  With Sunday’s win over the New Jersey Devils, Lundqvist is now tied with Dominik Hasek for most wins by a European goaltender with 389.  Since his debut with the Rangers in 2005-06, the Blueshirts have relied heavily on the Swedish goaltender.  Lundqvist has consistently put up star-studded numbers backstopping the Rangers, and the squad will continue to rely on the solid goaltending from him and Raanta as they look for redemption come spring.

The NHL’s first star of the week is last year’s Calder Memorial Trophy recipient, Artemi Panarin.  The “Bread Man” had a monster week with three goals and seven assists in four contests.  Panarin opened the four-game stretch with a two-point night, followed by consecutive three-point games, and closing out the week with another two-point showing.  He’s on a four-game multiple-point streak, and has at least a point in each of his last five games.  While many second year players suffer from the “Sophomore Slump”, Panarin seems to be immune, registering 14 goals and 20 assists in 34 games played so far this season.

On Sunday, USA Hockey announced its captains for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships to be held in Montréal and Toronto.  Forward Luke Kunin of University of Wisconsin will don the “C” for the tournament which is set to begin on December 26 against Latvia.  Kunin was drafted 15th overall at the 2016 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild.  Team USA will play two preliminary games on December 21st and 23rd against Switzerland and the Czech Republic, respectively.  Forward Colin White of Boston College and Defenseman Charlie McAvoy of Boston University were named as alternate captains.  White was drafted 21st overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2015, and McAvoy, a Long Beach, New York-native, was drafted 14th overall by the Boston Bruins in 2016.

Forward Tanner Laczynski out of Ohio State will also join the squad.  Laczynski was drafted in the sixth round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2016 (169th overall).  He has six goals and 16 assists in just 15 games played for Ohio State this season.

Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the third round (73rd overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft, forward Joey Anderson will join Team USA.  Anderson has six goals and eleven assists in 16 games with the University of Minnesota-Duluth this season.

The New York Islanders are also represented on Team USA by their 2016 first-round (19th overall) draft choice in Kieffer Bellows.  Bellows is the son of former NHL forward, Brian Bellows.  Brian spent most of his NHL career with the Minnesota North Stars, amassing 1,022 points (485 goals, 537 assists) in 1,188 gamed played throughout his career.  Brian believes his son has an even deadlier shot than he does!  Though, Kieffer has just four goals and two assists in 15 games played so far this season for Boston University, playing in the World Juniors will give him a chance to shine against the best in the world under 20-years old.  Last season in the United States Development Program, Kieffer scored 50 goals and 31 assists in 62 games.

On December 19, 1917, the first ever NHL games were played between the Montréal Canadiens at Ottawa Senators, and the Toronto Arenas at the Montréal Wanderers.  The Canadiens defeated the Senators 7-4, with Joe Malone scoring five goals, and Georges Vezina in net.  The Wanderers beat the Arenas 10-9 with Harry Hyland scoring five for the home team, and Reg Noble tallying four goals in the loss.  Wanderers’ defenseman Dave Ritchie is credited with scoring the first NHL goal in history about a minute into the game.  Unfortunately for the Wanderers, this was the only victory the short-lived franchise would ever see, as the arena they played in tragically burned to the ground after just four games played.  Rather than moving with the Canadiens to a new arena, the Wanderers elected to fold to franchise.

On January 1st, 2017, the NHL will kick off its Centennial celebration with the Toronto Maple Leafs playing host to the Detroit Red Wings in the Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario.

After a wonderful comeback season, Rangers’ forward Rick Nash will be out indefinitely with another groin injury suffered in Sunday night’s shootout-win over the New Jersey Devils.  Nash first suffered a groin injury this season on December 6th against the New York Islanders at Barclay’s Center which held him to the sidelines for over a week.  There have been plenty of reports of poor ice conditions at the Isles’ new home in Brooklyn.  I’m not saying the Barclay’s Center’s ice conditions are to blame for this seemingly nagging groin injury for Nash, but I’m not saying the Isles’ home-ice is without blame either.  Nevertheless, this is a major blow to the Blueshirts, whose scoring has leveled out a bit since the absences of many top forwards throughout the last couple of months including Nash, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Pavel Buchnevich.  Nash has 13 goals and seven assists in 30 contests this season.  The Rangers will again be forced to rely heavily on stellar goaltending and defense for the time being until Nash, Buchnevich, and Zibanejad make their returns to the lineup.  The Rangers will have a tough matchup against a strong Pittsburgh Penguins squad Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Jaromir Jagr-Watch picks up Tuesday evening in Sunrise, Florida as the Panthers host the Buffalo Sabres.  Jagr currently sits at 1,884 points, just three behind Mark Messier for second in all-time scoring (four to surpass).  Panthers host the Bruins on Thursday, Red Wings on Friday, and the Leafs and Canadiens next week on the 28th and 29th.  Panthers will close out 2016 on the road in Dallas against the Stars on New Years’ Eve.  Four points in six games?  It’s doable!  Stay tuned…

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.

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