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2014 USA Hockey Part II - Defensemen


2014 USA Hockey Part II - Defensemen

By Ben Raby

With the Olympic torch lit, and the 2012 London Games well underway, is already looking ahead to the 2014 Sochi Games.

NHL player participation in the next Winter Olympics is still pending approval from the Board of Governors in the next CBA, but assuming that the best players in the world will be made available to the worlds biggest stage, the United States should be in the mix for another podium finish.

In the days ahead will examine USA Hockeys 2014 Mens Olympic roster position by position in a four part series.

In Part One on Thursday we handicapped USA Hockeys goaltending options for 2014. In Part Two today, we examine the blueliners who may represent the U.S. in Sochi.

RYAN SUTER (Minnesota Wild): Suter may have struck gold this summer when he signed a 13-year, 98 million deal with Minnesota, but the 27-year-old is still after that elusive gold medal at the Olympics.

Not since Suters father Bob manned the American blue line in the 1980 Lake Place Games has the U.S. won gold in mens hockey, but with Ryan Suter on board in Sochi, Russia, that could change in 2014.

Suter was justifiably among the most coveted free agents last month after spending seven years with the Nashville Predators. The Madison, WI, native finished third in the NHL last season averaging 26:30 TOI per game, and his 39 assists and 46 points were both second among American defensemen.

Ryan makes so many difficult plays look so easy, former Nashville defenseman Jack Hillen said July 3, after signing with the Washington Capitals. I think I learned a lot about body positioning and about what style I can play from watching Ryan Suter because he does everything well. Hes not an overly big guy at 6-foot-1, but hes always in the right position.

Suters being positionally sound should help on the larger international ice as should his previous experience representing the U.S.

Since 2002, Suter has worn the red white and blue at 11 international events, including four World Championships (2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009) and the 2010 Winter Games.

JACK JOHNSON (Columbus Blue Jackets): Okay, so Jack Johnson gets traded from the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings to the worst team in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets. It could be worse though. After all, Johnson does get to play with Rick Nash, one of the games elite- oh, no wait never mind.

Yes, the way things are going in Columbus, Johnson would be best served to make the U.S. Olympic Team in 2014 if he wants any shot at playing meaningful hockey in the next two years. Barring injury though, that should not be a problem.

Johnson is fifth among American defensemen with 80 points in 164 games over the last two years and after playing in Drew Doughtys shadow in L.A. since 2009, the 25-year-old is expected to be the Blue Jackets undisputed defensive leader for years to come (Johnson is signed through 2017-18).

Johnson has represented USA Hockey at eight international events including the 2010 Vancouver Games. Months later he captained the U.S. at the 2010 World Championships in Slovakia.

KEITH YANDLE (Phoenix Coyotes): Thirteen American defensemen were considered for the 2010 U.S. Olympic team (based on evaluation camp, final roster and alternates), but Yandle was not among them.

That will likely change for 2014 as Yandle, 25, has emerged as one of the NHLs best two-way defensemen. Since the 2009-10 season, the Milton, MA, native leads all American defensemen with 143 points in 246 games and has a plus-33 rating over that span.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Yandle is also durable having played in 265 straight games since 2009, the second longest active streak among NHL defensemen and the eighth longest active streak overall.

He was also named to the NHL All-Star Game in 2011 and 2012 and helped lead the Coyotes to their first conference final in franchise history last spring.

Yandle represented USA Hockey at the 2010 World Championships in Cologne, Germany.

ERIK JOHNSON (Colorado Avalanche): In retrospect, its hard to believe the St. Louis Blues selected Johnson first overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, immediately ahead of Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel.

The Bloomington, MN, native missed the entire 2008-09 season with a torn ACL, and was eventually traded to the Colorado Avalanche in 2011. Johnson, 24, led Colorado defensemen with 26 points in 73 games last season and was rewarded with a four-year 15 million extension.

While it sounds like a nice new contract for the former No.1 pick, fellow defensemen picked in the top-three Drew Doughty (2nd overall, 2008) and Jack Johnson (3rd overall, 2005) received eight-year 56 million and seven-year 30.1 million deals respectively.

Johnson has represented USA Hockey at seven international events including the 2007 World Championships and the 2010 Vancouver Games.

RYAN MCDONAGH (New York Rangers): The Montreal Canadiens may spend the next 15 years kicking themselves for trading McDonagh to New York in 2009 as part of the deal that landed the Habs Scott Gomez (and his 7.5 million salary cap hit).

McDonagh was Montreals first round pick (12th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, but the 23-year-old has emerged as a key cog on the Rangers blue line and has the makings to be a star for years to come.

The St. Paul, MN, native and former Wisconsin Badger stepped in admirably for an injured Marc Staal last season in New York and teamed with Dan Girardi to form the top defensive pairing for the eventual Atlantic Division champions. Not bad for a kid in his first full NHL season.

McDonaghs success continued through the Stanley Cup Playoffs where hed skate a game-high 53:20 and block a game-high eight shots in New Yorks triple overtime win against the Capitals in Round 2.

McDonagh has represented USA Hockey at three international events including the 2011 World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia.

DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN (Winnipeg Jets): Byfugliens 106 points the last two years are second most among NHL defensemen behind only Erik Karlssons 123 points.

The Minneapolis, MN, native has one of the games hardest shots and has shown that he can move for a 6-foot-5, 265-pound bruising defenseman.

The 2011 NHL All-Star has never represented USA Hockey on a senior national team.

MATT CARLE (Tampa Bay Lightning): With Chris Prongers future in doubt and their bid to sign Shea Weber unsuccessful, the Philadelphia Flyers may learn the hard way just how valuable Carle had been to their blue line since 2009.

Carle emerged as a top defenseman in Philadelphia in recent years, leading the Flyers in ice-time last season, and finishing second among the teams blue liners with 38 points in 82 games. He cashed in this summer when he signed a six-year 33 million deal with Tampa Bay.

Carle last represented USA Hockey at the 2004 World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

JOHN CARLSON (Washington Capitals): Carlson emerged as a top defenseman in his first full NHL season in 2010-11 while teaming with Karl Alzner to form Washingtons No.1 pair, but rather than build on his rookie campaign, the 22-year-old instead saw his production, ice-time and responsibilities all drop last season.

A year after leading Washington defenseman with a plus-21 rating, Carlson finished was a team-worst minus-15 last season.

Whether Carlson will represent the U.S. in 2014 will have much to do with whether he can return to, or even improve on, the form he displayed as an NHL rookie.

Carlson has never played on any of USA Hockeys senior national teams, but he became a household name in international hockey circles thanks to his overtime game-winning goal in gold medal game at the 2010 World Junior Championships.

KEVIN SHATTENKIRK (St. Louis Blues): The offensive minded defenseman finished third among American blue liners with 43 points in 81 games last season and his plus-20 rating was second overall on the Blues.

The 23-year-old is still rounding out his overall game, but his partnership with teammate Alex Pietrangelo gives St. Louis one of the best young defensive tandems in the NHL.

Shattenkirk has represented USA Hockey at three international events including the 2011 World Championships in Slovakia.

Zach Bogosian (Winnipeg Jets), Alex Goligoski (Dallas Stars), Jordan Leopold (Buffalo Sabres), Paul Martin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh Penguins), James Wisniewski (Columbus Blue Jackets)

SEE YOU IN 2018:
Justin Faulk (Carolina Hurricanes), Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs), Seth Jones (USHL), Jared Tinordi (Montreal Canadiens)

Which defensemen do you think will represent the United States at the 2014 Sochi Games? Share your comments below. Check back on in the days to come for other positions.

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract


Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan began tackling the items on his very long to-do list with the signing of prospect forward Shane Gersich. The team announced Monday that Gersich was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000.

Gersich will remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal but will still be one year away from becoming arbitration eligible.

Gersich, who will turn 23 in July, just finished his first full professional season with the Hershey Bears, recording eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

“I learned a ton,” Gersich told NBC Sports Washington about his first AHL season. “I think our staff here is unbelievable. They've taught me so much, whether it's [showing] me video or doing skills or whatever. Can't say enough good things about them. And just my overall game, playing 200 feet and being aware of little details in the game. I think my game's grown a ton.”

Gersich’s original contract was for two seasons, but the first year was burned at the end of the 2017-18 season when he signed out of college at the end of the season and joined the Caps’ roster.

That transition from Stanley Cup champion to AHL the following season was a tough one for Gersich initially.

“Obviously, you were making your NHL debut and stuff like that, then it's kind of back to work and square one,” Gersich said. “For me, I know [I'm] definitely not the kid that's going to shy away from working or anything like that. So obviously, you've got to earn everything you get, and then that's how it is at every level.”

The speedy forward played in five games for Washington, three in the regular season and two in the playoffs during the Stanley Cup run. His speed was evident and has led many fans to wonder if the future is now for the young forward. His first year in Hershey showed, however, he still has a lot to learn before he reaches the NHL.

Gersich is still very much learning the game at the professional level. There was a little too much reaction in his game as opposed to action, which mitigated his speed. That is something he knows he needs to refine.

“I think just always being aware out there,” he said when talking about aspects of his game he wants to improve on. “Keeping my head on a swivel and making little plays. Just using my strengths too, I think. I've got to realize that I can use my speed out there a lot.”

The Caps will have a few roster spots open next season and not much money under the cap to fill those spots. Using young prospects is always an intriguing option. Gersich’s new contract, however, seems to indicate the Caps anticipate him spending the season in the AHL.

Gersich’s new contract carries an NHL salary of $700,000, which is actually lower than his first contract with a $925,000 salary. His minor-league salary, however, went up from $70,000 to $115,000. It may look like Gerisch is getting a pay cut based on the NHL numbers, but he actually is getting a raise because, barring a dazzling training camp, he will be spending most if not all of next season in Hershey. And if he does surprise, well now he has a lower NHL cap hit which is very important for a Washington team that will likely be very close to the salary cap.

While the implications of the contract seem clear, Gersich is excited for the opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL at training camp in the fall.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “It's been my goal my whole life, and that's the reason I left North Dakota. I think I'm ready for it, but you've got to wait and see until the time comes.”

The Caps also announced Monday the re-signing of forward Brian Pinho to a one-year, two-way contract. His contract carries a $700,000 NHL salary and a $100,000 AHL salary.



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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them


In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

The Capitals will have a lot of roster spots open and not much money to fill them with this offseason. Adding a young, cheap defensive prospect to the NHL roster will certainly help and that appears to be the plan for Jonas Siegenthaler.

Siegenthaler’s first NHL season began with him in the AHL, but it finished with him playing on the top defensive pairing of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season did not get off to a great start for Siegenthaler as he became a cap casualty despite a strong training camp. Heading into the start of the NHL season, he looked poised to make the Caps roster.

“I came to camp here with the mindset to make the team and come to camp in good shape and everything,” Siegenthaler said at the team’s breakdown day.

The suspension to Tom Wilson and subsequent acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers forced Washington to shuffle money to get under the salary cap. Siegenthaler, who was waiver exempt, was sent to the Hershey Bears as a result.

Siegenthaler would have to wait until Nov. 9 to finally make his NHL debut. He would go on to play 26 games his rookie season.

“I think a guy like Siegenthaler came up and played really well,” Lars Eller said.

““I tried to play my best game,” Siegenthaler said. “Of course it wasn’t always easy but I think like I did my best and tried to help the team.”

With a deep blue line, Siegenthaler was sent back to Hershey in February, but was recalled late in the season after Michal Kempny suffered a season-ending injury. The call-up, however, was just to have an extra body. As Todd Reirden experimented with the defensive pairs heading into the playoffs, it did not appear he viewed the rookie defenseman as a real option for the playoffs. Despite all the shuffling, Siegenthaler did not get into the lineup until the season finale after Washington had already wrapped up the division crown.

The Caps struggled in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, prompting changes to the lineup. The defense still struggled with the constant in-game adjustments and a change was clearly needed. Siegenthaler got into the lineup for Game 4. By Game 5, he was playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair alongside John Carlson.

“He really just seemed very poised,” Eller said. “There wasn't any panic in his game. It's hard to be thrown into a series like that where the stakes are high and I thought he did that really well.”

Still just 22 years old and with a contract that remains waiver exempt for another year, Siegenthaler could enter the 2019-20 season in a position to again have to compete just to make the NHL roster. The possible retirement of Brooks Orpik and speculation over whether Matt Niskanen could be traded, however, leaves the team with spots open on the blue line.

The fact that Siegenthaler was able to go from the AHL to the top pair of the Caps during the playoffs reflects his growth as a player over the course of the year. To expect him to come into next season in a top-pair role would be unfair. Even a top-four role seems unlikely with Kempny likely returning and Nick Jensen taking Niskanen’s spot if he does in fact get traded.

But if the coaches trusted Siegenthaler as a rookie when it mattered most and with him still on an entry-level deal at a time when the team will need to pinch every penny, Siegenthaler will almost certainly be in Washington and not in Hershey for the 2019-20 campaign.

“Next season’s going to be huge,” he said. “I’ll do my best in the summer to keep myself in shape, in even better shape. My goal is to be here a long time and for rest of my career and yeah, just got to work for it.”