Here is the Dec. 19 edition of Dan Rosen’s weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.
Is Alex Ovechkin getting even better as he finally gets, supposedly, some real competition for the Rocket Richard Trophy? — @MeierGilles
I think Ovechkin is the greatest goal-scorer in the history of the NHL when you factor in the era in which he’s playing, how difficult it is to score and how challenging it is to stay on top with all of the great young talent entering the League. With that in mind, I don’t know if I can say he’s getting better with age because he’s always been great. I guess what is so impressive is he’s still great at an age, 33, and a time in his career, more than 1,000 games played, when we tend to start seeing even the great players fall off a bit. It’s laughable that people wondered if winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals last season would satisfy Ovechkin, as if he wouldn’t try to win it again. Ovechkin plays the game with the same youthful energy, power and enthusiasm he did a decade ago. He keeps himself in terrific shape, so his skating hasn’t dropped off. His unique weapon, his shot, is lethal as ever. His shot accuracy has improved, a big reason why he’s shooting 22.5 percent this season. He shot 13.8 percent last season, which was 1.4 percent better than his career average going into the 2017-18 season and his best shooting percentage since his 14.5 percent in 2012-13, the 48-game lockout-shortened season. He is eighth in shots on goal this season (129). Ovechkin has finished first in the League in shots on goal 11 times since 2005-06. In the race for the Richard trophy, Ovechkin leads the NHL with 29 goals, four more than Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres, and barring injury, should be a lock for 50, perhaps even 60 or more.
You mentioned last week that you think the Minnesota Wild need a game-breaker. Your example was Artemi Panarin, who probably wouldn’t sign an extension with Minnesota. Are there any other high-level right shot players potentially available (Mark Stone?)? — @ZBwildnation_HW
Stone of the Ottawa Senators would be the other right-shot forward I would have on my wish list if I were Wild general manager Paul Fenton. I don’t know what the Wild would have to give up in a trade, but he’s the other potentially available player, along with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Panarin, a pending unrestricted free agent who could be the game-breaker Minnesota needs. If the Wild don’t care about right-shot or left-shot, they could take a run at Stone’s teammate in Ottawa, forward Matt Duchene, who is on injured reserve because of a groin injury, but can become an UFA on July 1. Duchene knows the Western Conference, particularly the Central Division, since he played for the Colorado Avalanche from 2009 to 2018. He might be interested in re-signing with the Wild, especially if they’re unsure of what to do with forward Eric Staal, who is also a pending UFA. Other possibilities could be other pending UFAs, Rangers center Kevin Hayes or Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist.
Do you see the New York Islanders making any big moves via trade? Definitely need more of a scoring punch. — @tswizzle_31
Did you notice I didn’t include Jordan Eberle as a potential target for the Wild in the answer to the previous question? I think the Islanders are going to remain in the hunt for a playoff berth and that’s why I don’t think they’ll trade Eberle, even if the forward doesn’t have a contract for next season. General manager Lou Lamoriello will actively scour the market for help. I’d look on the wing first. Adding a top-six forward to play on the wing could push Anthony Beauvillier into a third-line role, which increases the Islanders’ scoring depth. Forward Andrew Ladd will create even greater depth when he returns from a lower-body injury. The only thing that changes my thinking on the Islanders looking for help through a trade is if forward Joshua Ho-Sang starts to break out. If they can go after Duchene, fine, but I wouldn’t worry about the Islanders center depth of Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Valtteri Filppula and Casey Cizikas. If they get Duchene, Nelson could move to the wing.
With NHL careers being shorter and shorter (32 is old now) and guys being so good so young (Elias Pettersson, Rasmus Dahlin, Miro Heiskanen), do you think we can label guys busts too quickly? For example, Lias Andersson is young, but is that an excuse anymore? — @Jonnyhockey02
We sometimes label players as busts too early. It’s about perspective and opportunity. But we need to afford more time to goaltenders and defensemen because those positions typically require more experience at the NHL level to master. Dahlin, an 18-year-old Buffalo Sabres defenseman, and Heiskanen, a 19-year-old Dallas Stars defenseman, are clearly exceptions to the rule, but Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning might be the perfect example of why patience is key at that position. It wasn’t until Hedman’s fifth season, 2013-14, that we started to see how good he could be on a consistent basis. Starting that season at age 23, he finished ninth in Norris Trophy voting. He wasn’t in the voting in 2014-15 because injuries limited him to 59 games, but he was seventh in 2015-16, third in 2016-17 and won it last season. For a goalie, look at John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks. He was drafted at age 17 in 2011 and didn’t start to make an impact with the Ducks until four years later. Forwards are different. They tend not to take as much time, but even if they do take a couple of seasons, that doesn’t mean they’re busts.
You mention Andersson, selected No. 7 by the New York Rangers in the 2017 NHL Draft. I’m sure there are people looking at Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi, the No. 4 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, in the same way. That’s unfair. The impact of some shouldn’t create labels for others. The Rangers value Andersson, 20, as an eventual big piece; that he hasn’t been a major hit in his first 25 NHL games (two goals, three assists) doesn’t change that. All players develop differently. Andersson has barely touched the surface of his NHL career. He’s also in a different role with the Rangers than Pettersson, 20, is with the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks need Pettersson to score. The Rangers have centers ahead of Andersson, which limits his ice time and his ability to make a difference. He’s not a bust. He’s a developing prospect. Puljujarvi has 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists) in 117 NHL games. He hasn’t made an impact yet, but I think he still should play at least 250 NHL games before we can safely label him.
With a lot of NHL stars talking about the Stanley Cup Playoff format, do you see this being revisited sometime in the near future? A lot of players preferred the old one-through-eight format. — @whoopoi
I checked on this when I got your question and I was told there has hasn’t been an appetite from the Board of Governors to revisit it. I was told some owners raise it from time to time, but it’s a small amount of them and the interest generally changes based on their team’s situation in the standings. So I don’t expect anything on this any time soon.
Do you think Quinn Hughes plays for the Vancouver Canucks this season and will he be a regular next season? — @canadianduke
Yes and yes, provided Hughes stays healthy and continues on his current path. Every report I’ve read on him suggests he’s been terrific at the University of Michigan this season. He has a team-high 20 points (three goals, 17 assists) in 17 games. He’ll play for the United States at the 2019 World Junior Championship, which starts next week. I find it hard to believe the Canucks won’t make a big push to sign Hughes once his season at Michigan is complete and I’d be shocked if he didn’t sign. The only possible issue could be if the Wolverines, currently 6-7-4, make the NCAA Frozen Four, which is April 11-13. The Canucks’ regular season ends April 6, so if Michigan makes the Frozen Four, the only way Hughes plays for the Canucks this season is in the playoffs, but they’d have to get there. Hughes, selected No. 7 by the Canucks in the 2018 NHL Draft, is certainly on target to be a regular next season, potentially with Olli Juolevi joining him as Vancouver’s rookie defensemen.