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Hyman's superpower, Canadiens primed for splash, and 4 other NHL items

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Zach Hyman's superpower is that he embraces his role better than anyone.

His role entails many things - hunting down pucks, battling along the boards in all three zones, forechecking hard, backchecking harder, and making the right play 99 times out of 100. It's the stuff coaches and fellow players appreciate.

It entails being Connor McDavid's sidekick - the guy who can think the game at approximately the same level, pull the trigger on those breathtaking rushes, be the safety valve when the odd scoring chance goes awry, and so on.

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The Oilers wouldn't be in the Stanley Cup Final - which finally gets going Saturday night in Sunrise - without Hyman's 54 regular-season goals and 14 in the playoffs. They aren't in the Final if he doesn't play to his identity every single shift. He's predictable and reliable in the most productive way.

Hyman may not be as valuable as McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or, arguably, Evan Bouchard. But he's the ringleader of the second layer of talent. The Oilers won't beat the deep Panthers without contributions from everybody.

All modern NHLers try to attack from the slot to some extent. Knowing his role and putting his head down, Hyman takes that tactic to the extreme. Seriously, look at the number of shots he's fired from the opposing goalie's kitchen this postseason. Of his 76 total shots, 48 are from the crease or just outside it.

NHL Edge

Hyman's learned how to live in the inner slot. In the regular season, he tied Jake Guentzel for most expected goals per game, with 0.67, according to Sportlogiq. In the playoffs, he's the sole leader with 0.66 per game, or 11.83 in 18 games. Cup Final rival Sam Reinhart is second at 0.54, or 9.26 in 17.

You can't discount the McDavid factor. Hyman benefits greatly from skating with one of the greatest players of all time at both even strength and on the power play (which is historically effective). He's undoubtedly getting a boost.

Still, need somebody to drive the net with his stick on the ice? Lift the puck over sprawled pads? Punch home a wobbly rebound? Provide a screen, tip, or both? Hyman - who's five goals shy of the NHL playoff record - is the guy.

Hyman signed a seven-year, $38.5-million deal with the Oilers in 2021. It was originally viewed as an overpay in part because at 29 years old, he was right around the border of typical decline. He turns 32 on Sunday and, against all odds, is highly productive. That once-maligned contract is now on the shortlist for top signings of the salary-cap era. He's bucked the aging curve.

It's hard to say if it'll continue into his mid-30s. It doesn't matter for the next two weeks. McDavid and the Oilers need Hyman to lean into his superpower.

Will Habs make another splash?

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On the first day of the 2022 draft, Kent Hughes traded for Kirby Dach. On the eve of the 2023 draft, Montreal's general manager picked up Alex Newhook.

In both instances, Hughes acquired a young forward with the hope that a change of scenery and quality time with Montreal's coaches and development staff would help the player reach his potential. Both times, Hughes structured a package around the Canadiens' second of two first-round picks that year.

Well, guess what? The Habs have two first-rounders again and remain on the hunt for core forwards. Hughes told The Athletic earlier this week that he's open to another trade along the same lines. He has plenty of ammunition: the fifth and 26th picks, plus a surplus of NHL-caliber defensemen to dangle.

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From afar, a few names immediately come to mind.

Trevor Zegras: The Ducks are reportedly listening to offers for Zegras. The flashy 23-year-old is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he recorded 15 points in 31 games. Zegras is signed for the next two years at a $5.75-million cap hit, becoming a restricted free agent in 2026. The Habs could use his creativity and playmaking skills. It doesn't hurt that he's an ex-teammate of Cole Caufield.

Martin Necas: The Hurricanes RFA seems to be on his way out of Carolina, and a bunch of teams are apparently interested, which makes sense. The 25-year-old is a highly-skilled, puck-dominant player who's been operating within the confines of a forecheck-first system. He's averaged 62 points a season the past two years. Hitting 80 elsewhere is feasible.

Morgan Frost: Philadelphia's in the process of solidifying its core, and Frost might be the odd man out. He's taken a while to develop and butted heads with coach John Tortorella on occasion this season. While his game has less upside than Zegras' and Necas', the Habs wouldn't have to give up as much to acquire the 2025 RFA making $2.1 million next year.

Coach Carle sets record straight

Five NHL teams have announced a new head coach since May 7. One vacancy remains. However, don't expect the hottest NHL coaching prospect to end up behind the Sharks' bench - or any other pro bench anytime soon.

"I don't intend on going anywhere," University of Denver head coach David Carle told theScore last week.

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Carle spoke with one NHL team about a month ago (he declined to name the club) but "decided to bow out" of the running early on. He then had a "great conversation" with another team. ESPN reported that said conversation was an interview with the Devils, but Carle wanted to make it clear that it was in fact a "get-to-know-you type of conversation," not a formal interview.

The 34-year-old led Denver to an NCAA title in April. It was the program's second national championship in three seasons. He won world junior gold this past January and will coach the Under-20 Americans again in 2025. It's obvious why Carle's an attractive candidate, yet he's in no rush to make the jump.

"I love being at Denver. We've got great leadership at the school. It would take a life-changing opportunity for me to entertain departing here," Carle said, before adding that he considers his current gig to be a top-five hockey coaching job in North America and that Colorado is a great place to raise kids.

The father of two became the youngest head coach in Division I men's hockey when he was hired in 2018 as a 28-year-old. An Alaska native, Carle was selected in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL draft by the Lightning. His playing career was cut short after he was diagnosed with a heart condition.

Parting shots

Savvy Slavin: Carolina's Jaccob Slavin won his second Lady Byng Trophy last week after taking only four minor penalties in 81 games. The infractions: holding, holding, tripping, and delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. It's extremely difficult for a guy tasked with shutting down the other team's best players to take only three "real" penalties in a season. It wasn't a fluke, either. Slavin's been whistled for just 19 minors in 356 games over the past five seasons: six puck over glass, six tripping, four holding, two hooking, and one interference. Notice how there isn't a single roughing, cross-checking, charging, elbowing, or other similarly dangerous infraction. The truly crazy part is that Slavin, one of the NHL's top defensive defensemen, isn't a soft player. He's simply a master at legal defending.

Slim pickings: There's no way around it, the 2024 unrestricted free-agent goalie crop sucks. Cam Talbot, who turns 37 on July 5, is the biggest name in a group filled with career backups. That said, Laurent Brossoit, Anthony Stolarz, Kevin Lankinen, and Alex Nedeljkovic are four youngish veterans who've shown enough promise over the past few years to get teams dreaming. For instance, if the Maple Leafs can't land a starter via trade, they should target Brossoit in free agency. The 31-year-old is sound technically and posted excellent numbers the past two seasons in limited action with the Jets. A tandem of Brossoit and upstart Joseph Woll would be a decent outcome, all things considered - assuming Toronto's front office can shore up the blue line. Regardless of who's brought in, Woll needs to stay healthy in 2024-25.

Blues' blue line: St. Louis, which missed the playoffs for the second straight season, has chosen a retool over a rebuild. It's a perfectly justifiable strategy, with Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Jake Neighbours, Joel Hofer, Dalibor Dvorsky, Jimmy Snuggerud, Otto Stenberg, and the club's 2024 first-round pick forming a solid under-25 nucleus. The problem with that list is the lack of exciting young defensemen, especially since the blue line features three overpaid veterans: Torey Krug, Justin Faulk, and Colton Parayko. On the job since 2010, Doug Armstrong's the longest-tenured GM in the NHL. One of the toughest challenges of his tenure will be fixing the defense corps on the fly.

Takes, Thoughts, and Trends is theScore's biweekly hockey grab bag.

John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (john.matisz@thescore.com).

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