Five Americans to watch at World Juniors

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We’ve already taken a look at what Team Canada is bringing to the table for the 2012 World Junior Championships, and today Team USA and coach Dean Blais made their final cuts and chose the 22-man team they hope can win gold come January. While there were some surprise cuts and additions, there are five players who will be the biggest difference makers.

Jack Campbell – (G)

This is Campbell’s third go-round at World Juniors and after leading Team USA to gold in 2010 he’d like to rebound to do it again in Canada after not doing so hot last year. The Dallas Stars prospect getting the shot to shine on the big stage of the WJCs once again will hopefully show the Stars that their future franchise goalie is ready for prime time.

Jon Merrill – (D)

Merrill is a Devils prospect also playing in his third World Juniors. Merrill’s work from the blue line as both a solid defender and a power play leader will be necessary when it comes to the stiffer competition from Canada and Russia. Cashing in on the man advantage will be what makes the difference in the tournament. Without Justin Faulk to run the point, Merrill’s job becomes a big one.

Nick Bjugstad – (F)

Bjugstad is about as big of a forward as you’ll find on this American roster and his offensive skills make him a threat all over the ice. He can pass, he can park around the net and make goalies uncomfortable, he can rush the puck up the ice. If the Panthers prospect out of the University of Minnesota proves to be a force, the Americans will do very well.

Jason Zucker – (F)

No one’s been more impressive at the WJCs than Jason Zucker. The Wild prospect has seized the opportunity to shine the last two years at World Juniors and he comes into this year’s tournament with a wicked shot and offense to burn. Expect Zucker to show why his future is only getting brighter.

Emerson Etem – (F)

This Ducks prospect has only gotten better this year while playing for Medicine Hat in the WHL. He showed why the Ducks made him a first round pick last year in making Team USA and this time around he’ll be expected to be a leader. His speed and offensive flash as well as physical play at times makes him a top threat for the Americans.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.