In Edmonton, Yakupov’s future seems bright again

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It took a while, but Nail Yakupov seems to have figured out life as an Edmonton Oiler.

And what’s more, he wants to keep it going.

The oft-maligned winger, who Edmonton made the first overall selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, spent the first three years of his career battling expectations, healthy scratches and perceptions that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t want to be there.

This week, Yakupov — a pending RFA — put those latter concerns to rest.

“I’m still pretty young and I hope I’m going to be in this league for a long time. I want to play for the Edmonton Oilers,” Yakupov said, per the Edmonton Sun. “I want to work hard, especially for the guys who trust me and gave me support — MacT and Nelly — and we have a good group of players on the team.”

“MacT and Nelly” are, of course, Oilers GM Craig MacTavish and head coach Todd Nelson, who have played a significant role in Yakupov’s recent upswing, which has seen the 21-year-old — yes, Yakupov is still only 21 — score nine points in his last 13 games.

MacTavish went out midway through the season and acquired Derek Roy, who has centered Yakupov since joining the Oilers and proven to be the ideal veteran, playmaking fit (which is something of a surprise, given most had toe-tagged Roy after failed stints in Vancouver, St. Louis and Nashville.)

Nelson, meanwhile, rewarded Yakupov with a significant uptick in ice time, something that was an issue under previous head coach Dallas Eakins, and Yakupov seems to finally have faith in a head coach — his third in three years, it should be pointed out.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Yakupov said of Nelson. “I think he’s the guy who helped me the most.”

All of these good vibes bode well for Yakupov’s future in Edmonton, which will soon be a topic of discussion. He’s in the last of his three-year entry-level deal and, barring some dramatic turn of events, should be back with the Oilers next season.

But that said, the Yakupov camp isn’t ready to start talking figures.

“The season is getting into the final swing and there is no time to change the focus on contract talks,” Yakupov’s agent, Igor Larionov, told PHT via email this week. “Nail is playing great hockey for a while now and he doesn’t need any distraction at this moment.”

The strategy make sense, as Yakupov still needs to show how far removed he is from the “old” Yakupov. But make no mistake: Edmonton is happy, Yakupov is happy and it sure sounds like both sides are ready to explore the future together.

“We’ve gone this far,” MacTavish said. “We all have to see the end now.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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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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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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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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David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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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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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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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.