Wild prospect Lucia won’t turn pro, but isn’t planning on testing free agency

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There were some eyebrows raised when Mario Lucia — Minnesota’s second-round pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft — opted against turning pro this week to return for his senior season at Notre Dame.

Was Lucia, like some previous collegiate draftees, thinking about letting the Wild’s rights expire to test free agency next summer?

Short answer: No.

“The Wild has a lot of interest in me,” Lucia said, per the Star-Tribune. “It’s my hometown team, and if I want to play in the NHL, I want to play with the Wild, for sure. I don’t anticipate not signing with the Wild when I’m ready.

“I just feel I should return to school, graduate and keep developing as a player.”

Lucia, 21, tied for 13th in the country this year in goals (13) and saw Fighting Irish linemate Vince Hinostroza sign a pro deal with Chicago, which some saw as a sign for Lucia make a similar leap (he’s also got NHL size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds). But the Minnesota native — and son of Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia — says he wants to further expand his game at the collegiate level before signing an entry-level deal.

That hasn’t, however, stopped people from wondering about the true intention of Lucia’s decision.

Ever since former Boston College star Kevin Hayes balked on signing with the Blackhawks — who took him in the first round in 2010 — to hit free agency and join the Rangers, seeds of doubt have been planted everywhere. We saw as much with Vermont’s Michael Paliotta (who eventually signed with Chicago, the team that drafted him) and Minnesota’s Mike Rielly (the Columbus draftee who’s announced he’s going pro… but maybe not as a Blue Jacket.)

NCAA draftees have leverage when it comes to staying in school for the full four years, then having their choice of suitors as unrestricted free agents.

But to hear Lucia explain it, that’s not what he’s planning to do.

“I really feel we have an opportunity to do special things here [in South Bend], and also I will really have an opportunity to focus on hockey next year,” he explained. “That can only help me mature as a player and help the Wild in the long run.”

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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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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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.