Etem on time with Rangers: ‘Sometimes you go in there and you just don’t fit in’

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When the Anaheim Ducks traded Emerson Etem to the New York Rangers last summer, the young man from Long Beach with the “LB” tattooed behind his ear embraced his new challenge.

But it wasn’t a good fit, and Etem found himself on the move yet again.

He struggled in training camp with the Rangers and was in and out of coach Alain Vigneault’s lineup. Earlier this month the Rangers traded Etem back to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Conference for forward Nicklas Jensen and a 2017 sixth-round pick.

At just 23, Etem is adjusting to his third NHL team, but coach Willie Desjardins isn’t worried about him quickly getting on track.

“It’s pretty easy because I think when you’ve been traded twice in six months, you know you’d better get your career going and you’d better be real focused,” Desjardins said last week. “I think coming in here, he knows he’s got to have a good stop here and he’s got to make this one last, so he’d better be focused and I think he’s come in with that attitude.”

Etem will play his fifth game with the Canucks on Tuesday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It won’t be a celebrated return for a player who dressed for just 19 games and registered three assists for New York, but it’s an opportunity to show his old team what he can do.

Etem realized early on it would be difficult to get a big opportunity with the Rangers.

“They’ve been in the playoffs the past few years, and they got the guys that they stick with,” Etem said. “Sometimes you go in there and you just don’t fit in. I think that’s the case. I felt like I brought speed. But (they had) a couple guys with speed, it was almost like, ‘Where do I kind of fit in?’ And I think they felt the same way. They couldn’t really put me in a position where I really fit in.”

He didn’t fit in like speedy winger Carl Hagelin, whom the Rangers dealt to Anaheim, in part, because his new contract would’ve been difficult to fit under the salary cap. Hagelin scored 17 goals last season but similarly wasn’t a good fit with the Ducks, who traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins over the weekend.

Like Hagelin in the East, the Canucks hope the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Etem’s game translates better in the West. He’s big but also can skate well, and the Canucks can use more speed and youth.

“He’s shown so far that he’s very, very speedy,” captain Henrik Sedin said. “I think for him to get the confidence back and knowing he’s going to play here and get regular shifts. Him and (linemate) Linden Vey have really looked good together. They played with each other before, so they have that chemistry that’s going to help both of them.”

Familiarity should help Etem.

Desjardins coached him in junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, and Vey played with him there. He also knew goaltender Ryan Miller from informal summer skates in California and defenseman Luca Sbisa from Anaheim.

“All that kind of makes it easier when you get here, and it definitely translates on the ice, too,” Etem said.

At this point it has to.

Etem was a first-round pick in 2010 and has had high expectations, but now the pressure is on to show why Vancouver should stick with him.

“It’s about coming in here, not waiting to take up the opportunity,” Etem said. “I’ve just got to run with it. This league gets better and better each year, and you only get so many chances to make an impression.”

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.