Jets boast young talent but breaking through in the Central Division is a difficult task

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This is part of Jets Day at PHT…

As we have previously noted today, the Winnipeg Jets have been building a team stocked with young talent.

It helps when you can climb four spots in the draft lottery, winning the second overall pick and eventually choosing Patrik Laine (He’s looking to make the leap). It helps when Mark Scheifele, the seventh overall pick five years ago, emerges as a top-line center and a cornerstone to build around up front (He’s under pressure). It helps when Nikolaj Ehlers shows potential in his rookie season. It would help if the Jets can re-sign 22-year-old restricted free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba.

In no particular order, the Jets also have in their system 2015 first-round pick Kyle Connor, the University of Michigan standout forward who had 71 points in 38 games as a freshman, Joshua Morrissey on defense and Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie in goal.

(Speaking of goaltending: Winnipeg had the 23rd-ranked save percentage at five-on-five last season, as per stats.hockeyanalysis.com. From positions 23 to 30 in that category, the only team to make the playoffs was Dallas.)

“We added some depth and created real competition [among the bottom-six forwards], and that is going to put some players that were on our team at the end of the [last] season in a really competitive environment for camp,” head coach Paul Maurice told the Jets website, as per NHL.com.

“It’s going to be a real challenge and we’re looking forward to putting those players under that kind of pressure. For some of these young guys, we’re looking for some growth at camp.”

And this adds to a group of veterans like Blake Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault, Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little.

While the future appears promising in Winnipeg, the Central Division was highly competitive this past season.

The Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks all reached 100 points during the regular season. The Nashville Predators, who, in case you missed it, scored P.K. Subban in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens this summer, finished with 96 points and made it to within one win of the Western Conference Final.

The Minnesota Wild, at 87 points, were bounced again in the first round before they hired Bruce Boudreau as their new coach, so perhaps that gives Minny a boost, as well.

Now, just because those five teams made the playoffs last season doesn’t guarantee them a spot in the Stanley Cup tournament next spring. An 82-game campaign, with a World Cup tournament beforehand, may produce a curve ball or two.

But it shows the standard that has been set in the Central, particularly with the top three teams.

Since moving back to Winnipeg from Atlanta, the Jets have given their diehard fan base one playoff appearance — in 2015. It lasted four games.

Making it back to the playoffs next season is certainly not impossible. It will be a difficult task.

While the Jets have added young talent, they’ve also preached patience with the plan as these players develop.

If all goes according to plan in Winnipeg, it would mean trouble for others in the Central Division.

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.