Maple Leafs seem giddy about Auston Matthews

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TORONTO (AP) Brooks Laich has seen top draft picks blossom in the NHL.

With the Washington Capitals, he watched Alex Ovechkin burst onto the scene in 2005. Now with the Toronto Maple Leafs some 11 years later, he has a ringside seat for Auston Matthews‘ debut.

The 19-year-old forward, the No. 1 overall pick this summer, turned heads at the World Cup of Hockey on a Team North American line with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele.

“It puts a big smile on your face,” Laich, a 12-year veteran, said about watching Matthews. “I see a lot of little things in his game, habits that you don’t generally see in young players.”

Those include his positioning, the way he competes for the puck and his shot release. From Scottsdale, Arizona, Matthews played last season in Switzerland.

Leafs center Nazem Kadri has also seen Matthews play from the Air Canada Centre stands.

“(He’s) obviously high-level skill,” he said. “(He) can skate, he’s big. So he’s only going to get better. Obviously, with that 82-game season, it’s going to be a little difficult but I think he’s going to be more than ready for it.”

Leafs management already likes what it sees.

“There’s no question he has a bright future,” GM Lou Lamoriello said. “It’s just exciting to see him play. But I think the most exciting thing is to know he’s ours.”

Laich reminded reporters asking about Matthews that the team comes first.

“This isn’t an individual sport,” he said. “This isn’t a tennis or a golf where everything comes down to one person. Auston’s a great player from what I’ve seen. But there’s also going to be 22 other great players in this room.

“So as a young guy, he’s got enough pressure on himself. He puts, I’m sure, enough pressure on himself. You don’t get to be where he is already without having an internal drive like that. So we don’t need to put anything else on him. We want to make him a member of the team, we want to treat him like the other 22 guys.”

“The logo comes first. I’m sure Auston will tell you that.”

The Leafs begin on-ice activities at training camp Friday in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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.