Rangers hoping for bounce-backs from veterans, growth from youngsters

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NEW YORK (AP) After two deep playoff runs, the New York Rangers’ 2016 postseason fizzled out quickly.

Eventual champion Pittsburgh dispatched them in five games in the first round, the last two by a combined score of 11-3.

“Now, obviously, there is going to be some changes,” coach Alain Vigneault said a few days later. “There are still some very good pieces. We have to decide in which direction we’re going to take.”

The direction he and general manager Jeff Gorton wound up deciding to take was mostly to give it another go with those good pieces. The changes over the offseason came mostly around the edges of the roster.

The big move was a trade of centers, sending Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad, who is quite a bit younger – and cheaper.

Veterans Dan Girardi, Rick Nash and Marc Staal are back after disappointing seasons, and the greatest change in 2016-17 could simply come from any or all of them recapturing their previous form.

Henrik Lundqvist will turn 35 during the season. The Rangers will give their returning core at least one more chance at a title in front of the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner before the window closes.

“The hunger for the game and to compete is, I think, the same,” Lundqvist said during the World Cup of Hockey as he thought back to the start of his Rangers career.

Along with Zibanejad, New York’s most notable additions were also younger players. Some members of the Rangers’ youth movement to watch:

Jimmy Vesey: The Hobey Baker winner as college hockey’s top player, Vesey chose to pursue free agency after his senior season at Harvard instead of signing with Nashville, which drafted him 66th overall in 2012.

Vesey picked the Rangers over seven other finalists in August.

“It seemed that they really needed to have me in their lineup,” he said at the time.

The 23-year-old forward had 24 goals and 22 assists in 33 games for Harvard last season.

ZIBANEJAD: Zibanejad is also 23 and already has two 20-goal seasons in the NHL. He set career highs with 21 goals and 30 assists in 81 games for the Senators last season.

Brassard, who just turned 29, had a career-high 27 goals last season.

“I think the potential is there for more upside,” Gorton said of Zibanejad. “He is just scratching the surface at age 23. There are not a lot of guys who have done what he has done as far as scored 20 before that age.”

PAVEL AND PIRRI: Pavel Buchnevich, a 21-year-old Russian left wing who was a 2013 third-round draft pick, is looking to prove he’s ready to make an NHL roster. Brandon Pirri, a 25-year-old center, had a career-high 29 points last season but has already been traded twice in his career. The Rangers signed him to a $1.1 million, one-year deal from Anaheim.

J.T. Miller: The Rangers also kept one of their own, signing restricted free agent forward J.T. Miller to a $5.5 million, two-year deal. Another 23-year-old, Miller had 22 goals and 21 assists, both career highs, last season.

“I don’t want to be satisfied on one pretty good year,” he said.

Related: As training camp opens, the Rangers’ defense goes under the microscope

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.