Expect Blue Jackets to be very glad they signed Duclair

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The Vegas Golden Knights provided a lot of lessons to the rest of the NHL, if teams wanted to listen. One of the key messages many seemed to receive was that the Golden Knights took talented, unappreciated players, gave them great opportunities, and raked in the profits.

When we look back at free agency, John Tavares‘ signing will create the greatest impact (successful or not), but from a value perspective, the Columbus Blue Jackets landing Anthony Duclair for the league minimum will be tough to beat.

Consider the circumstances for a moment. Duclair is just 22. He scored 20 goals and 44 points for the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-16, albeit riding an unsustainable shooting percentage of 19. At just $650K in 2018-19, the intriguing winger will make less money than obscure Blue Jackets such as Markus Hännikäinen and Alex Broadhurst.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline sheds some light on why Duclair accepted such a cheap deal with Columbus (sub required), with his reps explaining that the Blue Jackets represent “the best situation, hockey-wise.”

“I’m a bit embarrassed how it happened,” Duclair said to Portzline. “Since my rookie season, the last couple of years have been a bit of a roller coaster. But at the same time, I’ve learned a lot about myself.

“It’s a huge wake-up call to be a free agent at 22 years old, definitely not ideal.”

Much of that article focuses on Duclair hoping to improve, and one can understand why he’d feel that way, especially considering that demand seemed tepid for his services.

The thing is, the Blue Jackets would easily get their money’s worth even if John Tortorella & Co. decide to give Duclair the same limited role he suffered through with the Coyotes and then Blackhawks last season. Consider his successes despite averaging just 13:17 TOI in 2017-18, and generally only getting 13 minutes of ice time so far in his young career.

As much as this seems to be a “prove it” season for Duclair, the Blue Jackets would be wise to keep an eye on his progress. If he reaches the “tremendous potential” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about with Portzline, then Columbus might be wise to sign him to a team-friendly extension as soon as the CBA would allow it.

It’s fair to wonder if Duclair risks getting lost in the shuffle once again, too.

While Columbus isn’t well-stocked with high-end forwards (making the possible exit of Artemi Panarin, one of their rare premium scorers, that much scarier), the Blue Jackets can be a tough team to deal with when their deep group of attackers gets it going. After also adding Riley Nash to a group that includes Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Pierre Luc-Dubois, Nick Foligno, recently extended Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, Duclair is far from guaranteed a big-time role.

(That’s especially true if Columbus’ work is more or less done this summer, if Sonny Milano progresses significantly, and if Brandon Dubinsky is reasonably healthy and on-task.)

Such a scenario makes you wonder if there would have been an even more mutually beneficial situation out there for Duclair. Cap-challenged teams like the Oilers or Penguins could have done worse than to give the intriguing scorer a look, particularly at such a bargain rate. The Montreal Canadiens would have made a lot of sense for the Quebec native, too.

Duclair only signed a one-year contract with Columbus, so for all we know, the above teams may get another chance to land him.

If things are fairer, Duclair would receive far richer offers and greater opportunities next time around. As it stands, though, this is a fantastic, low-risk signing for the Blue Jackets.

More bargains in 2018

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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.