Should Sens prospect Brady Tkachuk go back to school or turn pro?

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The Ottawa Senators were thrilled to land forward Brady Tkachuk with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but how soon can we expect to see him in a Sens jersey?

Tkachuk, who has one year under his belt at Boston University, has the option of turning pro next season or returning to school for at least one more year. The 18-year-old is expected to make a decision on his playing future before Aug. 12.

“The decision will be based on what’s best for my development short- and long-term; I want to have a long career and don’t want to go somewhere and not have an impact,” Tkachuk told NHL.com. “I want to make an impact wherever I go and be able to contribute and play my best. Having both options is a great problem to have; they are two great spots.”

Fellow 2018 first-rounders Quinn Hughes (Canucks) and Oliver Wahlstrom (Islanders) have already both decided to head back to school for the 2018-19 season. Now, we have to wait and see if Tkachuk will follow.

As the power forward mentioned, he’s worried about his short-term and long-term development, so this is a huge decision for him. In the end, only he knows what’s best for him, but we can still take a deeper look at the decision he’s wrestling with at this time.

You’d think that he’d only leave school if the Sens are fully willing to keep him on the roster. If their plan is to send him to the American Hockey League, he’d probably be better off staying at BU.

So let’s assume they’re going to keep him around in the NHL if he goes pro. Obviously, there’s no better league in the world, so Tkachuk would be playing at the highest level. That’s what every young hockey player dreams of doing. The fact that he’d be able to do it as a teenager would be a significant accomplishment. There’s no denying that playing and practicing against the best every day will make you better.

He’d also be able to learn under veteran hockey minds like Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford, which could help his development, too.

On the flip side, Boucher is known for not having much faith in his youngsters. He tends to lean on veterans, which means that unless Tkachuk is lighting it up on a regular basis, he might not get as much ice time as he’s hoping for. These types of things must all factor into his decision.

Tkachuk put up strong numbers in his freshman season at BU, as he posted eight goals and 31 points in 40 games (he was fourth on his team in points), but there’s always room for improvement in that area. He could stand to put the puck in the net a little more often and he could also work to get quicker and stronger, which is normal for a player of his age.

Being physical is a huge part of Tkachuk’s game. In college, he might be one of the bigger players on the ice every night. In the NHL, that won’t be the case. His brother, Matthew, plays a similar style and he was able to make the jump to the NHL as a teenager, but not all people are created equal. If the younger Tkachuk has any doubts about his ability to be an effective NHLer right now, he should probably head back to the NCAA.

“The biggest improvement Brady made last season was his skating, and part of that was strength, and part of it was the fact he’s still growing; I think he grew an inch at BU last year. He’s a really talented player, but is still a little bit of a work in progress,” Boston University coach Albie O’Connell told NHL.com. “He’s not completely fully physically developed so there’s a lot of gains that he can make.”

It’s not easy to temporarily sacrifice huge dollars to go back to school, but jumping to the NHL too early could eventually cause a player to lose money down the line if they flame out. Thankfully for Tkachuk, he has a father and a brother with NHL experience.

And the last thing to consider is the situation the Sens currently find themselves in. Between their controversial owner and the whole Erik Karlsson trade/no trade situation, there’s enough distractions to last a lifetime. What if the Sens don’t find a suitable deal for Karlsson until later on in the season? There’s going to be a lot of eyeballs on that whole situation, so do you really want your prized rookie exposed to everything that’s going on? Probably not.

Given where the Sens are as a franchise right now, it might be best for everyone if Tkachuk heads back to Boston University. He’d be able to dominate physically at that level, increase his offensive production, work on his skating and guarantee himself a spot on Team USA’s World Junior squad.

But no matter what anybody else thinks, it’ll be up to Tkachuk and his family to figure the best course of action.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.