All eyes turn to Quinn Hughes’ development for Canucks

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

Even though there seems to be no definitive plan with the Vancouver Canucks’ ongoing rebuild, there have at least been two huge developments during this process. In each of the past two years they have had a young player emerge as a franchise player and organizational building block, at least giving the team’s fans some kind of reason for hope that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t just an oncoming freight train.

Two years ago it was forward Brock Boeser who burst on the scene with 29 goals and 55 points before a brutal injury cut his season short after just 62 games. It was enough to give him a second place finish in the Calder Trophy voting. He showed in year two it was not a fluke performance and that he is the real deal.

This past season it was Elias Pettersson instantly becoming one of the league’s must-see players and winning the rookie of the year award.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

This year the hope is that defender Quinn Hughes can follow in their footsteps and have a breakthrough rookie season.

The Canucks definitely need it.

For all of the flaws this roster currently has, there is no position that is thinner in terms of potential impact players than the defense which has become a black hole when it comes to creating offense.

Alexander Edler is probably the most accomplished player to ever play on the team’s blue line, and while he still has something to offer his best days are in the rear-view mirror. Chris Tanev is a solid defensive player, but is not going to break a game open. Tyler Myers will have a lot of pressure to live up to his contract, but he probably isn’t going to make a huge impact when it comes to making a meaningful improvement in the standings.

Hughes is the type of player that could do that if everything goes as planned.

He only appeared in five games for the Canucks at the end of the 2018-19 season and was eased into the lineup in a very sheltered role, but it was an impressive debut that saw him record three assists and show the speed, creativity, and type of talent the Canucks are desperately lacking on their blue line.

It would be putting way too much pressure on him to expect him to step in the lineup and duplicate the rookie performance of a Miro Heiskanen or Rasmus Dahlin (not everyone is going to be that good, that fast) but he has the potential to make a noticeable impact on the Canucks’ lineup. A big rookie season from him would do more to improve the team’s outlook than any other addition they made this summer, not only because of the position he plays and the impact it could make, but because of how important he is to the team’s long-term development.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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.