NHL extends Buffalo’s agreement to host combine through 2022

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The NHL’s top prospects will continue making their pre-draft stops in Buffalo for at least another three years.

The league on Monday announced an extension of its agreement to hold its annual scouting combine in Buffalo at the Sabres downtown practice facility, LECOM Harborcenter, through 2022. The announcement coincided with NHL Central Scouting releasing its mid-season rankings of draft-eligible prospects, with Quebec-born left wing Alexis Lafreniere topping the list of North American skaters.

Buffalo has hosted the combine since 2015, after the weeklong event spent the previous 20-plus years being held at various locations around Toronto.

”I’m very excited about it,” said Kevyn Adams, former NHL player and Sabres senior vice president of business administration. ”It’s an incredible opportunity for us as an organization and city to host such a great event for the last number of years, and now that it’s moving forward.”

Each year, Central Scouting invites more than 100 of its top-ranked prospects to the combine, where they undergo physical and medical testing, and also meet with team executives. It’s considered the final major step in their pre-draft process, and traditionally held about three weeks before the draft.

The move from Toronto was prompted by the construction of the Sabres’ $200 million practice complex which includes two rinks, a hotel, restaurant and workout facility, all connected to the team’s arena.

Though the combine does not include on-ice testing, the floor of Harborcenter’s main rink provides plenty of room for prospect testing to be conducted, while also allowing team executives to watch from the stands.

Those are considered upgrades from when the combine took place inside carpeted convention centers and hotel ballrooms in suburban Toronto.

In Buffalo, teams also have the advantage of going across the street to hold in-person meetings with prospects in arena suites. That’s a switch from Toronto, where prospects had to be shuttled to various hotels, depending on where each team was based.

”It just seems to be a pretty good fit, and I do think the three-year term is indicative of that,” Adams said. ”In Toronto, it was spread out a little bit and just the logistics of it. When the the players and team management get here, it’s all here.”

Central Scouting director Dan Marr referred to the setup in Buffalo as ideal and featuring a venue that meets all needs.

”The NHL’s annual scouting combine is one of the most valuable experiences in a young prospects’ draft year, and we are thrilled to continue utilizing the Sabres best-in-class facilities,” Marr said.

Lafreniere continues making a case for being the No. 1 pick in showing no signs of slowing a season after being name the Canadian Hockey League player of the year. In his third season with Rimouski, he leads the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 49 assists and 73 points in 34 games. He was also named the world junior championship tournament’s MVP after helping Canada to a gold-medal victory earlier this month.

U.S. Developmental team defenseman Jake Sanderson, of Whitefish, Montana, is the top-ranked American-born prospect, coming in at 11th. Forward Tim Stuetzle, who plays for Mannheim in his native Germany’s pro league, is the top-ranked European prospect.

This year’s combine was already on the NHL calendar, and scheduled to take place June 1-6.

The combine is also a boon to Buffalo by annually attracting some 250 NHL executives, scouts and media to the city and its redeveloped waterfront.

”This is exciting news for the Sabres, downtown Buffalo and our great hockey fans in the region,” Mayor Byron Brown said. ”The three-year extension is the hat-trick of extensions and will allow so many visitors during the NHL combine to experience our fabulous Canalside area, waterfront development and downtown development for years to come.”

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.