NHL on NBCSN: Sean Couturier among NHL’s elite centers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It took him some time, but Sean Couturier has developed into one of the elite centers in the NHL. Not only is the 27-year-old on pace to surpass the 70-point mark for the third year in a row, he also continues to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the Flyers when it comes to matching up against the opponent’s best lines.

Couturier began playing in the NHL as an 18-year-old back in 2011-12. In first full season, he put up a respectable 13 goals and 27 points in 77 games. He followed that up with seasons of 15 points (in 46 games), 39, 37, 39 and then 34. In 2017-18, something clicked and he started taking his play to another level.

Heading into this year, he put up back-to-back 76-point seasons and he’s on his way to posting similar numbers this year. Couturier currently leads the Flyers in scoring with 46 points in 52 games. His advanced numbers are just as impressive as his offensive totals lately.

He has a CF% of 55.52 percent, a GF% of 63.64 percent and an XGF% of 54.94 percent. He’s done all that while starting 54 percent of his shifts in the neutral zone or defensive zone. (All stats via Natural Stat Trick)

The fact that he can post these kind of numbers while matching up against every team’s top line is pretty remarkable.

When the Pro Hockey Writers Association held their mid-season award winners last month, Couturier was at the top of the Selke Trophy list. He’s never won the award, but it seems like people are finally starting to realize that he’s turned into an elite two-way player.

“He’s grown into a real solid two-way centerman,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said back in December, per NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I don’t want to say ‘(Patrice) Bergeron type,’ I think Bergeron is obviously the role model in the league, but I think Coots is closing in on how good Bergeron is.

“I think because he might not be as flashy or look as spectacular as some of the other guys, maybe people don’t notice him as much. But I can tell you, the people in this room, the people that play with him every day, they notice him.”

Heading into tonight’s clash against the Red Wings, the Flyers are tied for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They’re currently on the outside-looking-in of the playoff picture because the Carolina Hurricanes have more regulation wins. If Philadelphia is going to secure a playoff berth, they’ll need their stars to perform at a high level and they’ll need their goaltending to hold up.

One person they won’t have to worry about is Couturier. He’s turned into Mr. Consistent for his team and he’s going all the big and little things it takes to win. There’s a lot of star forwards in the NHL that are hoping to avoid Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs so that they don’t have to create offense against one of the top two-way players in the game.

John Forslund and AJ Mleczko will call the action from Detroit. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage alongside Patrick Sharp and Mike Johnson.

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.