Lapierre, Jarvis among the biggest surprises of NHL camps

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The hole in the middle of the Washington Capitals lineup with Niklas Backstrom out injured looked looked tailor made for 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael, who impressed last season as a rookie in the American Hockey League.

The spot still might be his. But 2020 first-rounder Hendrix Lapierre, who is a year younger and came in with less fanfare, has been among the biggest training camp surprises around the NHL and could land a spot on the opening night roster.

“If I want to be in that opening lineup, I have to push (myself) every day and make sure I’m ready and do the small things correctly,” Lapierre said. “It’s there, for sure, but right now my goal is to keep improving and learning new stuff each and every day.”

Lapierre, 19, put up four points in his first two preseason games, held his own in drills against Alex Ovechkin and has been put in positions to succeed by the coaching staff. He probably still needs to add more strength to handle a full 82-game season, but Lapierre is a strong skater and has kept pace.

“He’s done well so far with his game: his creativity, his speed,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Certainly skating hasn’t been an issue.”

Unlike McMichael, who at 20 can return to Hershey of the AHL, Lapierre must go back to juniors if he’s not in the NHL and cannot be recalled except in an emergency basis. He can play up to nine games without burning a year of his entry-level contract, and Lapierre’s vision and way he sees the game might be enough to earn him a tryout while Backstrom is on the shelf.

SETH JARVIS, CAROLINA

Taken nine spots ahead of Lapierre, forward Seth Jarvis has stuck around at Carolina’s camp longer than expected and is a candidate to play right away for the Hurricanes.

Jarvis has skated alongside Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter and gotten some power-play looks in practice. He told reporters the team has not told him much about the future, which is either sticking in the NHL or going back to juniors.

“They want me to focus defensively,” Jarvis said. “They know I can play with the puck, and in the offensive zone, it’s just more focused away from the puck and (in the) D zone I have a responsibility, so it’s just learning that way.”

Shane Pinto, OTTAWA

While the biggest story line at Senators camp is the absence of unsigned restricted free agent forward Brady Tkachuk, the emergence of center Shane Pinto is a close second.

Pinto has been skating on Ottawa’s second line between 2020 No. 3 pick Tim Stützle and high-scoring winger Connor Brown. After playing at the University of North Dakota, Pinto got a taste of the NHL by playing in 12 games late last season and put up seven points.

Coach D.J. Smith called Pinto one of the best players so far at camp, and now the 2019 first-rounder looks like a big piece of the Senators’ youth movement.

EVGENY SVECHNIKOV, WINNIPEG

The brother of Carolina star Andrei Svechnikov, Evgeny is at Jets camp on a tryout and inching closer to getting a contract. The 24-year-old wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer by Detroit after putting up eight points in 21 games last season.

Coach Paul Maurice told reporters he likes what he has seen from Svechnikov, who represents untapped potential at what could be a bargain price.

“He doesn’t mind going to the net,” Maurice said. “He’s got some hands on him, and he makes some good plays and I think he understands the game. How he fits with other people will be a really important thing for him going forward, but he’s had a good camp.”

Michael Bunting, TORONTO

Lost in the Maple Leafs’ star power of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander is their trial-and-error process to build around a core that has yet to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Gritty Nick Ritchie and skilled Ondrej Kase are part of the new mix, but so is Bunting, who signed a $1.9 million, two-year contract as a free agent.

No player has more preseason goals than Bunting’s four (through Sunday), and he is projected to start the season alongside Tavares.

“He’s been kind of a late bloomer: someone who’s had to prove a lot of people wrong and just always had that attitude of finding a way,” Tavares told reporters.

Bunting, 26, has 14 points in 26 NHL games with Arizona, but his camp showing is no surprise to Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, who drafted him in the Ontario Hockey League with Sault Ste. Marie. Bunting could now be one of the missing pieces of Toronto’s Stanley Cup puzzle.

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    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.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.