Strap on your favorite jersey with the player on the back that hasn’t played for your team in years, it’s time for your pre-season schedule for the night and there’s another baseball spring training special on the card as two more teams do it up split-squad style. All times listed are Eastern time since we’ve got a distinct Eastern bias here. Boom.
Boston @ Florida (Rochester, NY)
Seems random, right? It’s not. Rochester is the home of the Panthers AHL farm team, the Americans. Florida’s top line of David Booth-Stephen Weiss-Michael Frolik gets to start. Milan Lucic makes his pre-season debut for Boston.
Toronto @ Philadelphia (London, ON)
This game will be on NHL Network in the USA and it’s technically a home game for the Flyers. Oh.. all right. Sure. Expect both teams to drop the gloves often in this one. Truculence rides again!
New Jersey @ New York Rangers
Ilya Kovalchuk will play for New Jersey. Don’t suppose that will get too much hype now will it? Brian Rolston gets to show that he’s still got it as well playing on a line with two rookies. Speaking of rookies, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh will get long looks tonight for New York.
Carolina @ Nashville
And the youth shall lead them on to the ice. Former first round picks take center stage for Nashville as Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum suit up for Nashville tonight. The Hurricanes bring a lot of their regular thunder tonight with Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter, Erik Cole and Sergei Samsonov all suiting up.
Tampa Bay @ Edmonton
It’s Taylor Hall time in Edmonton as this year’s #1 draft pick takes the ice for the first time, as well as Magnus Paajarvi. Nikolai Khabibulin, however, will not play. For Tampa, their 2010 top pick Brett Connolly will play as well.Tampa’s Dan Ellis will get to play a full 60 minutes unless something crazy happens.
Los Angeles @ Phoenix
Phoenix @ Los Angeles
It’s split-squad time once again and that means just about everyone you can imagine for both teams is suiting up somewhere. Phoenix’s Kyle Turris will be playing in Los Angeles looking to continue to impress.
The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.
The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.
“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told NHL.com. “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”
McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.
But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.
That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.
“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”
Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.
Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight
Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.
Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”
The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.
Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.
But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.
“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.
“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”