Tonight is special, and for a handful of reasons.
The best hockey league in the world has returned to Winnipeg.
The Jackets kick off the exhibition season after their most active and exciting offseason since expansion.
Former Jackets coach Claude Noel is behind the bench for his first full-time gig as NHL head coach.
The Russell brothers will be on the ice together as teammates for the first time as professionals.
Hockey is back!
In a rare situation not normally seen in the NHL, this will be a split-squad game. The teams will be split in half, with one game in Winnipeg and the other in Columbus. Coach Arniel will be in Winnipeg with assistant Brad Berry and Springfield assistant Brad Larsen. New assistant coach Todd Richards will lead the way in Columbus with Dan Hinote and Springfield head coach Rob Riley as his assistants.
Here's a refresher of the rosters for tonight's games:
Traveling to Winnipeg:
|Matt Calvert||Derick Brassard||Tomas Kubalik|
|Alexandre Giroux||Ryan Johansen||Derek Dorsett|
|Ryan Russell||Derek MacKenzie||Aaron Bogosian|
|Dane Byers||Martin St.Pierre||Cody Bass|
|Kris Russell||Dalton Prout|
|Grant Clitsome||Cody Goloubef|
|Aaron Johnson||Austin Madaisky|
Staying in Columbus:
|Vinny Prospal||Antoine Vermette||R.J. Umberger|
|Maksim Mayorov||Samuel Pahlsson||Jared Boll|
|Oliver Gabriel||Michael Chaput||Cam Atkinson|
|Dalton Smith||Boone Jenner||Lukas Sedlak|
|John Moore||James Wisniewski|
|Nick Holden||Radek Martinek|
|David Savard||Marc Methot|
Both rosters have some intriguing combinations. In Winnipeg, Derick Brassard's line features Tomas Kubalik and Matt Calvert-two wingers who could have a big impact this upcoming season. Calvert is a virtual lock to be on the Jackets, and Kubalik is coming off of an impressive rookie season last year with the Falcons. He's a player who has a very good shot at making the big club out of camp. A lot of eyes will be on him.
Ryan Johansen, the team's best prospect, will continue his fight to crack the Jackets' opening night roster after a strong showing at the Traverse City prospect tournament. He'll have AHL sniper Alexandre Giroux on his wing, so he could see his name appear on the scoresheet.
The third line, aka the "Brother Line" features Ryan Russell and Aaron Bogosian as the wingers. Ryan will join his brother Kris on the Jackets, and Bogosian will face off against his brother Zach, a member of the Jets.
The roster in Columbus features some interesting stories as well-tonight marks the debut of newcomer Vinny Prospal, he'll be playing with Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger, at least to start the game.
Also on that roster you'll see Maksim Mayorov paired with Sammy Pahlsson. Mayorov will be duking it out with Kubalik for what will likely be the only open spot up front in Columbus. Mayorov has paid his dues in the AHL, and if he can prove to the coaching staff that he can be a dependable checker alongside Pahlsson, it could give him a leg up in the race for that final spot.
Cam Atkinson is another player to keep your eye on. All this kid does is score goals. He's a little guy, but he's right there with Kubalik and Mayorov in the fight to make the Jackets. He should see some decent PP time this evening and that's where he could really shine.
This will also be the first look at top pick Boone Jenner, who was taken in the second round of this year's Entry draft. He will in all likelihood return to Oshawa of the OHL this season, but it will be good to see him in action.
The top defensive pairing of John Moore and James Wisniewski looks like an ideal powerplay duo. Both are offensive types, with Moore the puck-move and The Wiz acting as shooter.
David Savard, the top defenseman in Springfield last season, will be looking to prove to the coaches that he is NHL-ready. He's very much in the mix for a spot on the Columbus blueline and will be an interesting player to track tonight.
Newcomer Mark Dekanich will start in goal, we all have high hopes for Dex and tonight will be a good chance to see if Scott Howson's free agency gamble paid off.
The game in Columbus will be streamed on the Jackets' home page, and we're waiting for word on the game in Winnipeg. We'll have a game thread for each later tonight, and separate recaps tonight/tomorrow morning.