This is the night Edmonton Oilers fans have been waiting for.
The Oilers open the home portion of their preseason schedule Thursday when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit Rexall Place. The game also marks the NHL debut of Taylor Hall, the No. 1 selection in the 2010 Entry Draft.
Hall, wearing No. 4, is expected to be on the left side on a line centered by Sam Gagner, along with right wing Ales Hemsky. Hall didn't play Wednesday, when the Oilers started an inexperienced lineup at Vancouver and still beat the Canucks, 3-2.
Oil Country is hoping Hall can start the franchise's comeback from last season's 30th-place finish, the worst in franchise history. He was picked first after tying Tyler Seguin for the Ontario Hockey League scoring lead last season with 106 points, then leading the Windsor Spitfires to their second straight Memorial Cup -- and earning MVP honors for the second time.
Hall isn't the only highly regarded rookie who will be making his Oilers debut. Edmonton also is expected to dress Magnus Paajarvi, its 2009 first-round pick (No. 10). He's slated to be on the left side of the Oilers' second line, with Andrew Cogliano in the middle and Dustin Penner on the right side. Aside from the two first-rounders, the Oilers are dressing a mostly veteran lineup for the home folks.
The Lightning, 2-0-0 after a 4-2 win against Chicago in Winnipeg on Wednesday, are slated to give Rocket Richard co-winner Steven Stamkos and stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis the night off -- all three played against the Hawks. First-round draft pick Brett Connolly, chosen five picks after Hall, is scheduled to play.