Devante Smith-Pelly and Maxime Macenauer will fulfill a dream by making their NHL debuts. Andrew Gordon and Andrew Cogliano will play for the Ducks for the first time. And of course there are the two Finns, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, who will play an NHL game in their home country.
But one player who might be anticipating the start of the 2011-12 season with the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere more than all of them is goaltender Jonas Hiller. Hiller has not played in a game since March 24, and not finished one since Feb. 13 because of … well, even to this day no one really is sure why.
Hiller played just three games after the All-Star break because of vertigo-like symptoms, but never officially was diagnosed with anything.
2011 COMPUWARE NHL PREMIERE
Working out the kinksDan Rosen - NHL.com Seinor Writer
After four days of preseason games on international ice and plenty of travel, the players got to practice on a North America-sized rink Wednesday in preparation for Friday's season opener. READ MORE ›
"It is also about taking more care of your body and listening to your body. I was always just taking, taking, taking and not really taking care and giving much back to my body."
Hiller was turning into a star prior to his injury. He played in his first NHL All-Star Game and his .924 save percentage was fifth in the League.
After the break, though, came the dizzy spells and issues with his balance, and nothing seemed right. He was tested for post-concussion syndrome, vertigo and anything else doctors could think of, but no diagnosis was determined.
"It was really tough. I think not knowing what it is and not having someone able to tell you how long it is going to take -- not even knowing if I should skate or shouldn't skate or work out or what I should (do) … that was the toughest part," Hiller said. "Having something which nobody can put a finger and there were days where you feel like, 'Well, it doesn't hurt and nobody knows what it is, so it has to be better, right?' At the same time I felt like I wasn't moving anywhere and it was frustrating, especially because I am normally such a competitive guy and it was something that I could just push, push, push -- that had the opposite effect and I had to give myself time and back off. That was a tough situation."
"It was the toughest for him, obviously," said teammate and countryman Luca Sbisa. "He's a funny guy, a good guy in the room. I sit next to him on the plane and we have a little Swiss bond going on. At first he didn't know what was going on and his mood was pretty good, but after two or three months you could see there was no real progress. His mood kind of went down, but he was still in the room, he was still a presence. He wasn't just like, 'Aw, (forget) this,' because he's not that type of person. We would see him in the gym every day trying to work on his things. I would try to talk to him, but there's not much you can do because he didn't really know himself what was going on."
The Ducks made the playoffs, thanks to a trade for Dan Ellis and late-season boost from Ray Emery, but Anaheim was eliminated in the first round and left to wonder about what might have been had Hiller been healthy.
Hiller's symptoms eventually went away this summer, and he began training for the new season. He came to camp and was given a clean bill of health by the team's medical staff. After a successful preseason debut against Vancouver, it was all systems go.
"I got here still with some question marks because I really didn't know. I skated back home but I hadn't played any games," Hiller said. "I was kind of looking forward to playing games, but at the same time … I didn't have doubts but I just didn't know how it was going to go. I was definitely glad it went well, and I've played some solid games and haven't had any issues. I'm definitely glad how camp has went.
"Having something which nobody can put a finger and there were days where you feel like, 'Well, it doesn't hurt and nobody knows what it is, so it has to be better, right?' At the same time I felt like I wasn't moving anywhere and it was frustrating, especially because I am normally such a competitive guy and it was something that I could just push, push, push -- that had the opposite effect and I had to give myself time and back off. That was a tough situation."
-- Jonas Hiller
Not only has Hiller played in the preseason, he's played well. He was one of the Ducks' top players in a 4-3 win Tuesday at Hartwall Areena against Finnish club Jokerit. The local team outplayed their NHL counterparts for a large portion of the game, but Hiller made several flashy saves in the victory.
Once the season begins, Hiller hopes he'll be able to put the strange and frustrating episode behind him and continue on with what looks like a promising season for the Ducks and an incredibly promising career for the goaltender.
"He's obviously an integral part of our team, and he kept us in it the first half of last year when things were going tough in other areas," Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan said. "To lose him was tough, and we had some guys come in and do a great job to fill in the void. When Jonas it is at his best, he's one of the best in the world."
Added Ducks coach Randy Carlyle: "Obviously with what happened to Jonas Hiller at the All-Star break last year, we are very excited about the way he has come back and played in the preseason. He's been outstanding in the nets, and we don't see any speed bump along the way. He’s been 110 percent and played and demonstrated that in the net. We have no cause for concern."