The Colorado Avalanche will begin its season at home for the fourth straight year when it opens the 2021-22 season against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at Ball Arena.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper was the first netminder off the ice from morning skate and is expected to get the start in the crease. Kuemper appeared in 27 games for the Arizona Coyotes last season before the Avs acquired the 31-year-old in the offseason.
Kuemper is one of five players that could make their Avalanche debut tonight. That list also includes forward Darren Helm and defensemen Jack Johnson, Kurtis MacDermid and Ryan Murray.
Nathan MacKinnon entered covid protocol on Tuesday and will not be available for the game this evening. Nazem Kadri was the center on the top line with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen at practice on Tuesday.
Head coach Jared Bednar will also miss the first game of the season due to covid-related protocols as he enters his sixth season as the Avalanche's bench boss.
Rookies Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook and Sampo Ranta are all set to play in their first NHL season opener. Byram skated in 19 games with the Avalanche last season while Newhook played in the final six games of the campaign. Ranta, who skated in two contests of Colorado's second-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, is the only player in the NHL with experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but that has yet to appear in an NHL regular-season game.
The Avalanche recalled forward Jayson Megna on Wednesday morning and he is expected to play against Chicago on a line with Helm and O'Connor. He has 128 NHL games played as he enters his third season with the Avalanche organization. It is his first opening night start.
Below is the Avalanche's projected lineup based on the forward combinations and defensive pairings from Tuesday's practice with Megna inserted into the spot Kurtis MacDermid filled during the session. It is subject to change.
92 Gabriel Landeskog - 91 Nazem Kadri - 96 Mikko Rantanen
13 Valeri Nichushkin - 37 J.T. Compher - 95 Andre Burakovsky
18 Alex Newhook - 17 Tyson Jost - 75 Sampo Ranta
12 Jayson Megna - 43 Darren Helm - 25 Logan O'Connor
49 Samuel Girard - 8 Cale Makar
4 Bowen Byram - 6 Erik Johnson
3 Jack Johnson and/or 28 Ryan Murray and/or 56 Kurtis MacDermid
35 Darcy Kuemper
31 Jonas Johansson
Injury Report: Nathan MacKinnon (COVID protocol), Pavel Francouz (lower body), Devon Toews (upper body)