Rejoice, friends - hockey season has arrived.
It's the preseason and it begins in an unconventional manner with this split-squad endeavor against the St. Louis Blues, but nonetheless, it's an opportunity early in training camp for the Blue Jackets to see where they stand.
This camp has begun with a fervor. The 66 players have divided into four groups, they have done their two-mile run, had a team dinner and undergone rigorous skating tests before even touching a puck. They have scrimmaged each other in front of a packed OhioHealth Ice Haus and divided up once again into playing groups for this doubleheader.
The prevailing sentiment is something like: can we just drop the puck already?
Now, there's little sense in breaking down the opponent (something John Tortorella doesn't like to do much of anyway) because of the nature of these exhibition games; you'll see a blend of established veteran incumbents, of young players hopeful to make a strong impression on the coaches, and also a handful of season professionals here on tryout agreements.
You can call this training camp many things, but above all else, we keep coming back to the word "compelling."
Video: Pierre-Luc Dubois on his first taste of NHL action
So, this is their first test. There will be mistakes, there will be questions, there may be a few answers. It's not uncommon for NHL teams to play preseason games early in training camp, but the danger that lies within is not over-evaluating them; the Blue Jackets play three of their eight preseason games in a 30-hour window (they'll play in Boston on Monday night) and there's a good chance everyone in camp will see game action.
What to watch for: The lineups, which are one of the more interesting elements of these preseason games. Coaches may sometimes say there's no rhyme or reason behind combinations and game-night rosters, but there's always some degree of intrigue. With two games on the same day, pay attention to some of the early pairings of forwards (yes, we said pairings) and how the lines change game-to-game. That should give you an idea of what the coaches are thinking and what could lie ahead.
The opposition: We said we won't spend too much time on the other team in these preseason games, but we'll give you a little something. The Blues went to the Western Conference Final a year ago and, while they feel their window with this group may be closing, they'll give it one more go under head coach Ken Hitchcock, who has said he's retiring after this season. Associate coach Mike Yeo, hired this summer after being let go in Minnesota, will take over as Blues head coach in 2017-18.
On the horizon: After these split-squad games, the Blue Jackets will send one group to Boston on Monday afternoon to play the Bruins at TD Garden later that night. The rest of the training camp roster will remain in Columbus for on-ice practices (all of which are free and open to the public, check the schedule at https://bluejackets.com/trainingcamp for the complete list of sessions.