RALEIGH - Anyone who's ever laced up the skates on a pond, at a park, or in a community rink has surely envisioned themselves playing puck at the highest level. For Nick Suzuki and Cale Fleury, that dream becomes reality on Thursday in Carolina.
On Tuesday, the pair of 20-year-olds found out they'd made the Canadiens out of training camp, setting the stage for their NHL debuts against the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
It's no doubt an exciting time for the youngsters, but given the magnitude of the moment, it's sure to come with some jitters as well.
"There are obviously a little bit of nerves, it's something I've been working for my whole life," admitted Fleury, the Canadiens' third-round pick (87th overall) in 2017. "But I think I just need to stay as calm as I can."
The night will be even that much more important given that Fleury's older brother, Hayden, is expected to dress on defense for the Hurricanes.
Video: Fleury on playing his first game against his brother
That said, Cale doesn't feel any added pressure due to the family rivalry; in fact, he's used their past meetings in Junior as an opportunity to settle brotherly scores with a little physicality.
"I kind of did that to him when I was in junior when I was in Kootenay and he was in Red Deer, kind of knocked him over there. So he's a little mad about that," cracked the younger Fleury. "But I don't really like his chances in the game tonight.
"Generally, I've played pretty well when I played against him."
Teammate Jonathan Drouin, who got his NHL career going in 2014-15 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, says his first game was a bit of a blur and hopes Suzuki and Fleury are able to take a step back to take it all in.
"You have to enjoy the moment. My first career NHL game went by so fast that I couldn't enjoy it," recounted Drouin, the Lightning's first-round pick (third overall) in 2013. "It's an accomplishment. Their parents will be at the game. It's a great moment."
Video: Jonathan Drouin on the youth movement
As for Suzuki, the London ON native said he wasn't feeling much anxiety the morning of. He knows those jitters might hit closer to puck drop, but he's going to keep focused on what's gotten him to this level in the first place.
"I'm not too nervous right now. Probably closer to game time, I'll have some nerves," acknowledged Suzuki, the Vegas Golden Knights' first-round selection (13th overall) in 2017. "But once I get out there and get going, it's just hockey at the end of the day and I'm going to have fun with it."
Playing for power
If the Habs are going to make a return to the playoffs and compete for Lord Stanley's mug, they'll likely need to see an improved showing on the power play.
According to Phillip Danault, the Canadiens' man advantage already showed signs of being better in the preseason and he feels it has to do with some personnel changes made to the unit.
"I'm on the power play," cracked Danault when asked to identify what had led to the unit's boosted performance. "I think we're working better as a unit this year. We saw it in the preseason games. We didn't score every game, but we had a lot of chances. We're supporting each other a lot. If we keep playing that way, we're for sure going to get more scoring chances. Support is really the key on the power play."
Video: Phillip Danault on the power play
Head coach Claude Julien noted that his coaching staff did a lot of research on other teams and on how best to use the assets each of his power play skaters has available to them. The fact that the power play personnel - which featured a fair number of newcomers to Montreal last season - are more familiar with one another should also help make the unit stronger.
"We saw more cohesiveness towards the end of last season. We really worked hard with zone entries, which are a lot better," shared the coach. "We seem to be managing the puck better in the offensive zone. We tried to improve on a lot of things, but we have to keep working to keep improving."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference
The Canadiens kick off their 2019-20 season against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Thursday night. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.