Jeff Tambellini will slot into the fourth line centre position in the absence of Alex Bolduc, who is out with a minor ankle injury.
After four preseason games, where he registered a goal and an assist, Tambellini earned himself a spot with Vancouver. He was re-assigned to Manitoba last Wednesday along with Cory Schneider and Alex Bolduc but all three were recalled Friday to start the season.
"I think he showed his skill-set - you can obviously tell that he's a skilled player that can skate real well, sees the ice," said head coach, Alain Vigneault. "I think we gave him an opportunity to grab one of those top two line spots, had some shots but didn't finish so he was just there but tonight, obviously he's going to be in a different role and it's up to him to get the job done."
"It's been great coming here - great teammates and I've had a lot of fun so far," he said following Monday's morning skate. "Last week was kind of a whirlwind, travelling across the country but I guess it's part of the game today and I'm just excited to get on the ice today."
Tambellini was one of the Canucks first free-agent signings this summer, officially committing to the Vancouver July 1.
"It's exciting to come to a, hopefully, first place team that's going to be a contender. That's been my goal all along was to put myself in a situation where I can be on a team that can be doing great things come this spring and summer."
He will skate on a line with Tanner Glass and Guillaume Desbiens tonight.
Bolduc's status is still to be determined with an MRI tuesday. Rick Rypien's status remains day-to-day but Vigneault hopes he'll be ready as early as Wednesday.
Looking on the other end of the ice to a team that the Canucks see just once a year isn't as daunting or foreign than usual. The Florida Panthers have five former Canucks on the team.
In fact, two of the five play on the same line and were both part of the Canucks the last two seasons. Stever Bernier and Darcy Hordichuk will make their debuts back at Rogers Arena in Panthers jerseys to face their former teams.
Bernier was traded along with Michael Grabner and the Canucks first round pick at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft to Florida in exchange for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich. He had two assists in his Panthers debut last night in Edmonton.
Hordichuk returns to the Panthers after five years in a trade that sent Andrew Peters to Vancouver Wednesday. He previously played in Florida for two seasons with the Panthers and one with the Orlando Solar Bears of the IHL, where the team won the Turner Cup in the 2000-20001 season.
Both Bernier and Hordichuk stopped to chat with Coach Vigneault prior to their morning skate at Rogers Arena. It was all laughs and smiles all around.
Panther captain, Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen, and Mike Weaver round out the former Canucks dressing in tonight's game.
On the flip side, the Canucks have four former Panthers in tonight's tilt at Rogers Arena.
Ballard, who was acquired through the offseason, spent the previous two seasons in Florida and still has fond memories of being in the Sunshine State but not enough to stop him from doing his job.
"I'll admit, there's a little bit of friendly rivalry competing against your friends and I'm sure it's something I'll give them a hard time about after the game but I'm not thinking about looking for revenge or anything like that," said Ballard. "It's our second game and we're just looking for the two points."
In 164 games (two full 82-game seasons), Ballard had 62 points (14-48-62) and was a plus-7 during his renure with the club.
Despite a slow start through five games in the preseason that saw him at a minus-4, he's already showing steady improvement to his game in his 17:34 of ice time against the Kings Saturday, including a full two-minute shift on the penalty kill in overtime. He finished that night with two hits and a game-high five blocked shots.
"It felt good. It was a great atmosphere, it was good to get that first shift under your belt - get a hit in there and get bumped a little bit - and just get into the flow of the game. For the most part, we played pretty well so overall, I was pretty happy with everything went."
He's coming a long real well," said Vigneault. "We all expected that he was going to have to feel his way through the start because he's a little bit behind conditioning wise but there's nothing he can do because of the two months he was off. He's really put in a lot of time and a lot of effort since he's been here and you can tell that he's gradually improving and gradually finding his stride and comfort on the ice."
"He's a defenceman that can bring that physical edge to our group back there, should be able to help us on the penalty killing, he's a guy that understands about getting in lanes and blocking shots and you need that dimension. So far, we've seen improvement in his play and hope that it will continue to develop."
Roberto Luongo, Tanner Glass, and Mikael Samuelsson are the other former Panthers on the Canucks.