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Rookies Tkachuk & Puljujarvi face off in NHL debuts

2016 first round picks Matthew Tkachuk and Jesse Puljujarvi will both make their NHL debuts tonight in Edmonton

by Torie Peterson @ToriePeterson / CalgaryFlames.com

EDMONTON, AB -- Selected just two spots apart at this summer's draft, Calgary Flames' winger Matthew Tkachuk and Edmonton Oilers' forward Jesse Puljujarvi will make their respective NHL debuts in the inaugural game at Rogers Place.

Tkachuk, the sixth overall selection at the 2016 NHL Draft, was one of the Flames top players throughout the course of the pre-season, netting two goals and scoring the game-winner in a shootout. He spent the 2015-16 season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, posting 30 goals and 107 points in 57 regular season games. In the playoffs, Tkachuk recorded 20 goals and 40 points in 18 games.

Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick in Buffalo this past June, scored once in six pre-season appearances with the Oilers. He played for Karpat in the Finnish Liiga league last season, scoring 13 goals and 28 points in 50 games. He had four goals and nine points in 10 postseason appearances with Karpat.

While they have had the chance to get acclimatized to their teammates, new rinks and new cities, tonight's game will be a big test for both forwards.

They will be facing NHL veterans and playing at a much faster pace than that of exhibition games. The energy level will be high and a hotly-contested two points will be on the line.

"I think that pre-season was a good stepping stone into this," Tkachuk said.

"I obviously want the best for myself and I want to play my best but I don't know the speed of this game or the decision-making ... I don't know about any of that. I haven't played a game yet. Soon I'll find out and hopefully I'll adjust quickly."

There's a bit steeper learning curve for Puljujarvi, who has played the majority of his career on international-sized ice. 

"For him, more organized is sometimes understanding the game a little bit better, what we want to do in certain situations - forecheck, neutral zone, that type of stuff - but also having players around him that are a little more organized, delivering pucks at the right time, crisper passing, so we're expecting to see that but he's an 18-year-old that's going to play his first official game," Oilers head coach Todd McLellan told the media after his team's morning skate.

The pair are a part of a youth corps that is expected to reignite the Battle of Alberta. The rivalry, while always there, has dwindled somewhat as both teams have had their struggles over the past decade.

"It's pretty cool," Tkachuk said of the Battle of Alberta. "You hear about what the games used to be like and how people keep saying with the high-end draft picks and the way teams' should be getting a lot better soon, maybe the rivalry will renew itself. Stepping into the biggest (rivarly) in the first game of the year, there's no settling in, that's for sure. You've got to go right after it at puck drop."

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