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5 things learned from Sept. 29 preseason games

Zach Werenski solid in debut for Blue Jackets, Kyle Connor scores in first game for Jets

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Now that the 15-day, 106-game preseason schedule has begun, it's time to take a closer look at the players, teams and stories that are making headlines in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season Oct. 12.

Here are five things we learned from the preseason games Thursday:

Zach attack: Columbus Blue Jackets rookie defenseman Zach Werenski made a solid impression in his NHL preseason debut.

Werenski, who missed the first week of training camp with a groin injury, led the Blue Jackets in ice time (23:41), assisted on the game-winning goal by Brandon Dubinsky, had a plus-3 rating and was a key part of the power play in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Nashville Predators at Nationwide Arena.

"You can just tell he's going to be a [heck] of a player," Dubinsky told the Blue Jackets website. "The poise with the puck. His ability to see the ice and to naturally jump up in the play, to make plays. I'm really excited. He's a [heck] of a player. He's going to help us a lot this year."

Werenski, chosen No. 8 in the 2015 NHL Draft, was partnered with Jack Johnson.

Devilish backup: Determining the backup to New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider to begin the season won't be an easy decision for coach John Hynes.

The top candidates are Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood, and each has looked good in training camp. Wedgewood made 28 saves in his first full preseason game against the New York Rangers, a 3-1 loss. Adding to the drama is the fact Kinkaid and Wedgewood are subject to waivers if they are re-assigned to Albany of the American Hockey League, so the Devils aren't even guaranteed that the loser of the competition will be with the team this season.

Wedgewood was 14-3-3 with a 1.55 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in 22 games for Albany last season. Kinkaid, 27, finished 9-9-1 with a 2.81 GAA and .904 save percentage in 23 games as Schneider's backup in 2015-16.

Kinkaid made 22 saves in a complete-game 2-0 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday in Allentown, Pa.

Video: MIN@WPG: Connor scores off Stuart's backhand pass

Connor connects: Winnipeg Jets rookie left wing Kyle Connor, the No. 17 selection in the 2015 draft, scored in his NHL preseason debut, a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild at MTS Centre.

Connor, who scored 35 goals and 71 points in 38 games for the University of Michigan last season and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player, played on a line with center Mathieu Perreault and right wing Alexander Burmistrov. The 19-year-old finished with one shot on goal in 17:14, including 4:24 of power-play time.

"Every time I get a chance to get out there, I want to prove myself and show the coach that I can play," Connor told the Winnipeg Sun. "Just play my game, play with lots of speed, and be accountable defensively as well."

Brotherly battle: Buffalo Sabres forward Alexander Nylander won bragging rights against older brother and Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander when the Sabres won 1-0 in a shootout at Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ontario.

It marked the first time the Nylanders faced each other. Each had opportunities during the game and failed in the shootout, although Alexander, 18, did have a more prime chances against Maple Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks (17 saves) and even hit the post.

When asked who their mother was rooting for at the game, William, 20, told the Toronto Sun: "She'll be wearing a half-Toronto, half-Buffalo jersey."

There's a chance the Nylanders will again meet in the regular season at First Niagara Center on Nov. 3.

"Now I guess it's time to face each other," William said. "We're not friends anymore."

Video: NJD@NYR: Pirri beats Wedgewood with one-timer

Positive signs from Pirri : Forward Brandon Pirri is making a case for a top-nine spot in the New York Rangers' lineup.

Pirri, signed to a one-year, $1.1 million contract on Aug. 26, scored two goals and assisted on the other in a 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden. He has three goals and five points in two preseason games.

Pirri is playing for his fourth team since being selected in the second round (No. 59) of the 2009 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. Two of his points came on the power play, and he has a point on each of New York's four man-advantage goals in the preseason.

"I want to show the coaching staff that I can be trusted to play in all opportunities, and to do that I know I have to be more than a shooter or scorer," Pirri told the New York Post. "I've been watching a lot of video on defensive play and a lot of my focus has been on backchecking and being in the right position in our own end to be able to make the quick transition."

In 166 NHL games with the Blackhawks, Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks, Pirri has 49 goals and 31 assists.

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