RALEIGH, N.C. -- The New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes will open the season Friday with new faces and uncertain expectations.
Carolina's Bill Peters makes his debut as an NHL coach after three seasons as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings. The circumstances surrounding his new team could be better after a couple injuries to key forwards in the preseason. Jordan Staal will miss 3-4 months with a broken leg and Jeff Skinner is out indefinitely with a concussion.
"We have to find a way to have everyone contribute and be a part of it," Peters said.
The injuries opened the door for two forwards to make their NHL debuts. After one full season with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League, Victor Rask will center a line with Nathan Gerbe and Elias Lindholm.
Forward Patrick Brown also will play his first NHL game for Carolina, but it could not have been more unexpected. Brown was signed out of Boston College during the summer as an undrafted free agent. This will be his first professional game.
"I came into camp telling myself, play my game and work as hard as I can and good things can happen. Now, with a little bit of luck, here I am," Brown said. "I'm just trying to live in the now. I don't care how I got here, I don't care what I'm doing tomorrow. I just want to go out there [Friday] and help this team win."
Despite the injuries the Hurricanes are anticipating a solid season.
"We have a team that can be a [Stanley Cup] Playoff team, but people are going to count us out because we haven't had that success as a group," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "We got two good goalies, some quality defenseman and quality forwards. If we work hard every night I think we will be in a good position to be in the playoffs."
That same hope holds true in the Islanders dressing room, where the 23-man roster features eight players making their New York debut, including defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, acquired Saturday from the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively.
"They [the Hurricanes] work hard," Boychuk said. "They're skilled players and fast, so it's going to be a dangerous team, I think."
Looking for stability in goal the Islanders traded a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft to the Washington Capitals for Jaroslav Halak in May and then signed him to a four-year contract. Coach Jack Capuano believes Halak has earned the opening-night start.
"[He has] consistency and experience," Capuano said. "He's played some big games before and he's a durable guy. He's a winner."
Of the eight Islanders newcomers, defenseman Griffin Reinhart is the only rookie. The fourth pick of the 2012 draft, Reinhart said he is looking forward to getting his feet wet too.
"As a kid you grow up watching your favorite team and you want to be there sometime," the 22-year-old said. "It's finally here and hopefully I do the best with it."
Opening night always serves as reminder that while each game is just one of many in a season, it's often somebody's first. Even a first-time coach takes the time to observe the significance.
"You wonder if you're ever going to get there," said Peters, who played one minor-league game before embarking on his coaching career. "As you go down the path it's something that becomes more realistic. You want to make sure you give it your best effort."
For Peters coaching on the NHL stage will be a major step and perhaps bring with it a bit of anxiety.
"I'll try to get a little nap in here this afternoon," he said. "We'll see how that goes. If it doesn't go good, I'll forget about it."
Here are the projected lineups:
Cory Conacher - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Mikhail Grabovski - Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Nikolay Kulemin
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Thomas Hickey - Travis Hamonic
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Brian Strait - Griffin Reinhart
Scratched: Colin McDonald, Eric Boulton
Injured: Michael Grabner (lower body), Lubomir Visnovsky (back) Matt Carkner (back), Calvin de Haan (upper body)
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Nathan Gerbe - Victor Rask - Elias Lindholm
Brad Malone - Jay McClement - Patrick Dwyer
Chris Terry - Riley Nash - Patrick Brown
Justin Faulk - Andrej Sekera
Ron Hainsey - John-Michael Liles
Tim Gleason - Jay Harrison
Scratched: Brett Bellemore, Ryan Murphy
Injured: Jeff Skinner (concussion), Jordan Staal (broken leg)