NEW YORK -- Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov played with the New York Rangers for five and three years, respectively, before being sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the blockbuster 2012 trade that brought Rick Nash to New York.
As they play their first game in New York since the trade, they're looking forward to facing their former team Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
"I'm excited to play tonight. It was nice to get an opportunity to go out to dinner with some friends from here. This is my first time back in the city since I got traded. It's nice, I'm really looking forward to it," Dubinsky said after Columbus' morning skate. "You've got to channel those emotions the right way. It's going to be a little different being on this side of the ice to start the game. I think after the first couple of shifts I'll settle in."
In 2012, Dubinsky, Anisimov, defenseman Tim Erixon and a 2013 first-round pick were traded to Columbus for Nash and Steve Delisle. More than a year after the trade, both players admitted their return to MSG stirred up emotions from their time in New York.
"It's tough being in the visiting locker room in my first time back on the other side. It feels weird," Anisimov said. "Five years in the organization, first NHL team. Coming back, it is a weird feeling. I don't know how to describe."
Erixon will be a healthy scratch for the Blue Jackets, who will start Curtis McElhinney in net. Cam Atkinson, a native of nearby Riverside, Conn., took a stick to the mouth and cut his lip in practice but will be fine to play.
Rangers center Derick Brassard played his first six seasons with Columbus but will miss the game Thursday with a lower-body injury. That injury, coupled with Ryan Callahan's sprained knee, means Benoit Pouliot and Taylor Pyatt will be back in the lineup after being healthy scratches Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.
The Rangers held an optional skate Thursday, which was attended by nine players, including Cam Talbot. That likely means Henrik Lundqvist will start for New York.
Also in attendance was Dylan McIlrath, who was called up Wednesday from the American Hockey League and will make his NHL debut. He expects no fewer than six friends and family to be in attendance and is relishing the opportunity to make his debut at MSG.
"Just stepping on that Garden ice, I know it was just for a pregame skate, but I couldn't help but look around. It's the dream I've been waiting for since draft day. It's something special, I'm going to soak it in," said the 6-foot-5 McIlrath, who is expected to bring a physical element to the Rangers lineup. "That's the type of player I am. Maybe that's why they brought me up, to add a bit of that element. It comes with a bit of grit and sandpaper. I'm going to do anything I can to help the team win."
Here are the projected lineups for the Blue Jackets and Rangers:
Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - RJ Umberger
Blake Comeau - Artem Anisimov - Boone Jenner
Mark Letestu - Derek MacKenzie - Corey Tropp
Jack Johnson - Fedor Tyutin
Nikita Nikitin - Dalton Prout
David Savard - Ryan Murray
Scratched: Tim Erixon, Jack Skille
Injured: Marian Gaborik (knee), Nathan Horton (shoulder), Cody Bass (thumb), Jared Boll (foot), James Wisniewski (upper body), Sergei Bobrovsky (groin)
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello
Rick Nash - Brad Richards - Carl Hagelin
Benoit Pouliot - Brian Boyle - Derek Dorsett
Taylor Pyatt - Dominic Moore - Arron Asham
Dan Girardi - Ryan McDonagh
Anton Stralman - Michael Del Zotto
John Moore - Dylan McIlrath
Scratched: Justin Falk
Injured: Marc Staal (concussion), Ryan Callahan (knee), Derick Brassard (lower body)