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5 things learned from Sept. 16 preseason games

Hughes, Gusev click with Devils; Cozens impresses in debut for Sabres

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Now that the 16-day, 107-game NHL 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. 2.

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


Hughes, Gusev connect with Devils

Jack Hughes and Nikita Gusev provided fans a glimpse of what could be a very successful partnership in a top-six role for the New Jersey Devils. 

Hughes, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and Gusev, acquired in a trade from the Vegas Golden Knights on July 29, appeared to be on the same page for most of a 4-3 overtime win in a split-squad game against the Boston Bruins at Prudential Center on Monday.

Hughes tapped in a goal off a pass from Gusev in a perfectly executed give-and-go 41 seconds into overtime for the win. Hughes said he enjoyed playing with Gusev.

"To get out there and play with [Gusev], see the passes ... he does really creative things," Hughes said. "I think chemistry (on a line) will come as we play more. That was our first game so not too many expectations, but it was nice to connect on the OT goal."

Devils coach John Hynes said he would like to experiment with Wayne Simmonds at right wing with Hughes and Gusev. The 31-year-old veteran is day to day with a lower-body injury. 

"When you look at the way Jack plays and thinks the game, Gusev is very similar with their hockey IQ, ability to make plays and read plays," Hynes said. "Wayne is a very good complement with those guys by creating space and getting to the areas of the ice that the puck is going."

Video: GOAL VS. BOS | Hughes Scores First


Cozens off to strong start for Sabres

Dylan Cozens didn't have a point but exhibited confidence and swagger for the Buffalo Sabres on a line with Tage Thompson and Remi Elie in his NHL preseason debut.

The 18-year-old center, chosen No. 7 in the 2019 NHL Draft, wants to show management that he can play with confidence and perhaps earn an extended stay beyond training camp.

"I felt good out there," Cozens told the Sabres website. "I don't want to play scared. I don't want to play like I'm going to make mistakes because then I'll make mistakes, so I just went out there and played with confidence. It's the same game I've played my whole life. It's not that much different, so I just stuck to what I know."

Cozens is expected to return to Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League at some point.

"I think emotionally, there's so many things for him to step into this space for the first time," coach Ralph Krueger said. "He managed it really well. He was very calm on the bench. He's an energetic kid trying to learn every shift. 

"It was an exciting coaching opportunity for me to stand behind somebody with that much skill in their very first game at this level. He's got some exciting years ahead of him."


Neal, Nugent-Hopkins productive for Oilers

James Neal and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are expected to become a fixture on the second line for the Edmonton Oilers. 

Each scored as linemates in a 2-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

"It's going to take some time, but I thought [Nugent-Hopkins] was real good tonight," coach Dave Tippett told the Oilers website. "Neal's an opportunistic guy, he's looking to score, and hopefully he gets a lot like those ones tonight."

Nugent-Hopkins played center on a line with Neal and Sam Gagner. Nugent-Hopkins, who is in his ninth NHL season with Edmonton, gave the Oilers a 2-0 lead when he scored on a backhand with 16 seconds left in the second period.

The Oilers are hopeful Neal will complement Nugent-Hopkins in a second-line role this season. The Oilers acquired the 32-year-old forward in a trade from the Calgary Flames for forward Milan Lucic and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft on July 19.


Nylander scores in Blackhawks debut

Alexander Nylander realizes the importance of his first training camp with the Chicago Blackhawks, and he didn't disappoint with a solid impression in his first preseason game.

Nylander, acquired in a trade from the Sabres for defenseman Henri Jokiharju on July 9, had a goal and an assist, and was one of the best players on the ice for the Blackhawks in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. 

"This is a really important training camp for me," the 21-year-old told the Blackhawks website. "Every game, they always have a close eye on me, so I have to perform and work hard because I obviously want a spot on this team."

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said he liked what he saw from Nylander, who played left wing on a line with center David Kampf and Aleksi Saarela. Nylander skated with center Jonathan Toews and Anton Wedin in Chicago's intrasquad scrimmage Sunday.

"He definitely showed flashes where he was working away from the puck," Colliton said. "He got above it a few times and caused turnovers, and then when he does that, he creates opportunities for himself in transition. He's got a great release. He went to the net on his goal. Good to see that."


Drouin looks good at right wing for Canadiens

Jonathan Drouin got off to a strong start in his trial run at right wing for the Montreal Canadiens.

Drouin played the position on the top line with center Max Domi and left wing Artturi Lehkonen in a 4-2 win against the New Jersey Devils. 

Coach Claude Julien told the Montreal Gazette that Lehkonen was the best player on the line. He scored and had three shots on goal, two hits and two blocked shots in 16:25 of ice time. Drouin had an assist and one shot in 15:12, and Domi had two shots and two hits in 15:25.

"I thought [Lehkonen] worked hard," Julien said. "I think [Drouin and Domi] were just OK for me. It's the first preseason game, so it's nothing to worry about. But if you're asking me my opinion on that line tonight, [Lehkonen] was definitely the guy that probably played the best."

"Jonathan's played right wing before. [Lehkonen], as we know, can play both sides. We got Max, who's a left shot. Passing-wise, is Jonathan going to be more apt to shoot from there or even go to the middle? So that can change. I think both are interchangeable, so we're just going to have a look at it."


Here is the full schedule for Tuesday (all times ET)

Senators vs. Maple Leafs at St. John's, Newfoundland, 5:30 p.m. (NHLN, TSN4, TSN5)

Sabres at Blue Jackets, 7 p.m.

Hurricanes at Lightning, 7 p.m. 

Flyers vs. Islanders at Uniondale, New York, 7 p.m. (MSG+, NBCSP+)

Blackhawks at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. (FS-D+, NBCSCH+)

Stars at Wild, 8 p.m. (NHLN, FS-N+, FS-SW+)

Golden Knights at Avalanche, 9 p.m. (ALT, KTNV)

Oilers at Canucks, 10 p.m. (NHLN-US, SN1)

Kings (split squad) at Coyotes (split squad), 10 p.m. 

Ducks at Sharks, 10 p.m.

Coyotes (split squad) at Kings (split squad), 10:30 p.m.

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