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5 things learned from Sept. 18 preseason games

Kakko impresses in debut for Rangers; Matthews, Johnsson show chemistry with Maple Leafs

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 Wednesday:

Kakko impresses in preseason debut with Rangers

Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, said he wasn't nervous in his NHL preseason debut with the New York Rangers on Wednesday in a top-line role with center Mika Zibanejad and left wing Artemi Panarin.

Kakko, who was particularly impressive on the power play working along the half boards in the right circle, had one assist and four shots on goal in 20:50 of ice time in a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

"Of course, I feel like it's so big thing for me to play with [Panarin], so skillful player, and of course all the players on the power play, like (Jacob) Trouba, Mika, (Chris) Kreider," Kakko said. "So, we can play better, but so many chances."

The Rangers generated 12 of their 42 shots on goal on four power-play opportunities. Kakko will likely begin the regular season on a line with Filip Chytil at center and Kreider at left wing. 

"Kaapo wants the puck on his stick," Kreider told The Athletic. "He's got it on a string, that tiny little stick that's tight to his toes. It's hard to poke it off him. It kind of reminds me of Marty St. Louis, just in terms of how tight it is to his feet. Panarin does a lot of the same things. Mika, too. He's got it in tight, baits guys to him and creates space. And he plays a very heavy game for an 18-year-old, making good reads to get on pucks, then he's holding onto pucks. He's just going to get better."

Said coach David Quinn: "I said to him in the pregame skate [Wednesday] morning, 'Are your parents going to be able to watch?' He said, 'Yeah, they'll be able to watch on the Internet.' I said, 'All of Finland will be watching.' He goes, 'Probably.'"


Matthews scores twice for Maple Leafs

Auston Matthews already looks to be in midseason form and that's a good sign for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 22-year-old center, who had an NHL career-high 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists) in 68 games last season, scored twice in his first preseason game playing with linemates William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson in a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

"I feel good, a lot of guys feel good," Matthews told the Toronto Sun. "This is more of an individual time of the year, so guys are trying to make impressions and fight for spots. For guys like myself, Willie, [Johnsson], we're trying to work hard every night and build our chemistry and try to have the puck as much as possible and be good defensively, as well."

Johnsson, who impressed with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 73 games as a rookie last season, is hoping to do enough to prove he's capable of remaining on a line with Matthews to start the regular season.

"[Matthews] has been at it for three great seasons now," Johnsson said. "There is no limit for him, he can be as good as he wants to be, that ceiling is so high. I feel he's looking better every year, every time I see him. I'm excited to see what he can do. 

"He's really good at reading people, whoever he plays with. The only thing you really need to do is to work hard and be in a really good position and make space for him or get a pass from him."

Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews shows off hand-eye for second goal


Schneider sharp again for Devils

Cory Schneider realizes how critical it is to have a productive training camp and preseason in order to alleviate any concerns about his play entering the season for the New Jersey Devils.

Schneider, who has three seasons remaining on a seven-year contract, appears to be fully recovered from hip surgery performed in May 2018. The 33-year-old goalie had 27 saves on 29 shots in two periods in the win on Wednesday and has a 2.26 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in two preseason games.

"I thought he played well, and I really liked his post-to-post movement and his positioning was really good which is something that's improved," Devils coach John Hynes said. "I thought he was seeing pucks through traffic really well, so it was nice to see him have a good performance like that."

The Devils will likely begin the regular season with Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood as their goaltenders.


Copp looks to pick up slack for Jets

Andrew Copp could play himself into an even larger role with a solid training camp for the Winnipeg Jets.

Copp had a goal and an assist and led the Jets with four shots on goal in 17:14 of ice time and was impressive on left wing with center Adam Lowry and right wing Blake Wheeler in a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday. Copp knows an opportunity exists because restricted free agent forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor remain without contracts.

"It felt good to see a couple go in and be involved offensively and pick up where I left off last year," Copp told the Winnipeg Free Press. Copp had 25 points and scored an NHL career-high 11 goals in 69 games last season.

Copp, Wheeler (one goal, one assist) and Lowry were three of five Jets players making their preseason debuts, including center Mark Scheifele and defenseman Josh Morrissey. 

"Copp, Lowry and Wheeler are going to be a pretty good line on any day, but in exhibition maybe even more so," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "They're all guys that play the exact same way every night."


Solid debut for Lightning rookie Foote

Nolan Foote, the No. 27 pick in the 2019 draft, didn't look like a teenager playing his first NHL preseason game for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.

The 18-year-old, who played left wing on the fourth line in a 2-0 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes, also played on the second power-play unit, using his size (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) in front of the net.

"He didn't look 18 years old, I'll tell you that," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I'm sure it's nerve-racking to get into your first game like that, but he showed well. He's big, strong. Another kid that won his battles. If that's the floor for him, he's got a bright future."

Foote played 13:53 and had two shots on goal, and was able to play with his older brother, defenseman Callan Foote (No. 14, 2017 NHL Draft), who led the Lightning with five shots on goal in 15:59 of ice time. Nolan Foote is expected to be returned to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League where he scored 63 points (36 goals, 27 assists) in 66 games last season.


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

Bruins at Flyers, 7 p.m. (NHLN, NBCSP, NESN)

Blue Jackets at Penguins, 7 p.m. (ATTSN-PT)

Panthers at Canadiens, 7 p.m. (TSN2, RDS) 

Stars at Avalanche, 9 p.m. (ALT)

Canucks at Oilers, 9 p.m. (SN1)

Golden Knights at Kings, 10:30 p.m. (NHLN, KTNV)

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