TORONTO -- The moment Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Brandon Kozun has been waiting for all his life finally has arrived. Kozun will make his NHL debut when the Maple Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens on the opening night of the 2014-15 season.
Talk about being on the big stage.
"It's exciting," Kozun said. "I feel like the nerves are starting to come a little bit, but I'm going to try to relax as best I can and play the way I do every game."
The undersized rookie was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the sixth round (No. 179) of the 2009 NHL Draft and has been working diligently to make it to the League. At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, size was an issue but courage and determination helped make up for his lack of stature. On a team that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and entering this season with a stated goal of possessing the puck more, Kozun is expected to provide a spark.
"I am going to use my speed to try to bring energy," Kozun said.
The Maple Leafs have made significant changes to their defense and their third and fourth lines. Veteran defensemen Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak were acquired along with forwards Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, Leo Komarov, Matt Frattin and Kozun.
The Maple Leafs made news this week when they sent Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan is hoping for a new identity, but did not go into specifics other than to say puck possession is a top priority.
"Team identity is not something you talk about during the afternoon of the opening game of the season," Shanahan said. "It is something you earn by going out on the ice and establishing your identity."
The Canadiens made it to the Eastern Conference Final last season, losing in six games to the New York Rangers, and made significant changes to their roster with the departure of veterans Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek, captain Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges.
Notable additions to the Canadiens include veteran center Manny Malhotra, right wing Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and defenseman Tom Gilbert. After a solid showing in the postseason, Dustin Tokarski replaces Peter Budaj as starting goalie Carey Price's backup.
Two young defensemen also have been promoted. Nathan Beaulieu is expected to play while Jarred Tinordi likely will be a healthy scratch.
Beaulieu was Montreal's first-round pick (No. 17) in 2011 and Tinordi was its first-round selection (No. 22) in 2010.
Coach Michel Therrien likes what he sees from his team.
"We're a young team and a quick team," Therrien said. "We have a vision of where we want to be and how we want to play the game and we just keep moving in that direction."
Here are the projected lineups:
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - Brandon Kozun
Daniel Winnik - Peter Holland - Matt Frattin
Leo Komarov - Mike Santorelli - David Clarkson
Jake Gardiner - Morgan Rielly
Dion Phaneuf - Stephane Robidas
Stuart Percy - Roman Polak
Scratched: Carter Ashton, Josh Leivo
Injured: Cody Franson
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau
Alex Galchenyuk - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher
Rene Bourque - Lars Eller - Jiri Sekac
Brandon Prust - Manny Malhotra - Dale Weise
Alexei Emelin - P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov - Tom Gilbert
Nathan Beaulieu - Mike Weaver
Scratched: Jarred Tinordi, Travis Moen, Michael Bournival
Status report: Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (lower body) took the morning skate but was not expected to play. He is listed as day-to-day ... Canadiens center Lars Eller (lower body) will play but Therrien said Eller will not play big minutes.