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NHL Insider

10 surprises on opening night rosters

Jakob Chychrun, Matthew Tkachuk among unexpected names who will start season with NHL teams

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

With the NHL season set to begin Wednesday, each of the 30 teams announced its 23-man roster. As expected, Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Patrik Laine, the No. 2 pick by the Winnipeg Jets, made their teams. But there were plenty of other young players who weren't sure things but found their way onto their team's roster.

Here are 10 surprises on NHL opening night rosters (listed in alphabetical order).

Yohann Auvitu, D, New Jersey Devils

Auvitu was signed to an entry-level contract on May 27 after playing parts of the past six seasons in Finland. The 26-year-old was used in all situations during the preseason and led the Devils with six points (all assists) in five games. Injuries to Jon Merrill and Kyle Quincey opened the door for Auvitu.

"This is a great opportunity for me to show what I can do," Auvitu said. "I improved the past two seasons [with HIFK in Finland] and think that maturity helped a lot because I understand more of the game now. I make less mistakes than when I was younger, and that's the biggest thing."

Anthony Beauvillier, LW, New York Islanders

With young forwards like Matthew Barzal (made roster) and Joshua Ho-Sang (didn't make roster) also competing for spots, it was surprising that Beauvillier made the Islanders. The 19-year-old, selected with the No. 28 pick in the 2015 draft, had a goal and an assist in six preseason games but earned praise from the coaching staff for his play away from the puck. The Islanders waived forward PA Parenteau, who was claimed by the Devils, on Monday.

"I worked as hard as I could to show the coaches I'm ready," Beauvillier told the Islanders website Tuesday. "I'm just very happy right now. It's hard to describe, I'm just really, really happy to have made the team for the beginning of the season and who knows what the future holds."

Jakob Chychrun, D, Arizona Coyotes

Chychrun, 19, was selected with the No. 16 pick in the 2016 draft. One of the most highly touted defensemen heading into the draft, Chychrun didn't have big offensive numbers in the preseason (one assist, minus-3 in six games), but was one of five Coyotes rookies to make the roster.

"Chychrun was kind of the wild card of the group that just came in and played really, really well, and he pushed his way to the point where [defenseman Klas] Dahlbeck [who was waived] was a question mark," coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes website Tuesday. "He's mature for his age. He certainly hasn't done anything to give you the reason to say he's going to back off from here."

Kyle Connor, LW, Winnipeg Jets

Laine got most of the attention at Winnipeg's training camp, but Connor impressed the Jets enough in the preseason to make the roster. He had three goals and four points in five games. The No. 17 pick in the 2015 draft has the ability to play left wing or right wing. Connor, 19, played with each of the Jets' top-three centers during preseason and had success with each.

"He's just got that knack," Jets captain Blake Wheeler told the Winnipeg Sun. "He's able to find seams, he's a great passer and he's a gifted goal-scorer. Pretty impressive so far."

Video: OTT@WPG: Connor goes top shelf on the power play

Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets

Hellebuyck played in 26 games last season with the Jets (13-11-1, 2.34 goals-against average, .918 save percentage, two shutouts), but was projected to begin the season with Manitoba of the American Hockey League. That was before the Jets waived longtime goalie Ondrej Pavelec, clearing the way for Hellebuyck (six goals allowed in two preseason games) to begin the season in Winnipeg with Michael Hutchinson.

"Two good young goalies here that have both had blocks of time where they looked like they had the ability to be No. 1 guys, and they need that opportunity to show it and they'll get it here," coach Paul Maurice told the Jets website Monday.

Travis Konecny, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Konecny, the No. 24 pick in the 2015 draft, led the Flyers in points (six) and tied for the lead in goals (three) in six preseason games. The 19-year-old will be with the Flyers after spending last season with Sarnia and Ottawa of the OHL (30 goals, 71 assists in 60 games).

"This isn't a nine-game trial or a six-game trial," general manager Ron Hextall told the Flyers website earlier this week. "He's done a real good job."

Brandon Pirri, C, New York Rangers

Pirri, an unrestricted free agent, signed a one-year contract with the Rangers on Aug. 25. The 25-year-old had 14 goals in 61 games with the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks last season, and missed time with an ankle injury. He was signed as a bottom-nine forward, but Pirri impressed from the get-go, scoring twice and assisting once in his preseason debut, and tied for the team lead in the preseason with four goals.

"I am healthy now and that's big," Pirri told the Rangers website on Sept. 29. "I have to make an impression. It's been fun so far and I am just trying to get it going."

Video: NJD@NYR: Pirri beats Wedgewood with one-timer

Nick Schmaltz, C, Chicago Blackhawks

The 20-year-old, the No. 20 pick in the 2014 draft, had 11 goals and 46 points with North Dakota last season but will be spending the foreseeable future in Chicago. He had one goal in five preseason games.

"I just wanted to come in here and work as hard as I could and show that I could compete every night and I thought I did a pretty good job of that," Schmaltz told the Blackhawks website last week.

Mikhail Sergachev, D, Montreal Canadiens

Sergachev, 18, the No. 9 pick in the 2016 draft, had two assists in four preseason games, and impressed management and players alike. He was the second defenseman taken (Olli Juolevi, No. 5, Vancouver Canucks) and will play on one of Montreal's three defensive pairs to begin the season.

"I feel he's earned it," Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty said. "Everyone's just blown away by how good he's been playing. We'll see what he can do in the regular season, but we feel he has the tools to be the same player in the regular season."

Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary Flames

Tkachuk, 18, was the No. 6 pick in the 2016 draft. Although he impressed with London in the OHL last season (30 goals, 77 assists in 57 games), Tkachuk was no lock to make the roster. He tied for the team lead in the preseason with two goals and three points in four games.

"When you go through this process, you're trying to determine what's right for him and what's right for us," general manager Brad Treliving told the Flames website Tuesday. "And he's proven to this point that he deserves to be here.

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