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Opening week has Babcock, Kessel, McDavid debut

by Brian Compton

The 2015-16 NHL season gets underway Wednesday with four games, including two Original Six matchups.

This week, seven coaches will debut with a new team, a potential generational type player will play his first NHL game, and a second team arrives within New York City limits.

Here are games that should garner plenty of attention:

Wednesday, Oct. 7: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports) -- After 10 years with the Detroit Red Wings, coach Mike Babcock accepts the challenge of reshaping the Maple Leafs, who were 27th in the NHL standings last season. Babcock signed an eight-year contract reportedly worth $50 million with Toronto on May 20. With a record of 458-223-105, he is the Red Wings' all-time leader in wins, and Detroit made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of his 10 seasons.

"We're an Original Six franchise that doesn't hold our rightful place in the National Hockey League right now," Babcock told the Toronto Sun. "We will."

Wednesday, Oct. 7: New York Rangers at Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) -- The Blackhawks will raise their third Stanley Cup championship banner in the past six seasons, then begin their title defense against the 2014-15 Presidents' Trophy winners. Chicago won't have forwards Brandon Saad (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Patrick Sharp (Dallas Stars), who were traded in the offseason for salary-cap reasons. The Blackhawks are trying to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings (1997, 1998).

"I think there's plenty of talent," forward Marian Hossa. "We lost so many key members of our team from the last year, but on the plus side, we've got lots of great young players coming in to give us lots of enthusiasm and energy, which could be our motor."

Thursday, Oct. 8: Edmonton Oilers at St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET; SN360, FS-MW) -- All eyes have been on center Connor McDavid since he played his first game with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League as a 15-year-old in the fall of 2012. After being the No. 1 pick at the 2015 NHL Draft, McDavid is set to make his NHL debut. He had 120 points in 47 games for Erie last season.

"I'm just worried about each and every day here trying to get better and prove to the coaching staff and management team what I'm all about and making sure I'm earning their trust," McDavid said, according to The Canadian Press.

Friday, Oct. 9: Chicago Blackhawks at New York Islanders (7:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, CSN-CH, MSG+) -- The Islanders play their first regular-season game at Barclays Center after calling Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum home for 43 years. A ceremony will precede the start of the game that will likely feature many special guests.

"I just want the puck to drop. Ceremonies aren't for me," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "You've been waiting all summer to play. We just want to get to what we do best, and that's playing and competing. I think it's a great way to open up the year; the defending Cup champs, on a back-to-back. We're going to have to be ready. It's a great challenge, and we should really accept that and look to thrive off of it."

Saturday, Oct. 10: Anaheim Ducks at San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET; PRIME, FS-SD, CSN-CA) -- The Ducks, predicted by many to represent the Western Conference in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, open the season against the Sharks and new coach Peter DeBoer. Expectations are high in Anaheim after general manager Bob Murray bolstered the lineup with the additions of forward Carl Hagelin and defenseman Kevin Bieksa.

It appears Ducks forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are going to start the season on separate lines. Getzlaf has been skating with Hagelin and newcomer Chris Stewart, and Perry with Rickard Rakell and Jiri Sekac.

"We obviously want to see if it works out," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said, according to The Orange County Register. "If it doesn't, we know what we can do. It's not a secret."


Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres -- The second player selected at the 2015 draft may not put up as many points as McDavid will in Edmonton, but he could have a similar impact in Buffalo. Eichel, who had 71 points in 40 games for Boston University last season, wowed Sabres fans with his offensive abilities during the preseason and is projected to be the second-line center. Eichel will make his NHL debut on Thursday against the Ottawa Senators at First Niagara Center.

Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Kessel brings his 247 career NHL goals to Pittsburgh after being traded from Toronto on July 1. Never before has Kessel played with a center as talented as Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, so it will be interesting to see if he scores 40 goals for the first time this season. Kessel makes his Penguins debut Thursday at the Dallas Stars.

Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets -- Saad, who turns 23 on Oct. 27, has a new home after winning the Stanley Cup twice in three seasons with the Blackhawks. His numbers improved in each of those seasons, a trend that is likely to continue with Saad penciled to skate on the Blue Jackets' top line with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. Columbus hosts the New York Rangers on Friday.


Patrick Sharp, Dallas Stars -- Sharp went from 34 goals in 2013-14 to 16 last season in Chicago, but the move to Dallas could rejuvenate the 33-year-old. He likely enters the season skating on the Stars' top line with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, so Sharp gets an early opportunity to begin a bounce-back season.

Ryan Strome, New York Islanders -- Some wondered why Islanders general manager Garth Snow wasn't more aggressive when Metropolitan Division opponents such as Pittsburgh and Columbus were strengthening their lineup during the offseason, but that's probably because of the faith Snow has in his younger players, particularly Strome. The fifth player selected at the 2011 draft had 50 points in his first full NHL season and is likely to start the season on the top line alongside Tavares. Expect a jump in every offensive category from the 22-year-old.


This is an important season for the Islanders, who blew an opportunity to have home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference First Round of the 2015 playoffs and ultimately lost to the Washington Capitals in seven games. "It's time for us to take that next step," Islanders forward Matt Martin told "The thing we did last year was kind of take it one game at a time. We have a lot of veteran leadership with the additions of [Johnny] Boychuk and [Nick] Leddy, who's a young guy but obviously won a Stanley Cup. They really stressed just taking it day by day. You don't want to look too far ahead, you don't want to look to the playoffs, you just want to focus on the next game, focus on the details, get two points and move on to the next game. But it is a big year for us, a year that I think we can go a long way if we do what we need to." … Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was 4-0-0 in the preseason with a 1.36 goals-against average and .959 save percentage. … Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin scored four goals in the preseason and found chemistry with Steven Stamkos. … The Blues likely are opting to give 2014 first-round pick Robby Fabbri an audition before deciding to keep him or return him to Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League, where he had 51 points in 30 games last season. Fabbri, 19, skated with Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz at practice Sunday. "There's a really good chance we're going to use the nine games to take a look and see," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We think he can compete at this level."


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