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Rookie Raymond suits up on top line as Canucks face Sharks in NHL season opener

NHL.com @NHL

VANCOUVER - Most rookies don't get to make their NHL debut on a team's first line.

Mason Raymond is an exception. The 22-year-old from Cochrane, Alta., will skate alongside top-scoring twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin as the Vancouver Canucks open their season Friday night against the San Jose Sharks at GM Place.

"Obviously, it's a big open window for myself," said Raymond. "I want to jump (in). I want to take advantage of it."

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is placing considerable faith in Raymond, considering that the winger has only 24 games of pro experience - 11 in the regular season and 13 in the playoffs - with the AHL's Manitoba Moose.

Raymond joined the Canucks' top farm club for the stretch drive last season after completing two seasons with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.

"I wasn't playing the way I could play," said Raymond. "I didn't have the (offensive) roles that I usually take. But at the same time, it was good to get those games under my belt. I kind of know what it's like down there and the difference between (the AHL and) up here.

"The points will come. It's just a matter of getting to it."

Vigneault liked Raymond enough in training camp and the pre-season to demote Taylor Pyatt, who had impressed at times last season, off the Sedin line.

Raymond helped his cause by scoring a goal in Vancouver's final pre-season game against an Edmonton Oilers club that iced mostly veterans.

Now, Vigneault is counting on him to help kick-start a Canucks offence that started slowly last season before a strong stretch drive catapulted them to first place in the Northwest Division.

He's willing to be patient with Raymond and 23-year-old forward Ryan Shannon, who will play on the team's second line with Ryan Kesler and Markus Naslund.

Shannon split last season between the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks and its Maine farm team and only has 53 games of NHL experience.

"I've always been very patient when I think the intensity and the preparation and the hard work (are) there," said Vigneault. "You give those guys a chance to succeed. We think they will. Time will tell, and exactly what that timeframe is, I can't tell you exactly, but I do think those guys have showed a lot of up side and I'm willing to ride this out a little bit here.

"But knowing me, riding it out might be a period or two."

In other words, evaluations continue against the Sharks after Vigneault used many minor-leaguers and prospects during a pre-season in which the Canucks posted a 4-2-2 mark.

"It's going to be NHL teams on the ice," he said. "It's going to be NHL intensity. It's our first real evaluation of what we think our group is capable of doing."

Veteran centre Brendan Morrison said the team is feeling confident after closing out the exhibition campaign with wins against Calgary and Edmonton. He likened opening night to the first game of the playoffs.

"It's this feeling that's in the air," said Morrison. "People are down here earlier and crowds gather earlier, and it's fun to be a part of."

Morrison, the NHL's current iron man who has a sore wrist but expects to play his 513th straight game, said Raymond's presence on the top line will help balance the team's scoring after it relied on one line the past few seasons. And, there will be no lack of motivation for Raymond, even though it's the start of a very long season.

"It's something that you'll never forget," he said of a rookie's first regular season game. "You don't really look back at game five or game 10. But, first game, any player can tell you exactly when it was, who it was against, and probably the score in that game. So it's a memorable night."

Veteran winger Trevor Linden said the team faces higher expectations this season after advancing to the second round of the playoffs, thanks largely to the strong goaltending of Roberto Luongo.

Rookie Raymond is likely to feel some jitters, although he felt he conquered them in the pre-season. Linden, a former first-liner who is expected to platoon in and out of the lineup in his 19th NHL season, said Raymond has earned his spot alongside the Sedins.

"He's got a bright future, so it's a nice place to start," said Linden.

NOTES: The Canucks are 20-13-3 all-time in their home-openers. . . . Defenceman Sami Salo is expected to be out another two weeks because of a hairline wrist fracture while defenceman Alex Edler has not yet fully recovered from a hip problem and is also expected to sit out Friday. Defenceman Mike Weaver, claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh earlier in the week, might suit up. But Vigneault wasn't offering any confirmation. . . . Vancouver wingers Jeff Cowan, whose strong late-season play helped Vancouver secure a playoff berth last season and Brad Isbister, an off-season free agent signing, will be healthy scratches after failing to impress Vigneault in the pre-season. Byron Ritchie didn't impress the coach much in pre-season either, but the centre is drawing into the lineup in case Morrison has trouble taking face-offs because of his sore wrist. . . . Raymond's parents are flying in from Calgary for the game and will quickly head back to Cowtown to see him skate against the Flames on Saturday.

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