On Day 1 of training camp, I asked Jeff Carter what he liked about this group heading into the 2021-22 season.
"It's an exciting team. You have a little bit of everything, honestly," he replied. "You have some top-end skill, some really good bottom-six forwards, some checking-line guys that can take care of some big minutes against some other teams' top players. I think our team is kind of well-rounded, and we have some young guys coming in that can help fill some holes, so it should be an exciting year."
Now, with it being Day 1 of the regular season, I followed back up with the veteran forward to see if he had anything to add to his original assessment after a couple of weeks filled with practices and preseason games.
"The work ethic here, I noticed from the day I came in last year, is just through the roof," he said. "Everybody, no matter who it is, is all out, all the time. It starts with your leaders, your top-end guys, and that carries through the lineup.
"I think you've seen through the preseason that guys who are getting bigger roles now because of the situation we're in - the skill's coming out. They're playing hard. So it's exciting to see. I think for everyone in the room, they kind of see how it's all coming together, and just looking forward to getting it going now."
This group is certainly no stranger to adversity, as they experienced plenty of it last year, but still managed to finish first in their division before getting eliminated in the First Round by the New York Islanders. They'll be drawing on all of those experiences - both positive and negative - as they prepare to start the year without the services of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Jake Guentzel and Zach Aston-Reese sidelined for at least Game 1.
"Just seeing the chemistry of our group last year, there's a good feel this year, and I think we all know we're up against it," general manager Ron Hextall said. "I think our guys are ready for the challenge."
Hear from more of the players, in their own words, about why they're optimistic heading into this brand-new season.
"Just being in that locker room, you can feel the energy. Guys mesh really well with each other, and there's good chemistry. When we're out there, I feel like the lines we've had these past couple preseason games, we've been playing well. It's exciting stuff, the way we play. It's exciting to watch. Everybody's really antsy to get down, get some sun and play two great games."
"I think every year comes with excitement. I think every year it's kind of a clean slate. Obviously we have a lot of guys back from last year who did a lot of good things in the regular season. We fell a little short in the playoffs, and I think we're going to learn from those lessons and kind of take those and try to get better. But obviously we did really good things (last year). We won our division in a really tough division. So with the guys we added, and with the guys returning, I think it's just another step forward. Anytime you have some of the players on our team; Sid, Geno, Tanger - those guys are studs. Every time you have guys like that on your team, things are probably going to go pretty well."
"I think we have a lot of depth at the forward position, and the defense position also. There's a lot of battles inside the team. Everybody wants to push each other. I think it makes us a competitive team. I'm pretty excited. We have the same personnel, and we did some great things last year. We fell short, but at the end of the day, we finished first in our division. That was a strong division, and I think guys are hungry for more."
"Building off of last year, I thought we had a really tight-knit group. And I think that's one of the main things you see with good teams - that they all like each other and there are no personalities that stand out. That's one of the things that we've tried to build upon from last year. With COVID it's a little more difficult, but you can see that we're still really close as a group. We need to build that as the season starts on, just having that relationship with your teammates where it's more off the ice, where you know about their families, their personalities and what gets them going. That really excites me to get going with this group, and obviously not everything is going to be great, so we'll have to figure out how to deal with adversity. I know last year, we came back in a lot of games. We were down early and we fought, and I was really proud of the group in that way. Hopefully we'll have similar characteristics as we had last year, and build on that."
"I'm excited for a normal year. I'm excited for a normal schedule, not playing in your division the whole time. I think it's going to be a lot better, I think, and it will be better for our team to get back to a normal year and just play hockey. I think we added some really good pieces this summer. But I think a lot of it for us is getting back to everyone being a little bit more comfortable as a group. Guys like Mike Matheson and guys that are new into the system that haven't had a normal season, I think it will be good for us to feel more comfortable together. Let the families and the kids hang out together, stuff like that too will just go a long way for us. I think it'll be better to have that for team camaraderie and I think that translates."
"I think looking at last year, we did a lot of good things for the most part of the year. We have a great group of guys. A lineup with a lot of skilled guys, a lot of guys that kind of bring more grit. I think we've got a good balance with stuff like that. We believe in each other and we have a lot of guys that have been at the top, so they know what it takes. We have good leadership. So I think those are all the things that help us believe, and that we can ultimately reach that end goal."