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Ales Hemsky in tonight, Gemel Smith to make NHL debut

Lehtonen to make third straight start as Stars face Blue Jackets

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Gemel Smith was in Ontario, California on Friday preparing to play his fourth AHL game of the season when he got pulled aside by Dallas assistant GM Scott White. Smith was about to find out he was getting his first call up to the NHL.

"When he called me aside the guys were going, 'Oooh,' kind of implying [I was getting called up], but I really never knew," Smith said. "You don't want to jump to conclusions. As soon as he told me, I was definitely excited."

There's more cause for the 22-year-old Smith to be excited. He will make his NHL debut tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets at American Airlines Center.

"It's my first one, and hopefully the first of many," Smith said. "I've been working hard for this, and I am going to take it day-by-day and game-by-game."

Smith, a fourth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is expected to center the fourth line with Curtis McKenzie and Adam Cracknell on his wings. Smith made quite an impression during training camp and the preseason, and he's played well in the first three games of the season for the Texas Stars of the AHL, registering one goal and a plus-two rating.

"He had a real good preseason from the standpoint of the energy, the skating," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "He was in on a lot of opportunities. I would have liked to seen him finish a few but I thought his speed and the way he played really fit our game. He was probably the biggest surprise of camp. He had a good camp, and he found himself here."

The Stars called up Smith due to the team's mounting injury issues at the forward position. Patrick Sharp and Patrick Eaves were injured in Thursday's game against Los Angeles. Sharp has been placed on injured reserve with concussion-like symptoms. Eaves won't play tonight against Columbus, but he did skate on his own this morning. Jiri Hudler (illness) will miss his third straight game and was placed on IR to open up a roster spot for the return of Ales Hemsky.

Hemsky, who was activated off IR, has missed the first four games of the season due to a groin injury he suffered at the World Cup of Hockey in September.

"It's been tough. I've probably never missed the first game of the season," Hemsky said. "I have had injuries, but I've always been ready for the start of the season. You just have to get back, get ready and focus for the games."

Hemsky is expected to play on the top line tonight with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

"He brings good speed to the team," Ruff said. "The second half of last year, Ales really played well for us. With losing a couple of guys, we get to bring in another veteran that we are going to need."

On defense, Jordie Benn and Patrick Nemeth are back in tonight. Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak skated late, so they are healthy scratches on the blue line.

Kari Lehtonen will get the start in goal. It will be his third straight start. He has a 2.35 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in four appearances so far this season.

Blue Jackets Watch

Just a few players skated this morning for the Blue Jackets, who played last night and defeated Chicago, 3-2, in Columbus. Defenseman Ryan Murray, who left Friday's game with an upper-body injury, did not make the trip to Dallas. Columbus recalled forward Sonny Milano from Cleveland of the AHL and assigned forward Oliver Bjorkstrand to Cleveland. Tonight will be the first road game of the season for the Blue Jackets who are 1-2-0.

Hockey Fights Cancer

The Stars are holding their annual Hockey Fights Cancer night during tonight's game with Columbus.

Trevor Strader, son of Dallas Stars play-by-play announcer Dave Strader, will sing the national anthem and take part in the ceremonial puck drop. Dave Strader was diagnosed this summer with cholangiocarcinoma, a fairly rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Starting with tonight's game, the Stars will wear a helmet sticker the rest of the 2016-17 season to support Dave in his fight against the disease.

"It has really hit home with Dave," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "Our thoughts are with him, and our prayers are with him." 

Tonight's Game

Who: Columbus Blue Jackets at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Stars Projected Lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Jason Spezza
Lauri Korpikoski - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie
Curtis McKenzie - Gemel Smith - Adam Cracknell

Dan Hamhuis - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns
Patrik Nemeth - Jordie Benn

Kari Lehtonen
Antti Niemi

Scratched: Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak
Injured: Patrick Eaves (lower body), Patrick Sharp (concussion-like symptoms), Jiri Hudler (illness), Cody Eakin (knee), Mattias Janmark (knee)

Blue Jackets Projected Lineup

Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Brandon Saad - Alexander Wennberg - Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner - Lukas Sedlak - Sam Gagner
Scott Hartnell - William Karlsson - Josh Anderson
Zach Werenski - David Savard
Jack Johnson - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - Dalton Prout
Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney
Scratches: Scott Harrington, Sonny Milano
Injuries: Ryan Murray (upper body), Dillon Heatherington (wrist), Joonas Korpisalo (groin), David Clarkson (back)

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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