ST. LOUIS -- The Minnesota Wild will open the 2016-17 regular season on Thursday when it plays the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.
The game will mark the official debut of head coach Bruce Boudreau behind the Wild bench. One of the winningest coaches in NHL history, he has 409 career NHL victories and has presided over eight season openers. Still, Boudreau said there is something special about opening night.
"It always is," Boudreau said. "I take nothing for granted. I was 33 years in the minors, went from the lowest minors to the American League. This is a blessing and a bonus and when you got good guys to deal with, it makes it even more special."
It will also mark the Wild debuts of Eric Staal and Teemu Pulkkinen and the re-introduction of forward Chris Stewart, who spent a year and a half away from Minnesota, playing last season for Boudreau in Anaheim.
The game will cap a crazy 48-hour stretch for Pulkkinen, who was claimed off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.
"It's been a lot of [being] rushed," Pulkkinen said. "[Tuesday] at noon, they told me I was going to Minnesota, they just needed to work out everything. I flew to Minneapolis [Tuesday night] and then [Wednesday] with the team here."
While there will be some different aspects of this opener for the Wild, one thing that will be familiar is the opponent. Thursday's meeting against the Blues, Minnesota's Central Division rival, is one of five the teams will play against each other this season.
The Blues lost a pair of faces familiar to Wild fans during the offseason when former captain David Backes, a native of Spring Lake Park, signed with the Boston Bruins. Forward Steve Ott, another physical presence, signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
Despite those losses, Boudreau said he doesn't expect the Blues to change their identity too much.
"I think they'll still be an aggressive team," Boudreau said. "They lost a little bit of size, but I think aggressive is a funny word. I think they'll be an in your face, I don't think [head coach] Ken [Hitchcock] is going to change that. They just won't be as big doing it."
One advantage the Wild may have is energy. St. Louis opened its season with a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday in Chicago. The Wild will hope to take advantage of a tired opponent coming off an emotional road victory early in the season.
On the other hand, the game Thursday will be the Blues' home opener, which could provide a boost, especially early in the game.
"You can spin it any way you want. Sometimes it's better getting that first game under your belt," Boudreau said. "I don't think [that] on a home opener they're going to sit there and worry about fatigue. If this was game 64, maybe. But game two? I think they'll come out of the gate as good as they can be."