After a four-month break (save for that three-week international tournament called the World Cup of Hockey), the NHL officially returns tonight. That's right, it's the first evening of the regular season. Eight teams will compete in four matches, with the first one being the Toronto Maple Leafs playing in Canada's capital to face Erik Karlsson's Ottawa Senators. Let's get ready for some hockey by taking a look at some of the big stories, both tonight and for the rest of the year.
Let's hear it for the kids!
Last season was the first time since 1970 that there were no Canadian teams in the NHL playoffs. This season, many of these teams are fighting back with youth. For example, when the Leafs hit the ice tonight, their 23-man starting lineup will include an incredible seven rookies (these are first-time NHL players). None of these players will get as much attention as 19 year-old forwards Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Marner is a speedy, creative goalscorer who was a dynamo playing in the Ontario Hockey League last year. And Matthews? Many are saying that he could become a superstar on the level of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Alexander Ovechkin.
Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers have their own 19 year-old superstar of the future, Connor McDavid. McDavid was just made team captain. That's a lot of responsibility for someone so young, but everyone who watches him play say that he's ready for the challenge. That's good news for Edmonton, because after 10 years without playoff hockey, their fans are becoming restless. Can McDavid and the team's other young talent like Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Darnell Nurse, finally lead the Oilers into the promised land of playoff hockey? We think they're ready to make some noise.
"Johnny Hockey" and the fantastic Finn
Then there are the young stars playing for the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. The Flames just signed the thrilling Johnny Gaudreau to a new contract. There's reason they call him "Johnny Hockey"—he's quick, unpredictable, and never quits. Alongside Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan, the Flames have young talent that is beginning to understand better how to play the NHL.
The Jets also have lots of young players in their second and third season in the league. Mark Scheifele and Nikolai Ehlers are going to be dangerous again this year. But no player is more exciting here than Finnish rookie Patrik Laine. Laine was picked right after Auston Matthews in this year's draft, and some experts say that he's even better than Matthews is. For the record, Winnipeg has a pretty good track record with Finnish rookies. In 1992, a young Teemu Selänne scored 76 goals for the Jets—the most ever for a rookie. It's safe to say that a lot of people in Winnipeg would be happy to see that happen again!
The Price is right
Meanwhile in Montreal, everyone is breathing a sigh of relief that Carey Price is back and healthy. He once again looked like the best goalie in the world playing for Canada in the World Cup. Canadiens' fans are also going to be watching new veteran defenseman Shea Weber closely, after he was traded to the team for the very popular P.K. Subban in the summer. When Subban was sent to Nashville, fans were upset for weeks. (Many still are upset!) But Weber is an excellent player himself—with him standing in front of Price, Montreal should be a very difficult team to score against this year.
Who is best?
For all of the exciting new players in the NHL this year, these teams still have a way to go before they can sit alongside the league's best. Last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins rode Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and surprise starting goalie Matt Murray through the playoffs to win their fourth Stanley Cup. Many were calling for the Pens to be a big threat this season, too... until Crosby got diagnosed with a concussion only a few days ago. The last time Sid had concussion problems, he wasn't the same for about two years. Will the Penguin's team doctors handle things better this year? Or is this the time that Ovechkin and the Capitals finally best their nemesis in Pittsburgh and win it all? What about the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have also come so close the last two seasons? Or last year's runners up, the San Jose Sharks?
Enough guessing, already. There's only one way to find out. Drop that puck!