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Game #01 Preview: Carolina Hurricanes at Winnipeg Jets

That's how it starts. The fever, the rage, that turns good prospects bust.

NHL: Preseason-Winnipeg Jets at Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujärvi scored once last night, while Auston Matthews made history. No pressure, Patrik.
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Hockey’s back!

Okay, we’ve been saying that in various forms and degrees for at least the last month and a half. But this time, it’s the real deal. No gimmick Team Europe. No C team training camp shenanigans. For the Winnipeg Jets, the regular season begins tonight.

Catch the game at 7:00 PM Central Time on TSN3, FS-CR and TSN 1290, in a match which holds special significance for Jets head coach Paul Maurice and Winnipeg, as he’ll be coaching his 200th game with the club.

2016-17 marks the start of a new, Ondrej Pavelec-less era. The much pined after goaltending move has been made; this is now the Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson show. As for which one of them is starting tonight, while folks may prefer Helle, it looks to be Hutch. The future is now, but now has a little bit of leeway.

Hutch has a .935 career Sv% versus the Hurricanes, though that's over all of two games played. He’ll likely be facing Carolina’s much-maligned goalie in Cam Ward. The 32-year-old had a thoroughly mediocre season last year, with a .909 overall Sv% over 52 GP. Among the 58 goalies with at least 20 games played, Ward's .916 even strength Sv% ranked 45th, and was tied with none other than Ondrej Pavelec. Just who you want as your netminding bedfellow.

On defence, the Hurricanes are running a rather youthful group. With the exception of old man Ron Hainsey, all other defencemen slated to play tonight are 24 or younger. Carolina's top-pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk come in at 22 and 24, respectively, while 2015 fifth overall selection Noah Hanifin enters his sophomore season. Winnipeg should be wary; Faulk is a veteran stalwart beyond his years, and the d-corps overall lacks experience, not skill or talent.

Winnipeg's defence certainly skews older, with two 31-year-old top-four d-men in Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom. But Byfuglien is just entering the first season of a five year contract, one well-deserved given his quality of play. He'll serve as a veteran presence alongside Josh Morrissey, who in the absence of Jacob Trouba now has the opportunity to make his NHL mark. It'll be interesting to see how the 21-year-old rookie performs beside Buff, who had 53 points in 81 games while averaging 25:12 TOI in 2015-16.

The effective shot suppression duo of Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers continues on the second pairing, but the good news may end there, with the possibility of a Mark Stuart - Ben Chiarot bottom-pair.

So far as Winnipeg's forwards go, all eyes will be on second-liner Shawn Matthias Patrik Laine. He has the unfortunate luck of playing after Auston Matthews’ historic night, in which Matthews became the first player to ever score four goals in his NHL debut. Fair or not, the Laine to Matthews comparisons will likely continue all season and beyond. Oh, and Jesse Puljujärvi also scored yesterday to boot.

While a Matthias - Bryan Little - Drew Stafford trio may not be ideal, Winnipeg’s forward corps still features a nice amount of depth. At the very least, the line of Kyle Connor - Mathieu Perreault - Patrik Laine should be fun, to say nothing of SchWheEhlers®. From Oct. 3:

The Hurricanes have an abundance of young forward talent of their own, including a line of Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and former Chicago Blackhawk Teuvo Teravainen. Just as with the defence, Carolina’s forward corps features a number of relative unknowns beginning to carve out NHL careers for themselves. Oh, and Winnipeg's old friend Lee Stempniak makes yet another return, this time on Carolina's top-line alongside Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask.

What are your predictions for tonight’s season opener? Will you boo Ron Hainsey mercilessly, Lee Stempniak, or both? Does Cam Ward allow fewer than four goals against? And is Patrik Laine a complete bust if he doesn’t find twine tonight?

Share your thoughts, feelings and concerns in the comments section below, and as always, thanks for reading!