NHL preview: Storylines from Canada's 7 teams
McDavid, Hamilton, Galchenyuk among those to watch
The Chicago Blackhawks, who hoisted the Stanley Cup on home ice 113 days ago for the third time in six years, will raise the 2015 championship banner Wednesday night before opening the defence of their title against the visiting New York Rangers.
The 2015-16 NHL season will also begin on three other fronts, including all-Canadian matchups in Toronto between the hometown Maple Leafs and Montreal and in Calgary, where the Flames welcome Vancouver in a rematch of their first-round playoff series last spring, won by Calgary in six games.
Below, we highlight one storyline to keep an eye on this season for each of the Canadian teams .
Hamilton adds size, mobility to offensive blue-line
A defence corps that topped the NHL last season with 195 points is even more imposing with the addition of six-foot-five, 212-pound Dougie Hamilton, one of the more surprising acquisitions of the off-season. The 22-year-old's addition is even more important with T.J. Brodie sidelined by injury until at least late October. With Hamilton, defencemen Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell and Brodie can play fewer minutes and likely be more effective. The mobile Hamilton, who had 10 goals and 42 points in Boston last season, signed a six-year, $34.5-million US deal shortly after being acquired on July 1.
McDavid era begins
The most-anticipated NHL debut since that of Sidney Crosby in 2005 will take place Thursday night in St. Louis, where Oilers centre Connor McDavid will take the ice with great expectations. There is plenty of pressure on the 18-year-old to help the team end its nine-year playoff drought.
Considered the best prospect since Crosby, McDavid is fresh off a remarkable junior career in which he won Canadian Hockey League player of the year honours last season and dominated the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 44 goals and 120 points in 47 games. McDavid had five assists in as many NHL pre-season contests.
Galchenyuk's breakthrough season?
There is no shortage of motivation for centre Alex Galchenyuk to have his most productive NHL season. He gained 12 games of playoff experience last spring, signed a two-year, $5.6-million US deal in July, has shifted to his natural position and had some chemistry early in training camp skating alongside Lars Eller and newcomer Alexander Semin. The 21-year-old Galchenyuk has shown improvement over his three seasons in Montreal and last season set career highs in goals (20), assists (26) and points (46). The Habs' scoring woes were much-publicized last season, so many will be looking Galchenyuk's way to lead the attack.
Hammond a legit NHLer or 1-year wonder?
Starting the season sidelined with a groin injury isn't the way goalie Andrew (The Hamburglar) Hammond envisioned the beginning of his first full season with the Senators. Hammond is best remembered for his 23-4-4 run to help Ottawa to the playoffs, where the 27-year-old didn't enjoy as much success and was benched in favour of veteran Craig Anderson for Game 3 of a first-round series loss to Montreal.
However, Hammond had shown enough to management — which dealt Robin Lehner, once the Sens' one-time goalie of the future, to Buffalo in June — to earn a three-year contract worth $4.05 million. Will that prove to be a wise investment?
Filling net a challenge
Phil Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer, notched 25 goals last season, or 12 per cent of the Maple Leafs output. But he's gone now, traded to Pittsburgh on July 1 in a deal involving two draft picks, forward Nick Spaling along with prospects Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington, both of whom will not open the season in Toronto's lineup. That said, where will the goals come from this season? James van Riemsdyk has scored at a 30-goal pace in three seasons with the Leafs. Tyler Bozak had 23 last season, but after that, no one on the roster reached 20, either with Toronto or another club.
Miller poised for bounce-back season
Many eyes in Vancouver will be on veteran goalie Ryan Miller, who is looking to regain his No. 1 form after taking five months to recover from a medial collateral ligament sprain of his right knee and to strengthen his body to shoulder a hefty workload this season. The crease is his after Vancouver traded fan favourite Eddie Lack to Carolina.
At 35, Miller is eager to improve on a 2014-15 campaign filled with mixed results. Sure, Miller won 29 games in 45 appearances and was fourth in the league with shutouts, but his .911 save percentage fell below his career norm of .915 and the .923 mark he displayed with Buffalo two seasons ago.
Building on surprising campaign
After finishing 11th in the 30-team NHL in goals against and securing their second playoff berth in franchise history, what will the Jets do for an encore? For starters, head coach Paul Maurice will be hoping young forwards like Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp and Nic Petan can show a dedication to the defensive side of the game as Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak, Jim Slater and T.J. Galiardi have before them. A repeat or slight improvement on their 20 road wins would help, as would a healthy goalie competition between Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec and good health from defencemen Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tobias Enstrom and Tyler Myers.