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5 things to watch for on NHL’s opening night

The first night of the season brings us a Cup ceremony, Laine vs. Matthews, and more.

Calgary Flames v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images

After a long offseason full of roster moves, Olympic curiosity, and reminders that somebody really needs to beat the Penguins, the 2017-18 NHL season begins Wednesday night. It’s a four-game slate highlighted by Pittsburgh’s season opener, which will start with the team’s latest banner-raising ceremony.

That’s not all to watch for on opening night, though, so let’s dig into what’ll make the first day of hockey worth tuning into. For the next eight months or so, it’s going to be a non-stop flow of dope goals and unreal saves as we enter a new, younger, faster era of the NHL.

The official first game of the season will be a good example of that as the Maple Leafs take on the Jets at 6 p.m. ET. Is Toronto ready to take its next step in the Eastern Conference? We’ll start answering that question Wednesday.

Here are five reasons to tune in for the first night of the NHL season. Let’s have some fun.

Laine vs. Matthews

The future of the NHL is ridiculously bright thanks to a new generation of young stars. What better way to get started this season than watching two of the best — Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Toronto’s Auston Matthews — in a game between two of the league’s top offensive teams?

The Maple Leafs and Jets finished fifth and sixth in goals for last season. Now that guys like Matthews, Laine, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers are a year older, these teams could score even more. Don’t be surprised if we start off with a 6-5 game at MTS Centre.

Matthews, one of the flashiest players in the league, began his NHL career with four goals on opening day a year ago. What’s up his sleeve next? This is an awesome way to open the season.

Penguins’ banner-raising ceremony

Yes, we got to see one of these a year ago in Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t make the celebration any less gleeful. The Penguins will raise their latest Stanley Cup banner Wednesday night before taking on the Blues in their season opener, which shall also be known as The Ryan Reaves Game. It’s set to start at 7 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on NBCSN.

If you’re not a Penguins fan, this probably won’t be nearly as fun to watch, but you can sit back and imagine if it was your team. Or try to do some voodoo to make sure Pittsburgh doesn’t win again. Either way, one of the best parts of winning a championship is being able to celebrate the crap out of it.

Connor McDavid time!

This one doesn’t need much explanation. He’s the most electric player in hockey and could be even better a year after winning his first Hart Trophy. The Flames, meanwhile, have one of the league’s most impressive defensive top fours with Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and new addition Travis Hamonic, so they’ll be ready to try to keep McDavid in check. Last season, the Oilers center recorded four goals, including two game-winners, and seven points in four games against Calgary.

Will anyone kneel for the national anthem?

About a week ago, Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds said he was considering joining in the protests against police brutality and racial injustice that have gone on during the pregame national anthems in other sports. On Wednesday night, Philadelphia takes on San Jose in its first game of the season at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Simmonds, who is Canadian and one of the NHL’s few black players, may or may not kneel before the game, but as he noted recently, what’s more important is the issues being protested.

“All anyone wants to talk about right now is why they’re kneeling,” Simmonds said, via NBC Sports. “And if you’re disrespecting the Army or the national anthem or whatever it might be. People fail to see what the real issue is, or why Colin Kaepernick actually started this protest, and that he actually talked with an armed force member who was actually on CNN last night discussing all of these issues on a panel as to why he used the national anthem as a vehicle to get this out.”

Joel Ward, who also recently spoke up about a possible protest during the anthem, tweeted recently that he would not kneel, but gave a lengthy explanation of where he’s coming from. Ward will likely be in the lineup for the Sharks on Wednesday night.

Nolan Patrick makes his NHL debut

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft will be in the lineup for the Flyers against the Sharks on Wednesday night. He’s expected to be the second-line center between wingers Simmonds and Jordan Weal, so there should be lots of playing time to go around.

Patrick may not be as exciting as guys like Laine, Matthews, and Nico Hischier — the other top-two picks of the past two years — but he’s a well-rounded center who should have a good rookie year in Philadelphia. Last season, he put up 46 points in 33 games during an injury-shortened year with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.

It may take him 82 games, but 46 points in the NHL this season seems like a doable proposition.