It's that time again, hockey fans. The 2014-15 NHL season is finally underway, which means we can shelve our preseason projections (some of which we will surely cringe about later) and start to delve into the real action. Let’s start with some of the opening-week surprises around the league. Take a look at our Top 5 right here:
1. Carving out a spot
A number of youngsters found a spot on their respective club’s opening-night rosters, despite the odds being against them. Despite all the talk about promising young blueliners Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko and Ryan Sproul, it was actually 23-year-old forward Andrej Nestrasil who found himself in the Detroit Red Wings' opening-night lineup. Though his NHL debut was influenced by the injury to Pavel Datsyuk, the young Czech winger made quite the impression in camp. The same goes for 19-year-old Andre Burakovsky, who transitioned from his natural wing position to center in camp with the Washington Capitals. He responded with a goal in the Caps’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. The Toronto Maple Leafs' Brandon Kozun was a complete long shot, but there he was on a line with Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri when the team opened against Montreal on Wednesday. And 19-year-old Anthony Duclair was so good in camp for the New York Rangers that general manager Glen Sather and Co. were forced to shuffle their roster to accommodate his arrival, making a two-for-one minor-league deal that allowed the team to not surpass the 50-contract maximum.
2. Fighters on the fringe
With teams trimming players to get down to their 23-man roster in advance of opening night, some tough guys find themselves without a spot. Though both Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren have been deployed by Toronto in recent years, the Leafs appear to feel differently about the necessity of truculence in their lineup. Team president Brendan Shanahan said he wants the Leafs to be a team that possesses the puck more, and that means they want guys who bring more to the table than fighting. Perhaps more surprising is that Broad Street will be devoid of any bullies, at least to start the season. Though Zac Rinaldo straddles the line between antagonist and brawler, pure pugilist Jay Rosehill was cut by the Philadelphia Flyers -- a clear deviation from the long-entrenched culture in Philly.
3. Pronger lands new gig
Unable to officially retire because of the salary cap implications on the Flyers, defenseman Chris Pronger has found a new role with the NHL's Department of Player Safety. Oh, the irony is delicious, isn’t it? Besides the inherent conflict of interest that has some people balking about the hire (Pronger remains on the Flyers’ long-term injured reserve list and is still being paid by Philly), there is the fact that he wasn’t exactly a choirboy when he was patrolling the blue line during his playing days. One former player marveled at the move, incredulous that someone who has over 1,500 career penalty minutes and a questionable reputation will now be doling out discipline, telling ESPN.com: “I have no problem with the conflict of interest. But take a look on YouTube at some of his hits.”
4. Sharks look sharp
Despite a summer pockmarked by controversy and dysfunction, the San Jose Sharks looked solid and cohesive in the club’s 4-0 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night. Even though veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were stripped of their leadership positions during the offseason, both players found themselves wearing A's Friday night, along with Joe Pavelski (with defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic slated to rotate in during the season). Even the team’s starting goaltender was a bit of a surprise, with many people expecting Alex Stalock to unseat Antti Niemi as the No. 1 guy. But, coach Todd McLellan said he was sticking with "Nemo," and the decision was a good one. Niemi made 34 saves to record his first shutout of the season. After all the years the Sharks have failed to live up to expectations in the playoffs, wouldn’t it be oddly poetic for this to actually be their year, when practically everyone predicted them to faceplant?
5. Gibson lit up
For all the talk of John Gibson being the goaltender of the future for the Anaheim Ducks, the 21-year-old got lit up in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Gibson gave up six goals on 39 shots in the Ducks’ season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a game in which Sidney Crosby scored twice and second-year defenseman Olli Maatta chipped in with three points. Not even a hat trick from Corey Perry could salvage a point for the Ducks, who have lofty expectations heading into the season after adding Ryan Kesler via trade this summer. Tough way to start the season for Gibson, but this will be a good test of his resilience going forward. What better way to see what the kid has got? Not to mention that the Ducks have Frederik Andersen waiting in the wings.