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10 must-watch games in 2015-16

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It hasn't even been two weeks since the Chicago Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup on the United Center ice, claiming the club's third championship in six years, but it seems like ages already since we've seen some NHL hockey. Thankfully, with the recently released 2015-16 regular-season schedule, we have some dates to circle on the calendar for the upcoming season.

Here are 10 games you won't want to miss:

1. Stanley Cup-Raising in Chicago: The aforementioned Blackhawks get a well-deserved night of pomp and circumstance following their championship run when they open the 2015-16 slate at home against the New York Rangers on Oct. 7. Perhaps the most interesting element of seeing the banner raised to the rafters will be to observe how many of the 2014-15 Blackhawks are there to witness this firsthand. A team that even commissioner Gary Bettman described as a dynasty will be forced to undergo significant change during the offseason, with general manager Stan Bowman facing difficult personnel decisions because of the Blackhawks' salary-cap limitations.

2. Connor McDavid's Debut: Anointed as the next generational talent, Connor McDavid will make his long-anticipated NHL debut on Oct. 8, when the Edmonton Oilers open their season against the St. Louis Blues. Just as there is virtually no doubt that the phenom will be drafted first overall by the Oilers on Friday, there is little debate over where he will be playing when the puck drops on a new season. McDavid's spot on the Oilers' roster is a foregone conclusion, and fans will be salivating over the summer to see what sort of future awaits when the superstar-in-waiting takes the ice for the first time in the NHL.

3. Mike Babcock's Debut in Toronto: Veteran coach Mike Babcock made a splash in May when he inked a whopping eight-year, $50 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In doing so, Babcock ushers in a new era for an embattled team that has been mired in dysfunction. Babcock is known to be a brash, demanding sort who holds players accountable, regardless of the name on the back of the sweater or the relative heft of their contract. Buckle up for an interesting season in hockey's hotbed. The Leafs open their schedule Oct. 7 at Air Canada Centre against the Montreal Canadiens. Oh, and his first trip back to Detroit? The Red Wings' home opener at Joe Louis Arena on Oct. 9 will be against the Leafs.

4. No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn: The New York Islanders sent off their decrepit old Nassau Coliseum barn with a rollicking first-round series against the Washington Capitals in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. Now it's time for them to unveil their new digs in the sleek, sparkling Barclays Center when they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 9. The site is not exactly built for hockey, so don't be surprised to hear complaints about obstructed sight lines or awkward scoreboard placement, but it will be interesting to see how (if?) the team's loyal fan base travels to the Isles' new home.

5. Southern Cal Showdown: It's always fun when these two Western Conference titans meet, but the matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks becomes even more intriguing because we didn't get to see them go at it in the playoffs. Even though the Kings missed the postseason entirely, just one year after winning the Cup, they are still regarded as one of the league's elite, and whenever they face the Ducks, it's an absolute dogfight. Both clubs have hard-nosed, heavy styles and will be champing at the bit to start next season right. The Kings want to prove that this spring was a fluke, while the Ducks try to forget a loss in the conference finals that sent them packing two weeks too soon. Tune in Jan. 17.

6. Prospect Prizefight: If it were not the year of Connor McDavid, fellow top prospect Jack Eichel would likely be the consensus No. 1 overall pick. That should leave the Buffalo Sabres with plenty to look forward to after an abysmal season and a devastating draft lottery day in which they missed out on the golden ticket to select McDavid. Both players are supremely skilled and NHL-ready, and though McDavid has garnered the spotlight, expect Eichel to harbor a bit of a chip on his shoulder to prove he's more than capable of making headlines. Their first head-to-head matchup, when the Oilers host the Sabres, is Dec. 6 and promises to be must-see TV.

7. Stanley Cup Rematch: The 2015 Stanley Cup finals lacked enmity but little else, as fans got to see two of the most skilled and balanced teams duke it out on the biggest stage. Perhaps the biggest revelation was the breakout performance of Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, but we'd be remiss not to mention the superlative play of Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith. Though that much has come to be expected for Keith, who nabbed the Conn Smythe Trophy after the Blackhawks' victory in Game 6, it's a treat any time folks get to see the two on the ice together. The rematch between the Lightning and Blackhawks is Oct. 24 in Chicago.

8. Winter Classic: The NHL's signature event will be a marquee matchup this season with two hated rivals pitted against each other for what is sure to be an entertaining outdoor game. The Boston Bruins host the Montreal Canadiens on New Year's Day at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, in what promises to be a bitter clash between these clubs. We're happy any time the Bruins and Habs square off. Throw in the aesthetics of a beautiful winter backdrop, and it should be magnificent theater.

9. First Overtime Game: OK, this one is impossible to nail down with a date and time, but it will be imperative to tune in whenever the first regulation tie is settled because there will be an exciting new change to the overtime format. Starting next season, teams will begin overtime playing 3-on-3, an attempt to minimize the number of shootouts in the league. Other rule changes expected to be pushed through before the start of the season? A coach's challenge option and expanded video review.

10. Phil Kessel's New Team vs. Phil Kessel's Old Team: Sure, this one is contingent purely on speculation that Kessel will be moved, but play along. After all, what else do we have to think about during the offseason? If Kessel is traded, the possibility of which is sure to be a topic of conversation at the draft this weekend, his first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs will be an entertaining one to watch. The five-time 30-goal scorer is a polarizing figure in Toronto and beyond, with some feeling he's the type of pure scorer who is impossible to replace and others who think he is part of the problem.