The NHL returns to the ice on Tuesday night, and for the first time since the 2003-04 season it's back on ESPN!
At 7:30 p.m. ET, we'll watch the Tampa Bay Lightning raise another Stanley Cup banner before taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then at 10:15 p.m., the Vegas Golden Knights will welcome the expansion Seattle Kraken to the NHL.
To help get you ready for both matchups of the doubleheader, we've put together a guide on all of the key players to watch, in-depth statistical insights on each team from ESPN Stats & Information, and more.
This season, ESPN+ will broadcast 75 exclusive regular-season games, with ABC and ESPN airing a combined 28 exclusive regular-season games for a total of 103 games. The complete broadcast schedule can be found here.
Most fascinating player: We last saw Nikita Kucherov delivering a shirtless, beer-soaked interview after the Lightning won their second straight Stanley Cup. (Personal favorite line: Kucherov shouting "Buy new microphone!" to a struggling Zoom interviewer.) He had a playoff-best 32 points in 23 games after missing the entire regular season following surgery for a hip labrum tear, the rehab time for which was about five months (of open salary-cap space).
We haven't seen Kuch ply his trade in the regular season since 2019-20. In his past two regular seasons, the 28-year-old Russian was second to Leon Draisaitl in total points (213) and captured the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2018-19. Welcome back to the regular season, Kucherov. You were missed. -- Greg Wyshynski
Kucherov missed the entire 2020-21 regular season after undergoing hip surgery, but came back to lead the NHL in points in the playoffs for a second straight time, with 32. The only players with more points in a two-postseason span in NHL history are Wayne Gretzky (four separate spans) and Mario Lemieux (78 points in the 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup playoffs).
In the past four seasons, Andrei Vasilevskiy is the winningest goalie in the NHL, with 149 victories. His .921 save percentage in that span trails only Ben Bishop's .923 for the highest among goalies with at least 100 games.
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Most fascinating player: Sidney Crosby, 34, enters his 17th NHL season needing 14 goals to reach 500 in his career. He's also seeking to win a playoff round for the first time since 2018. That drought is not due to any lack of impact from Sid, who has been a point-per-game player in every season of his career and finished fourth in the MVP voting last season.
He's going to miss the start of the season after wrist surgery, but will be back within the first month. -- Greg Wyshynski
With Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each recovering from offseason surgeries, this will be the first Penguins season opener without both of them since Oct. 10, 2003, when the Penguins lost 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings.
Jake Guentzel is the most prolific Penguins scorer not named Crosby or Malkin. Since coming into the NHL in 2016-17, his 121 goals trail only Crosby (148) and Malkin (129) for most on the team, and his 257 points are also behind only Crosby (387) and Malkin (344). Guentzel won't play because of COVID-19 protocols, which means the Penguins will be without their top three point scorers from the past five seasons.
Jeff Carter was acquired on April 12 from the Kings for a 2022 third-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick, and provided some huge goals down the stretch in 2020-21. Carter's 13 goals in 20 games, including the playoffs, led the Penguins from April 15 until the end of their campaign.
When Kris Letang has been available, he has been a consistent scorer. During the past 10 seasons, Letang has the second-highest points-per-game rate among defensemen with at least 300 games played (0.80) behind only Erik Karlsson (0.85). His points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 ranks sixth among defensemen in that span, at 1.17.
Among 58 goalies who played in at least 15 games last season, Casey DeSmith ranked 22nd in save percentage, at .912, and Tristan Jarry ranked 27th, at .909. Jarry struggled in the postseason, posting an .888 save percentage in the six-game series loss to the Islanders. Jarry's playoff save percentage was the lowest of any goalie who played at least four games in the 2021 playoffs.
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Most fascinating player: Robin Lehner has been one of the most talked-about players of the NHL preseason for what he has said: Protesting the Sabres' treatment of his friend Jack Eichel, calling coaches like Philadelphia's Alain Vigneault bullying "dinosaurs," and accusing NHL teams of giving players pain medication without prescriptions.
But he'll also be one of the most talked-about players of the regular season, as he's tasked with leading the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup championship. There's no Marc-Andre Fleury there as competition -- or as a safety net. It's the Robin Lehner Show now. -- Greg Wyshynski
Since making his Golden Knights debut on Feb. 26, 2019, after a trade-deadline deal with the Ottawa Senators, Mark Stone is the team's leader in assists (88) and points (135) and his 47 goals trails only Max Pacioretty (60) and Reilly Smith (50) for most on the team.
Will Stone's roller-coaster numbers at 5-on-5 continue? In 2019-20, Stone scored 12 5-on-5 goals, but his shooting percentage was 9.7%. His shooting percentage jumped all the way up to 20.9% at 5-on-5 last season, eighth highest among those averaging 10 minutes per game at 5-on-5.
Marc-Andre Fleury won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie ... and was traded to the Blackhawks this offseason. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only goalie in the past 40 years to win the Vezina Trophy and then not return to that team the following season was Dominik Hasek, who won the award with the Sabres in 2000-01 and then was traded in July of 2001 to the Detroit Red Wings.
Robin Lehner takes over as the Golden Knights' No. 1 goalie. He and Fleury combined to win the Jennings Trophy last season for allowing the fewest goals as a team during the regular season. Since coming to Vegas at the 2020 trade deadline, Lehner is 16-4-2 in the regular season with the Golden Knights, with a .917 save percentage and two shutouts in 22 games.
According to Stathletes, the Golden Knights had two of the six most frequently used lines at 5-on-5 last season: Reilly Smith-Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson played together 540 minutes, which was second most in the NHL; Mark Stone-Max Pacioretty-Chandler Stephenson played together 441 minutes, which was sixth most in the NHL.
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Most fascinating player: In the unending comparisons to their recent expansion brethren, the Golden Knights, many have wondered which member of the Seattle Kraken will be their version of William Karlsson, who went from being a depth player with the Blue Jackets to a 43-goal revelation in the Knights' inaugural season.
The current favorite is Jared McCann, a six-year NHL veteran with the Canucks, Panthers and Penguins (and, although he didn't play a game there, Toronto). He's an analytics darling who is expected to be the team's top-line center between Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle. Now he just needs a nickname as awesome as "Wild Bill" is for Karlsson. -- Greg Wyshynski
Jordan Eberle is the only player on the Kraken's roster who scored at least 30 goals in a season, and that happened in 2011-12, in his second NHL campaign while with the Edmonton Oilers. The Kraken have a total of five players who have netted at least 20 goals in a season: Eberle (six times), Jaden Schwartz (three times), Yanni Gourde (twice), Marcus Johansson (twice) and Mark Giordano (once).
Jaden Schwartz and Jared McCann were the Kraken's co-leaders in points during the preseason, with five each in four games. Schwartz signed the Kraken's longest-term deal to a forward when he inked a five-year contract worth $27.5 million in coming over from the Blues. McCann was claimed by the Kraken in the expansion draft from the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team for which McCann never played. McCann was dealt on July 17 from the Penguins to the Leafs.
Defenseman Vince Dunn scored three goals in the preseason for the Kraken. In his four NHL seasons, Dunn's 32 all-situations goals and 11 power-play goals trailed only Alex Pietrangelo for the most among Blues defensemen.
The Kraken's goalies, Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger, are coming off fantastic 2021-22 seasons. Grubauer was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, finishing with 30 wins, one shy of the NHL lead (Andrei Vasilevskiy had 31), and a .922 save percentage that ranked eighth in the NHL. Driedger was 14-6-3 with the Panthers, and his .927 save percentage was in a virtual tie for fourth-best among qualifying goalies.