As far as first impressions go in this young NHL season, Jacob Trouba certainly opened some eyes.
The 19-year-old rookie blueliner from Michigan played a whopping 25:02 in his first NHL game Tuesday night. Oh, and he had a goal and an assist with a plus-2 rating in Winnipeg’s season-opening win at Edmonton.
But what impressed me the most was the poise he played with.
"We certainly hope that that trend continues, and that’s what we saw in preseason," Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told ESPN.com on Friday. "And he got better every preseason game. He played high minutes in each of those games. The coaching staff tried to expose him in preseason to the other team’s best players to try and gauge where he was at. That was good. And obviously the first game, you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself, but it was nice for all parties involved to see, for sure."
Trouba was drafted ninth overall in the first round in 2012 and certainly impressed in January at the world junior championships for Team USA, collecting nine points (4-5) in seven games.
Nashville Predators assistant coach Phil Housley was head coach for Team USA at the world juniors and got a firsthand view of Trouba’s talents. He had him again in the spring at the IIHF men’s worlds in Stockholm and Helsinki when Housley was the assistant coach.
"I’m not surprised," Housley told ESPN.com on Friday when asked about Trouba’s NHL debut. "Jacob has done a great job of continuing to develop as a defenseman. At the world juniors, he played in all situations for us, PK, power play, even strength. He was a dominant force in that tournament. And what I really liked was his edge to his game; anyone going into his corner would pay the price. I know he’s playing against men right now, but he was a big factor on our team.
"And even at the men’s worlds in Finland and Sweden, he really proved himself again. Just learning the pace of the game, I’m sure that was the fastest pace he had seen yet. He had some bumps, but he battled back. That’s what a true pro does. I’m not surprised by his first game against Edmonton. He’s a terrific player and, better yet, a terrific young man."
If Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian can stay healthy after all missing big chunks of last season -- plus Trouba continues to make strides in his rookie season -- suddenly that's a Winnipeg back end that stacks up pretty darn well with a lot of teams. Trouba has begun the season on the second pairing with Bogosian.
Up front, another rookie delivered an important statement early: No. 2 center Mark Scheifele. The 20-year-old also scored a goal in the opener.
It’s such an important storyline for the Jets this season to get that second line going and have a center on that unit who can get the most out of Evander Kane in particular.
Cheveldayoff and coach Claude Noel sat down with Trouba and Scheifele on Thursday to chat about what a grind an 82-game season is in the NHL and what to expect moving forward. In other words, their opening efforts were terrific, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
"It’s important for younger players who haven’t been through it to understand about nutrition and understand about rest and recovery," said Cheveldayoff. "The days off between games are going to be as much if not more important than the actual game days themselves for a rest and recovery period."
"We had a nice chat, talked about Game 1. We said, 'Guys, keep on going. You’ll get the opportunities as you deserve them and as they come,'" the Jets GM added. "They’re both very humble kids, but they’re both showing a lot more maturity than a lot of 19-year and 20-year-olds."
It’s incredibly early, folks, but don’t forget the names of Trouba and Scheifele as the Calder talk evolves this season.
Timmy's old self
It’s one game, sure, but as far as openers go, how about Tim Thomas?
The 39-year-old made 25 saves in a 4-2 win by the Panthers at Dallas in his first start since the 2011-12 season. Thursday night's performance was highlighted by his trademark brand of saves.
The opposing team took notice.
"He was his old self," Stars GM Jim Nill told ESPN.com Friday. "He competed and tracked pucks well. There was no rust to his game."
Panthers forward Scottie Upshall told my pal George Richards of the Miami Herald: "I said after the first, 'How good is Thomas?' He makes the saves, catches the puck. He’s the backbone of this team."
Colleague Craig Custance had more on the Panthers in his Friday blog post (paywall warning).
Sens' secondary scoring
All eyes are on the Jason Spezza- Bobby Ryan connection this season on the big line for Ottawa (along with Milan Michalek), but if the Senators are going to reach the high expectations that many have for them, the team needs to generate secondary scoring.
The second line of Kyle Turris between Clarke MacArthur and Cory Conacher will be integral, especially on nights when Spezza’s unit is shut down by a tough, top defensive pair.
"We’re very encouraged by the play of Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur and Cory Conacher through the exhibition as far as consistently giving us that secondary offensive threat," Senators coach Paul MacLean told ESPN.com on Friday morning ahead of his team’s season opener in Buffalo. "I think that’s going to be important for our team, like any team, is to have people who can come behind that first group and be a threat."
The Sens also have some offensive options in their bottom-six forward group, such as training camp surprise Stephane Da Costa and last spring’s playoff revelation Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- both centers.
"The people we have down the middle we feel are going to be able to generate offense on all our forward lines," said MacLean, the reigning Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year.
Aside from health, which can’t be ignored in Ottawa after what happened last season, secondary scoring is absolutely going to be a huge story, good or bad, in Canada’s capital this season.
Leafs' Rielly set for debut
The fifth overall pick from the 2012 draft appears set for his NHL debut Saturday night.
Mark Fraser's knee injury opens the door for 19-year-old Morgan Rielly, who survived camp to get an early-season trial with the big club before the Leafs have to decide whether to send him back to juniors (nine games max before that decision).
I was surprised that he didn’t play Wednesday night in Philadelphia after sitting out the opener in Montreal, because I felt Paul Ranger and Jake Gardiner both struggled against the Canadiens. But coach Randy Carlyle stuck with a winning lineup, and who can argue with a 2-0-0 start.
The Leafs have to give Rielly some games. There’s no benefit in him sitting in the press box when it comes to his development.
Rielly got a taste of pro hockey last season, playing in 22 AHL games with the Marlies (regular season and playoffs combined).
I reached out to an NHL scout from a Western Conference club to get his view on Rielly. His assessment (via text message): "Stronger skater. Good strength and good head in battles. No edge but good compete level. Like his sense with and without the puck. Will make some big gaffes with the puck and they will have to stay patient and positive with him. I don’t think he’s in the Doughty-Karlsson-Letang potential, more of a No. 3-4 D. [Think] Paul Martin-plus in his prime."
Hey, Martin-plus in his prime is not bad at all. But the Leafs view him with a higher upside than that. Personally, I think he's going to be better than that, but it's certainly interesting to hear how different people view him.
Kudos to the Habs
Tip of the hat to the Montreal Canadiens organization for bringing the club to Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a town still healing after a tragic train explosion killed 47 people.
Here’s more on it from veteran scribe Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette.
Have a great weekend, all.
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