DETROIT – Opening night is finally here.
The Buffalo Sabres will start their season against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday in the first game of the year for both teams. Faceoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game can be seen nationally on NBCSN.
The match-up will mark the NHL debuts of 19-year-old forward Zemgus Girgensons and 18-year-old defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who is also about to embark on his first professional season in North America. Girgensons was drafted by the Sabres 14th overall in 2012. Ristolainen was Buffalo’s first selection (eighth overall) in this year’s draft.
They aren’t the only young faces in the lineup against Detroit.
Defenseman Mark Pysyk, the 2010 first-round pick (23rd overall) who played 19 games with the Sabres last season, center Mikhail Grigorenko, a veteran of 25 NHL games at 19 years old, and Brian Flynn, who played 26 games for Buffalo in his first pro season last year, will also suit up.
“We have three teenagers in our lineup tonight, so I think what really stands out for those guys is just how prepared they are in terms of every day, getting to the rink, the maturity that they have about their game and what they bring to the rink,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said after the morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. “I’m sure there’s going to be growing pains with all those young players, but the one thing that we do know is they’re going to be prepared and they’re going to continue to prepare and they’re going to continue to get better.”
Only six players on the current roster have celebrated their 30th birthdays. Three players – Girgensons, Ristolainen and Grigorenko – have yet to turn 20. Rolston said that he will lean on the veterans to show the less experienced players the way.
“They have to set the tone for our team and that starts with the work and the effort that they’re putting and just being able to help our younger players continue to develop,” Rolston said. “In situations like this, be examples for our younger guys so they know how to follow and make sure they’re getting prepared too. With a younger team, there’s a lot of onus on obviously the coaching staff, but also those veterans to really help those guys come along.”
Co-captain Thomas Vanek, who will serve as an alternate Wednesday night, said that the season opener against a team like the Red Wings will serve as a good measuring stick for his club.
“For us, it’s a good challenge right off the bat to see where we’re at and where we need to improve,” he said.
26 Thomas Vanek – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 63 Tyler Ennis – 23 Ville Leino
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 65 Brian Flynn
12 Kevin Porter – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
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