WINNIPEG — The Carolina Hurricanes have been pointing to this day since April 9.
That was the day the Canes played their last game of the 2015-16 season, losing at Florida. For the seventh straight season, there would be no playoffs.
With no postseason, the offseason was long. The preseason is never much fun for the players. Now, finally, it’s time to begin the 2016-17 season, kicking it off Thursday with a road game against the Winnipeg Jets.
“It’s always fun to get going,” defenseman Justin Faulk said Thursday after the pregame skate at MTS Centre. “The preseason can be kind of fun, too, to get going, but once the real thing starts that’s all that matters. It will be fun. We’re pretty excited with our lineup.”
The Canes will have a young lineup for the Jets, but not quite as young as it could have been. Canes coach Bill Peters will use newly acquired defenseman Klas Dahlbeck with Noah Hanifin and have veteran forwards Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg -- both playing their first game for the Canes -- with center Jay McClement on the fourth line.
Forward Phil Di Giuseppe and defenseman Roland McKeown, who both had strong preseasons, will be scratches for the opener. So will forward Martin Frk, claimed off waivers Sunday from the Detroit Red Wings.
The Canes announced Thursday that forward Sergey Tolchinsky had been assigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.
Peters said had the Canes not obtained Dahlbeck on waivers this week from the Arizona Coyotes, McKeown, 20, would be in the lineup, adding, “It isn’t fair to (McKeown) and that’s not what we want to do. We want guys to be able to go play in the American League and come up when they’re ready.”
Peters said it was a tough decision holding out Di Giuseppe, 23.
“Real hard,” Peters said. “He’s a third-year pro … who has earned the opportunity to start with us (on the roster). Now we have to make sure when he gets in the lineup we’re playing him enough minutes. Or is he going to benefit more by playing in the American Hockey League and playing 18-22 minutes a night, and in all situations?”
The Canes’ top three lines in the opener will have Victor Rask centering Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak, Jordan Staal with Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil, and Elias Lindholm at center with Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho.
Aho will be making his NHL debut and Teravainen in his first regular-season game with the Canes.
The top two defensive pairings have Jaccob Slavin with Faulk, and Ron Hainsey with Brett Pesce.
Cam Ward will be the starting goalie in the season opener.
Ward was in net and Nestrasil had a pair of goals when the Canes took a 5-3 win at MTS Centre last season. It was Nestrasil’s first multi-point game in the NHL.
“That was a really good game, obviously, but doesn’t mean there will be another one like that tonight,” he said, smiling.
Nestrasil suffered a broken vertebra nine games later against Toronto, ending his season. He played with Staal and Nordstrom in a preseason game, and the line is back together for the opener.
“Coming back from that rough injury, it will be my first game out there in more than seven months,” Nestrasil said. “I’m real excited. I think we have a really good team and hopefully we can get out there and have a good night, a good start.”