Pittsburgh Penguins' Bryan Rust pushes around Buffalo Sabres' Colin Miller during a preseason game on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019 at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park, Pa. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/TNS)

Opening night of the 2019-20 NHL season began Wednesday, and hockey fans couldn’t be more excited. 

All the big trades during the offseason and development after humbling playoff runs for a lot of teams created opportunities to grow and learn from. 

It’s hard to look back at past seasons, especially for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who went from back-to-back Stanley Cup champions to being swept in the first round just two years later. 

The Penguins have a new look compared to the team last year. After trading off some of the players who brought the Pens champion titles, general manager Jim Rutherford worked his magic again. This is good news, considering it seemed head coach Mike Sullivan and Rutherford were on different wavelengths concerning the team. 

Rutherford was looking to bring in some brute strength to defend against one man and one team: Tom Wilson and the Washington Capitals, as opposed to what Sullivan’s game plan was, which focused more on speed and not worrying too much about how rough the other teams were, so long as his team was scoring.

Trying to predict what this Pittsburgh team will look like in the regular season is anyone’s guess, considering the increase in young stars and change in lineups over the long offseason. The defense was receiving plenty of criticism, but maybe the summer of training and preparation could impose good chemistry for the blue line. 

D-men like Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson are looking to have a bounce back season. Both were traded to Pittsburgh closer to the end of the season last year. It’s always a challenge to come into a new team right before their playoff run, especially one that has made a push for the playoffs 13 years in a row.

Gudbranson played only 19 games with Pittsburgh. The lines in Pittsburgh were being jumbled and moved around often due to injury or other influences. This could’ve been a factor to the early round exit in the playoffs. 

Gudbranson was excited to have a full offseason with Pittsburgh and continues to build his team chemistry and relationships, especially with line-mate Marcus Petterson.

Johnson was fourth in total ice time (19:07), following close behind his fellow defensemen: Justin Shultz (20:30), Brian Dumoulin (21:02) and Kris Letang (25:58). 

In one of his most productive seasons with Columbus, Johnson managed to tally five goals and 18 assists, totaling in 23 points in his 2016–17 season. Rumors were being spread that Johnson would be traded before opening night. It seemed Penguins fans would be singing the tune “Hit the Road Jack.”

But that’s all they were: rumors. 

The potential of Johnson being the final solution for the surplus in the salary cap was dismissed after backup goaltender, Casey DeSmith, was sent on waivers. But he was enjoying his time with Pittsburgh and decided to head to the AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

He stepped into the net last season when starting goaltender Matt Murray was injured. Compared to former Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished the season on the Golden Knights with a save percentage of .913, DeSmith shined in the spotlight, finishing the season with an impressive .916 save percentage.

Winger Bryan Rust was injured in the last preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres. His left hand suffered injury, which is good and bad news. It’s bad news due to him being out long-term and put in the injured reserve list, but good news because it brought the Penguins’ salary below the cap line. In response to losing Rusty, Rutherford brought talented prospect John Marino into the lineup.

A couple of new faces brought younger talent to an aging-but-skilled veteran core. Though a lot of the newer players have already been seen through the previous season. Teddy Blueger and Tristan Jarry were brought up from the AHL after the export of a few players. 

Others were obtained through trades such as Brandon Tanev, Dominik Kahun and Alex Galchenyuk. Both Tanev and Kahun are expected to debut for Pittsburgh opening night, but Galchenyuk suffered an injury over the preseason and is expected to be a game time decision.

The Pens went 0–2 against Buffalo through the preseason, but there is little concern, considering a lot of their core players didn’t participate until the last few preseason games. Pittsburgh scored 19 goals and went 2–2–2 facing off against Columbus, Detroit and Buffalo.

Thursday is a hockey night in Pittsburgh, the first of a season which fans hope will be successful.

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