Tonight is the first game of the 2021-22 NHL season that will be broadcast exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu, and it should be a great one. We've got a captivating early-season matchup as reigning Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild head out west to take on the feisty Anaheim Ducks at 10 p.m. ET.
To help get you ready for the matchup, we've put together a guide on all the key players to watch for both teams, in-depth statistical insights on the Wild and Ducks 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: One of the offseason's most overrated dramas was Kirill Kaprizov's contract negotiation with the Wild, which ended with him signing a five-year deal with a $9 million annual cap hit. He was always coming back. The Wild were always going to pay him. He even said there was "no chance" he was going to follow through on the threat to play in the KHL, with GM Bill Guerin quipping, "You shouldn't answer that. You're going to blow it for the next contract negotiation." Putting this all behind us, "Dolla Dolla Kirill Y'all" had 51 points in 55 games to win rookie of the year honors, and infused the Wild with a jolt of enthusiasm in the same way a young Alex Ovechkin did for the Capitals 16 years ago. -- Greg Wyshynski
Kaprizov is a player that must be seen to be truly appreciated, but he put up some impressive numbers as a rookie. Not only was he nearly a point-per-game player last season (finishing with 51 in 55 games), but he was second in the league with 17 net penalties, drawing 25 while taking only eight. Connor McDavid was No. 1, with 19 net penalties.
The Wild reached a one-year agreement with veteran defenseman (and Minnesota native) Alex Goligoski this summer. But despite Minnesota's reputation as the "State of Hockey," only three players on the Wild's opening night roster hail from there: Goligoski (Grand Rapids), Nick Bjugstad (Blaine), and Rem Pitlick (Plymouth).
One area in need of improvement for the Wild this season: Faceoffs. Last season, they finished 28th of 31 teams, winning 46.5% of draws. Of players to take 200 or more faceoffs last season, Ryan Hartman (41.5%), Victor Rask (45.4%) and Joel Eriksson Ek (47.1%) were those under the 50% mark.
If the Wild can get back to the playoffs, they've got a pressure-tested performer in goaltender Cam Talbot. In 30 playoff appearances beginning with the 2016-17 postseason, Talbot has a .924 save percentage, compared to his career mark of .915 in the regular season.
Most fascinating player: Jamie Drysdale is technically still a rookie, having played 24 games last season. He had eight points and was a minus-12, but it's the kind of first-season teeth-cutting that you want for a young defenseman discovering the subtle difference between defending for the OHL's Erie Otters and an NHL team. He's the latest on the conveyor belt of young offensive defensemen entering the league. (Remember when Cam Fowler rolled off the line?) -- Greg Wyshynski
Ryan Getzlaf is in his 17th NHL season -- all with the Ducks franchise -- and only six points shy of matching Teemu Selänne for the most career points in a Ducks sweater (988). He has captained the team in each of the past 11 seasons; the only longer tenured captains with their current teams are Sidney Crosby (Penguins), Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks) and Alex Ovechkin (Capitals).
Getzlaf, 36, skews the Ducks' average age a bit, but they'll ice the NHL's 12th-youngest roster this season, per Elite Prospects. Included on that list are 18-year-old Mason McTavish (who scored in his NHL debut on Wednesday), as well as 20-year-old Trevor Zegras and 19-year-old Jamie Drysdale.
The Ducks' power-play unit needs to see better results after a historically bad 2020-21 season; Anaheim scored on just 11 of their 123 power-play chances (8.9%) which is the lowest rate by any team over an entire season since the stat was first tracked by the NHL in 1977-78.
The Ducks scored an NHL-worst 2.21 goals per game last season, their second-worst mark over an entire season in franchise history (2.13 in 2001-02). Max Comtois led the Ducks in scoring with 33 points, making Anaheim one of only three teams that did not have a single player record a 35-point season (Red Wings and Predators).