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The five most interesting topics for the first preseason game tonight

The Penguins start their exhibition schedule tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets

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Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Penguins kick off the exhibition portion of the 2021-22 season tonight at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets. After tonight, the team practices until the preseason really kicks up on Friday — at which point they get into a rhythm of playing every-other-day until the preseason games end on October 9th.

Here’s the lineup for tonight:

And some ways to check it out, though we’re hearing the old local location only for preseason bug is back to watch:

Here’s what to watch for:

Lindberg debut: Typically early in preseason, a playing time plan for goalies is made ahead of the game and stuck to. This should mean that, while officially unannounced, there’s a really good chance rookie goalie Filip Lindberg will be coming in at some point to replace Tristan Jarry and get his first NHL game action. It might be tough to get excited for a goalie, but Lindberg is an exciting prospect.

6D battle: For these six preseason games, prepare to see a lot of Mark Friedman, Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Chad Ruhwedel — who are all in a battle for one single playing spot. Interestingly (and just to get your hopes up) Juuso Riikola is also dressing for a game and his performance can be held up with the others against the same competition tonight. One single good or bad night isn’t going to make or break any of these players, but this is the first chance to have a solid night and earn another game in the future.

And more on Joseph: To drill down further and get more specific, Pierre-Olivier Joseph will be worth watching, practically every time he’s on the ice these days. For most of camp he has been practicing and scrimmaging with Kris Letang, and drawing a lot of praise for “doing good things” so far, including from Letang himself who has remarked how the youngster has improved over the summer and gained a step. Letang isn’t playing tonight, but John Marino is. Every game and day is an opportunity for a young, promising player, and today is another one for Joseph to show he belongs. Given his age and upside, he’s one of the most intriguing players in camp, watching how he’s able to build on it will be a lot of fun.

Poulin and Legare: Best buds and 2019 draftees Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare have both played NHL preseason games before. But they’re full-time professional players now. There are likely only four projected NHL opening night forwards going tonight (Evan Rodrigues, Brian Boyle, Kasperi Kapanen, Danton Heinen). These are almost certainly players that Poulin and Legare will get to work with tonight and over camp to try and show that they are ready for the NHL level and have something to add.

Looking for a surprise: While not likely to make the NHL opening night roster, some players that are maybe under the radar a little also have an opportunity to stand out. Enough can’t be said about the last 18ish months of hockey that Jordy Bellerive has played, he was a player on the rise that is scoring like he’s figured out the AHL. Jonathan Gruden has turned heads of observers like Josh Yohe ($) for a strong early camp performance. Cam Lee has a lot of offensive ability and a lot of confidence from his defense position to jump up in the play. Even Sam Lafferty is a player who can use his wheels against a preseason caliber CBJ roster to perhaps stand out. Will anyone a bit outside the immediate competition stand out?

The results and final score of a preseason game doesn’t matter, but for players looking to make positive impressions and advance their own standing within the organization, these games in the next few weeks are of critical importance as the Penguins gear up for the grind of an 82 game season and figure out just who they might have at what positions for the long marathon ahead.