New-look Blue Jackets host Preds in season opener

Changes came in bunches this past summer for the Blue Jackets, but they will have only one of their two big offseason acquisitions on the ice this evening against the Predators.

Forward Jeff Carter will make his Columbus debut Friday night at Nationwide Arena, but defenseman James Wisniewski will miss this meeting with rival Nashville as he continues to serve an 11-game suspension that was handed down during the preseason.

It could be worse. The Blue Jackets at least won't be opening the season in Nashville, where they have lost 17 straight.

After missing the postseason for the ninth time in 10 seasons as an NHL franchise, Columbus general manager Scott Howson abandoned his philosophy of waiting for home-grown talent to develop and gave up picks and players to bring in the likes of Carter, Wisniewski, forward Vaclav Prospal and defenseman Radek Martinek.

Carter is a former 40-goal scorer with the Flyers whose price was high to acquire -- Jakub Voracek and a pair of 2011 draft picks that included the eighth overall pick -- but Howson and head coach Scott Arniel are hoping that Carter can team with franchise cornerstone Rick Nash to give Columbus a top- notch first line.

"They've come a long way from that first exhibition game," Arniel said of the new linemates, who will likely be joined by Prospal to round out the unit. "I think they really have a feel, you can see them talking lots on the bench in the course of games and practice. They're two players that play the game at a high level and they do a lot of things similar."

Howson also made a splash by signing Wisniewski, a point-producer from the blue line, but he will miss the first eight games of the regular season due to a hit to the head of Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck on Sept. 23. He won't be eligible to make his season debut until Oct. 25 versus Detroit.

Forward Kristian Huselius will also begin the season on the sidelines due to surgery on his right pectoral muscle, prompting the addition of Prospal.

Martinek also represents an underrated signing at the back end and the Blue Jackets will also look for a number of younger players to contribute.

"There's a little bit of freshness. I think the fact that I think there's close to 10 new players here," said Arniel. "I think that everybody's excited about some of the changes that have happened."

No change took place in net, where the Blue Jackets hope that Steve Mason can find his Calder Trophy-winning form after seeing his numbers slip over the previous two seasons. In 54 games last year, he went 24-21-7 with a 3.03 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, but should still get the bulk of the work this year.

Nashville opens the season with two straight road games, but won't have forward Mike Fisher (shoulder surgery) or defenseman Francis Bouillon (concussion) on the mini-swing due to injury.

After ranking third in the league last year in goals against -- behind only Vancouver and Boston, the two Stanley Cup Final participants -- Nashville was hoping that Fisher could help the offense as he begins his first full season with the club after being acquired from Ottawa during the 2009-10 campaign.

Still, Nashville was able to reach the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons and finally broke through with its first postseason series victory, besting the Ducks in six games before getting eliminated by the Canucks.

Nashville, which went 7-1-0 in the preseason, opted not to re-sign Joel Ward, Steve Sullivan or Marcel Goc, and the only noted addition was forward Niclas Bergfors, so defense again figures to be the Preds' strength.

The club is set between the pipes with Pekka Rinne, who was 33-22-9 with six shutouts, a 2.12 GAA and .930 save percentage in 64 games last year, earning a Vezina Trophy nomination.

Defenseman Shea Weber was also up for some hardware following a 16-goal, 32- assist last year, earning a Norris Trophy nomination. Weber is one of the top blueliners in the league and contributes mightily to the offense, while pairing partner Ryan Suter shuts things down in his own end.

Nashville's lengthy home winning streak over the Columbus has helped it win 10 of the last 13 meetings overall, including four of six a season ago.

The Blue Jackets are 4-4-2 all-time in season openers, while the Predators are 6-6-0 with victories in five of the past seven openers since 2003.