Cory Schneider has been waiting for his opportunity to be the Vancouver Canucks' No. 1 goaltender for some time now.
Though Roberto Luongo is still around, it will likely be Schneider getting the call on Saturday night when the Canucks kick off their season against the Anaheim Ducks.
Schneider was a first-round draft pick by Vancouver in 2004 and had appeared in just 10 NHL games before his workload began to increase in 2010-11. He made 22 starts that season, going 16-4-2, and was then a solid 20-8-1 in 33 games a season ago, making 28 starts. He notched a 1.96 goals against average and .937 save percentage with three shutouts.
The 26-year-old then started the final three games of Vancouver's opening- round loss to the Los Angeles Kings over Luongo in last season's quarterfinals and got a new three-year, $12 million contract this offseason.
Luongo's name has been mentioned amongst trade rumors since the end of the season, but the Canucks have yet to pull the trigger on a deal yet.
Dealing the big-name goaltender could help Vancouver add to its offensive depth as it will begin the season without Ryan Kesler and David Booth. Kesler underwent surgeries on both of his shoulders and wrist in the offseason, while Booth suffered a groin injury during camp.
That should put added pressure on the top line of Alexandre Burrows and Daniel and Henrik Sedin, while others like Mason Raymond, Chris Higgins, Dale Weise and Zack Kassian will have to step up.
"I think we've got a strong group of players that can chip in offensively and we've got a strong group of defenseman that can chip in offensively," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault.
One of those defenders is Jason Garrison, who signed a six-year, $27 million deal after notching 16 goals in a breakout season with the Florida Panthers last season.
While the Canucks have won the last four Northwest Division titles and consecutive Presidents' Trophies, the Ducks have missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons and saw a 19-point drop off in 2011-12 that led to a last-place finish in the Pacific standings.
Anaheim fired Randy Carlyle in November of last season and replaced him with former Washington Capitals bench boss Bruce Boudreau. The club did respond late as it had the fifth-best record in the Western Conference after Jan. 1, 2012, going 24-15-6 for 54 points.
The Ducks have not missed the postseason in back-to-back years since a three- season drought from 2000-02 and will have ageless veteran Teemu Selanne back for another year. The 42-year-old "Finnish Flash" has amassed 663 goals and 1,406 points over 1,341 games and actually led Anaheim with 66 points a season ago while playing in all 82 games.
Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan combined for 68 goals, but Ryan Getzlaf saw his production drop to just 11 goals and 57 points just a few seasons after a 91- point campaign in 2008-09.
Most of the Ducks' moves this offseason were for depth as they added physical forwards Daniel Winnik and Brad Staubitz as well as defenseman Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen, the fourth overall pick of the 1998 draft by Vancouver.
"Anaheim has had some really talented young players here," said Souray. "They wanted to switch things up over the summer and bring in a little more sandpaper. I think that's going to be our job, Bryan Allen and I, to come in and just play hard and give the young skill players a little more room to play their games."
The bulk of goaltending duties is expected to fall largely to Jonas Hiller again in this shortened 48-game campaign. Hiller made 73 starts last season and went 29-30-12 with four shutouts and a 2.57 GAA.
The Canucks and Ducks have split their four-game series in each of the past four seasons.