(SportsNetwork.com) - The Dallas Stars will unveil their new look in the regular season for the first time on Thursday night when they play host to the Florida Panthers.
It was an offseason of change for the Stars, who missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year last season. They hired a new general manager in Jim Nill and brought in Lindy Ruff to be the new head coach.
Ruff, former longtime head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, is the 22nd head coach in club history and seventh since the club relocated to Dallas. He is the 12th-winningest head coach in league history and one of only 17 to reach the 500-win mark.
The 53-year-old will get an early chance to impress the home crowd as the Stars play two straight in Dallas to begin the season before playing five of six on the road.
"I'm psyched. I can't wait. I am disappointed that we have one more night to go. It's fun. You have that anxiety to get it going," Ruff told the Stars' official website of opening the season. "It's not just another game. It's the start of something really new. It's something really exciting. I don't look at it as just another game. It's a lot of different guys that we've put together and a lot of guys that have gotten along well together as a team. I am excited to see that develop."
In addition to new uniforms and logos, Dallas will have plenty of fresh faces on the ice. The Stars swung a deal with the Boston Bruins on July 4 to get talented but controversial forward Tyler Seguin as well as veteran Rich Peverley for a package of players that included NHLer Loui Eriksson.
Dallas also traded for another veteran in center Shawn Horcoff and added the 39-year Sergei Gonchar to the blue line.
Forward Valeri Nichushkin, the 10th overall pick of the 2013 draft, is also expected to debut tonight, while Jaime Benn will play his first game as the club's captain. He led the Stars with 33 points in 41 games last season.
Dallas has won each of its last three home openers and is 11-0-3 in its last 14 such games. Kari Lehtonen is likely to get the start in net to try and extend that streak after going 15-14-3 with a 2.66 goals against average and .916 save percentage in 36 appearances last campaign.
Ruff is also expected to have defenseman Trevor Daley in the lineup tonight as he returns from neck surgery, though Peverley isn't likely to play until the weekend because of an irregular heartbeat.
Defenseman Aaron Rome is a few weeks away from returning from hip surgery.
The Florida Panthers begin their 20th anniversary season on a four-game road trip and less than a week after being sold to businessman Vincent Viola. The Panthers added several veterans after the sale, including goaltender Tim Thomas.
Thomas will get the start tonight, his first NHL action since April 25, 2012 during the postseason with Boston. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner had a ton of success with the Bruins from 2002-12, winning a Stanley Cup with the club, but took a leave of absence from the league last year.
"I think there's a positive energy," said the 39-year-old Thomas. "They're really looking forward to growing and getting better in the organization. I think new ownership brought a very positive direction to the team."
The Panthers were in need of goaltending help due to knee surgery undergone by Scott Clemmensen. He begins the season on injured reserve, while captain Ed Jovanovski (hip surgery) and forward Sean Bergenheim (hip/abdominal surgery) are also out.
The Panthers snapped a 10-season playoff drought in the spring of 2012, but finished dead last in the league a season ago. They struggled at both ends of the ice, but have a host of young talent to build on.
That includes left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, last season's Calder Trophy winner who ended the season tied for the lead in rookie scoring with 31 points on 14 goals and 17 assists. He'll be joined on opening night by 18-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov, the second overall pick of the 2013 draft.
Dmitry Kulikov, 22, and 21-year-old Erik Gudbranson off youth at the blue line alongside veterans Brian Campbell and eventually Jovanovski.
The Panthers have won three of their last four versus the Stars, claiming a 6-0 road victory in the last meeting on Nov. 15, 2011. Clemmensen stopped all 25 shots he faced.
Florida has won three straight and five of its last six in Dallas, having not lost there since Dec. 7, 2005.