“Defense wins championships.”
“We need to play solid in our own zone.”
“We need to play form the goal line out.”
-insert cliché here-
Every coach in the NHL wants these qualities in their team’s play, but putting together a solid and dependable corps of defensemen is a challenge for any team in this league. For the Blue Jackets, the defensemen on the roster may be one of the team’s most predictable roster assets, and that’s a nice change from years past.
With the exception of Nikita Nikitin, who departed in the off-season for Edmonton, the Blue Jackets will return for this season with their blue line intact from last year’s playoff run (but will begin without injured second-year defenseman Ryan Murray). That blue line featured established veterans, point producers, and younger players who came together to form a solid support group in front of Sergei Bobrovsky.
2014-15 SEASON PREVIEW: THE FORWARDS
One of the important components for building a winner is some degree of continuity that was lacking in Columbus for years as the Jackets have dressed 33 different defensemen since 2008. Defensemen like Adrian Aucoin and Adam Foote, who had strong NHL careers but were in the twilight of their playing days, patrolled the backend for the Blue Jackets. Promising prospects that were supposed to be building blocks, like John Moore and Anton Stralman, didn’t pan out in what felt like a revolving door of players.
Head coach Todd Richards has slammed a wedge into that door.
Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski are ready to kick off their fourth seasons as Blue Jackets regulars and Fedor Tyutin is readying for his seventh season in Columbus. Murray lived up to all the hype of being a No. 2 overall pick and is a franchise cornerstone, and David Savard went from player-in-limbo to top-pair quality defenseman by the end of last year’s playoff run.
That’s certainly a better narrative than Jackets fans have been chiming in the past.
Johnson faced some adversity last season when he was not selected to the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi. Johnson responded with an excellent second half to the season, scoring 22 of his 33 points after the Jan. 1 roster announcement. Johnson took his game to a new level against the Penguins in the playoffs, scoring three goals and seven points in the six-game series.
Johnson came to the Blue Jackets as the main piece in the deal sending Jeff Carter to Los Angeles, and he was expected to be a top-pairing defenseman for the team to continue building around. He has given them top minutes, leading Jackets defensemen last year in average ice-time by over two minutes and being a go-to player on both the power play and penalty kill.