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A deep hue of blue

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

Reporters launched questions at Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen and president of hockey operations John Davidson at the team's annual Media Day on Monday, and most concerned Ryan Johansen’s contract negotiations.

There wasn’t much new to report on Johansen’s status, and the Jackets’ front office was more interested in discussing players who are planning to be at camp. They were also happy to give their thoughts on what was confirmed this past weekend: they have some very strong organizational depth.

The Blue Jackets' prospects had a tremendous showing at the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament, going 4-0-0 and scoring 21 goals en route to winning the tournament championship.

“To see a lot of our very good young players go there and play as well as they did against the other teams’ best young players, it was gratifying to see,” said Davidson. “And it gives you a strong sense of gratification that we’ve got something going on here, not only the club’s players that are here now but with the youngsters who are going to push for jobs and eventually become Columbus Blue Jacket hockey players.”

That time may be sooner than later, as the Jackets will host many of those same prospects at their training camp, which will have 55 attendees.

“We have a lot of good young players in our organization, we’ve got a lot of good young players here who played for us last year, and we’ve got a collection of veteran players who are ready to get going,” said Davidson.

Kekalainen made a point to explain that while the young prospects offer depth to the organization long-term, the Jackets’ roster is also much deeper with experienced NHL players, with more skill options throughout the line-up.

“I think the biggest change we’ve had with our depth this year is that we have skilled depth that can move up in the lineup, not only in our bottom six but for our top six as well,” Kekalainen said, noting that newcomer Brian Gibbons was a first-line winger in the playoffs last year for Sidney Crosby and that Simon Hjalmarsson’s 57 points in the Swedish Elite League last season stack up favorably against any of the game’s prime Swedish pros.

Head coach Todd Richards was equally excited about his options on defense, a position that is looking more and more like an asset for this team.

“It comes down to the depth of the organization, the young players starting to come through. Tim Erixon had a great year down in Springfield. He’ll get lots of time in camp. But you’re seeing these young players,” said Richards. “Dalton Prout a couple years ago came in and was tremendous for us, and (David) Savard came in last year and did what Dalton did the year before.”

Richards is excited about the maturation of his young roster. He noted the strong seasons by Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert and how high their talent ceiling is. As these regulars improve, so will the Jackets’ results.

Management still remains open to adding another young player to the mix this season, just as rookies Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray played their way onto the roster last season. Kekalainen was optimistic about Alexander Wennberg, who is coming off a strong showing in the NHL Prospects Tournament.

“Alexander Wennberg, with the way he performed at the Traverse City tournament, he could move up from line to line and fill a spot. He can play center, he can play wing, he’s responsible defensively but he’s also responsible offensively,” said Kekalainen.

As enticing as it may be for the team to drop Wennberg into the lineup this fall after the success of Murray and Jenner, Kekalainen did support a prudent approach. The team must put players in the best positions to succeed while playing as many minutes as possible in a role that suits them, whether that is with the big club or not.

Still, these are the questions that get a coaching staff excited heading into the season, as they are just as anxious to get started as the players.

“The question coming in this year is who’s going to be that young guy, the two or three young guys, who step in and have great years for us?” asked Richards.

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