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6 days until CBJ hockey: New faces to know

Additions at all three positions should help Blue Jackets in upcoming season

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

With six days until the Blue Jackets open the season at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4 vs. Toronto, is counting down to the days until start of the campaign. Today we look at six new faces Columbus fans should know heading into the season. 

Any Blue Jackets fan is likely to see jerseys adorned with plenty of Nos. 3, 13 and 71 walking through the corridors of Nationwide Arena this year, just as it has been in the past. You might even be wearing one as you stroll by the cannon or head to your seat. 

But get ready for numbers like 14, 90 and 42 to be flying off the Fox Sports Ohio Blue Line shelves as well. There are some new faces in town, and there's a pretty good chance Columbus fans are going to like them. 

Here's a look at six new players fans will see, if not on Opening Night but some time during the 2019-20 season. 

Winger Gustav Nyquist (No. 14): The biggest prize reeled in during free agency by the Blue Jackets, Nyquist could be an excellent under the radar pickup. He's averaged 21 goals and 50 points throughout his eight-year NHL career and is coming off a career-best 22-38-60 season with Detroit and San Jose. He's spent most of camp skating with fellow Swede Alexander Wennberg and burgeoning goal-scoring threat Oliver Bjorkstrand. The hope is this line provides a solid scoring threat to back up the team's top trio. 

What they're saying: "I think it's pretty obvious he can put the puck in the net. He's a good playmaker, but I think (people don't know) just how hard he works away from the puck in his own zone, blocking shots. He's pretty reliable, and I think it's a huge addition for our team." -- Zach Werenski 

Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (No. 90): If you're a Blue Jackets fan and don't know Merzlikins yet, you will shortly. Boasting an effervescent personality and tremendous competitive streak, the affable but driven Latvian has the athleticism and attitude to be an excellent NHL goalie, but he's spent a lot of the preseason making the transition from international ice to the North American size. A standout in previous years in Switzerland, the 2014 third-round pick has battled Joonas Korpisalo for the starting job all camp in a competition that will likely continue throughout the season.  

What they're saying: "I think it's been a big adjustment for Elvis as far as understanding how much traffic is going to be around him, angles of shots, where he needs to be at certain times. I think that's been a little bit of an adjustment for him, but the kid is working hard at it. He's one competitive (SOB). I think he sometimes may get in the way of himself because he competes so hard, but that's where hopefully he can find himself and just settle himself down and allow the game to come to him a little bit. I love his personality." -- head coach John Tortorella 

Winger Alexandre Texier (No. 42): OK, Texier isn't a total mystery, as Blue Jackets fans certainly remember his 10 games with the team last year when he played in the playoff-clinching win over New York, scored in his second career game and Ottawa and then tallied twice in the Game 4 win over Tampa Bay. After a breakthrough 2018-19 season, Texier's trajectory is on an upward climb, and he could begin the season on the top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson. The 20-year-old has excellent offensive instincts, knows how to battle and added much-needed strength in the offseason.  

What they're saying: "It's still early, but like I said last year, just for him to get some time with us and playing some playoff games and just seeing how he handled himself, it was very exciting. That excitement has not been curbed at all as far as how he's handled himself in camp. ... He comes to work every day, so yeah, we're really excited about having him here and seeing how he's progressing." -- John Tortorella 

Winger Emil Bemstrom (No. 52): The Swedish forward is a rookie who is in the running to make the team after a standout season in his native country a year ago. Bemstrom led the SHL in scoring with 23 goals at age 19, the third-most ever for a teenager in the league, which generally targets a player of his age and talents for stardom. It's been hinted he could be a bottom-six player but a key part of the power play this season. 

What they're saying: "Emil Bemstrom had 23 goals in the Swedish league last year. There's (only) two pretty good players, one being the rookie of the year last year in the National Hockey League (Elias Pettersson), and Kent Nilsson that scored more goals as a teenager than he did. Whether he's going to be as good as those two guys, I don't know. Time will tell, but it's also pretty hard to be the No. 1 goal scorer in the Swedish Elite League, so I think he's up for the challenge." -- general manager Jarmo Kekalainen 

Defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov (No. 44): Gavrikov, like Texier, made a late cameo with the Blue Jackets a season ago, playing in the final two postseason games. The Russian had little left to prove back home, as Gavrikov is a steady member of the national team and was an almost laughable plus-48 last year with SKA St. Petersburg. He projects as a steady player in his own zone, and he's been battling for playing time in the bottom half of what is a stacked position group for the Blue Jackets.  

What they're saying: "Now I know the system, I know the gaps and stuff. I feel comfortable here. We have skilled guys here, so I'm watching every day and trying to learn something new." -- Gavrikov 

Winger Jakob Lilja (No. 15): Signed to a one-year deal this summer by the Blue Jackets, the Swedish forward is coming off his best season in his home country, where he played with Bemstrom at Djurgårdens IF and was top 10 in the league in assists (25) and points (37). Blue Jackets coaches have admitted they knew little about him upon his arrival, but the 26-year-old has been impressive as a two-way player with a little scoring punch who could fit in the bottom half of the forwards lineup. 

What they're saying: "He seems like a relatively smart guy. I like his skating. When you have good feet and can cover the ice, you can find a way to get ice time in today's game. It's so fast, it's so up and down now. He seems to be able to play at that level, seems to be able to think at that high level. He's made plays every game he's played." -- assistant coach Brad Shaw 

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