The question has been posed in any number of ways this summer: why haven’t the Blue Jackets added a defenseman in free agency?
Why haven’t they added to a supposedly inexperienced blue line, or made a trade to bring in another veteran?
The answer lies with the group currently assembled by GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who like coach Todd Richards, believes the Blue Jackets have a young, emerging group of defensemen that will only get better with another year of experience under its belt.
And inside the dressing room, it’s no secret. The players have read the stories, seen the tweets and digested the speculation that their group on the back end isn’t good enough.
As the season draws nearer, it’s a convenient piece of material to clip for the memory bank.
“Of course it motivates us,” Kevin Connauton told BlueJackets.com. “I think we have a good group that’s capable of getting the job done.”
One look at a roster breakdown shows that the Blue Jackets’ current group of defensemen is, by and large, young and on the rise: Ryan Murray is 21, newly-extended David Savard is 24, Connauton, Dalton Prout and Cody Goloubef are only 25, and the veterans, Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin, are 28 and 32 years old respectively.
The next wave, with names like Michael Paliotta (22), Dillon Heatherington (20) and perhaps a bit longer term with Zach Werenski (18), has folks in the organization excited, as well.
Management showed a lot of confidence in Savard with the recent five-year extension, and they think he’s only scratching the surface. After getting his career on track two years ago, Savard has steadily climbed the depth chart, earning more trust and responsibility while racking up 36 points (including 11 goals – second-most by a defenseman in club history) in 2014-15.
Getting Murray back and healthy after playing only 12 games last season is another significant boost, and one that the Blue Jackets believe will have a noticeable impact.
“We’re not flashy, but we work really hard,” Savard told BlueJackets.com. “We’re still a young group back there. We can learn a lot from guys like Jack and Tyutin who have been around this league for a long time. Our coaches do a great job with us, too, working extra after practice, going over video and showing us what we need to improve on.
“We really pride ourselves on doing the right things and we have each other’s backs. We’re going to make mistakes, but that’s also how you grow.”
USA Today’s preview of the Blue Jackets says the club lacks “elite-level defensive corps,” while adding that they “have promise, but the group doesn't measure up to the top defenses in the Eastern Conference.”
Captain Nick Foligno categorizes it all as noise.
“First of all: I don’t think there’s a problem,” he told BlueJackets.com. “I don’t think going out and getting someone just for the sake of doing it solves anything. I think we have a very underrated defense corps, with some really solid players who perhaps go unnoticed when you don’t have the big names.
“As the team grows, there’s been an evolution of our young defensemen, too; you’ve seen many of them take on bigger roles and make some really positive strides, and our veterans are so solid and provide great leadership back there. We have a group that gets the job done by committee and they all put their own weight.”