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Blue Jackets players looking forward to offensive opportunities

Columbus has players who can move into bigger roles this upcoming season

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

A season ago, the Blue Jackets scored a franchise-record 258 goals. 

Players who scored 206 of those tallies -- 79.8 percent -- are back with the team. 

So there's not exactly a goal-scoring crisis at hand. The Blue Jackets return their top goal scorer in Cam Atkinson, seven of their top eight goal scorer and 11 of the 13 players who had at least five tallies.  

But there are fair questions when it comes to offensive production. The departures of playmaker Artemi Panarin -- who was second on the team with 28 goals as well as its top point scorer with 87 -- as well as trade deadline acquisitions/20-plus goal scorers Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel leave holes in the lineup. 

The question is not only how do those holes get filled, but also -- can the Blue Jackets improve after finishing 12th in the NHL a year ago in scoring?

At first blush, head coach John Tortorella says it will take a group effort.  

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"It's opportunity for other people," Tortorella said at the team's media day. "I thought the signing by (general manager) Jarmo (Kekalainen) and the staff with Gus (Nyquist) … he's a pretty important guy, a 50-point guy. Hopefully other guys take more strides and continue to get better as players. (Alexander Wennberg), hopefully he steps up and finds his way.  

"There's a lot of different things that can happen. Bread is a very good player, he's a game breaker, and I'm not going to sit here and say that's (not) a hole, but it just gives other people opportunity to fill that. I feel very comfortable where we're going about with some of our young kids who can do that." 

As the head coach alluded to, there are some obvious answers to the question, and it starts with Nyquist. The eight-year NHL veteran comes to Columbus with a history of scoring goals, including a career high of 28 when he was with the Red Wings. He has averaged 21 per season over his career and is coming off a 22-goal campaign that included a personal-best 60 points.  

Then there are the younger players who could up their production, one benefit of having the NHL's youngest roster at the start of last season. Pierre-Luc Dubois (now 21 years old), Oliver Bjorkstrand (24) and Josh Anderson (25) all topped 20 goals a season ago and set career highs of 27, 23 and 27, respectively. And there's reason to think there could be more output in their sticks as they gain experience and consistency. 

It's also reasonable to think there could be more coming from such players as Nick Foligno (17 goals last year but a career high of 31), Boone Jenner (16 last year, career high of 30), Zach Werenski (11 last year, 16 the year before), Seth Jones (9 last year, 16 the year before) and Wennberg (2 last year, career high of 13).  

For all of the returning players involved, there's an element of knowing that there could be more opportunities to take on an offensive role. It's now up to them to grab it.  

"We lost a few guys, so you would think, right?" Bjorkstrand said. "There's opportunity for maybe more ice time and so on, but it's just fighting for it. There's a lot of good guys. When guys leave, guys want to take that extra step. There's definitely good competition on the team, and I think it's healthy." 

The Blue Jackets also could turn to a youth infusion to add some goal scoring to the lineup. Chief at the top of the list are rookies Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemstrom, who each were among the best scorers in Europe a season ago. Texier led KalPa in the Finnish Liiga in scoring, then added five goals in seven games in Cleveland before showing he immediately could fit at the NHL level with a late-season cameo. Bemstrom is yet to make his North American debut but pumped in 23 goals a season ago to lead the Swedish Hockey League. 

There are also such youngsters as Sonny Milano, Kole Sherwood, Trey Fix-Wolansky and others who boast great skill and great success as junior players who could be ready to make an impact during the season.  

"That's why we didn't really go out and try to sign a lot of veteran players, because we feel the prospects we have who are ready that deserve a chance, deserve a long look at where they're at and what they can do for our team now," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.  

One other place to watch -- Columbus finished 28th in the NHL a year ago on the power play while converting 34 of 221 chances, good for 15.4 percent. If the Blue Jackets had posted a league-average power play at 19.5 percent, that would have been nine more goals on the register. 

In the NHL, the margins are thin. The difference between winning and losing can come down to a simple deflection or strike of the post. Over 82 games, an extra goal a month from a player or a handful of power-play goals can be the difference in a disappointing season or a successful one. 

The Blue Jackets feel they have the right people to fill in those margins.  

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