BLUE JACKETS at PENGUINS
Thursday, 7 p.m., PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh (97.1 The Fan)
WATCH PARTY: Come to Nationwide Arena and potentially win season tickets
One of the hardest parts of preseason for any team's braintrust is to apportion playing time.
That's especially true when you have 59 players in training camp.
That's the world the Blue Jackets are in, and even with the team down to 56 players in camp after 2019 draft picks Tyler Angle and Eric Hjorth were returned to their OHL teams and 2018 first-round pick Liam Foudy out for the rest of camp with an upper-body injury, it still requires some strategy to get everyone on the ice in a way that will allow for the best evaluation of each player.
The announcement of Columbus' roster for Thursday's preseason game at Pittsburgh shows six players who will have played in both the opener vs. Buffalo as well as the upcoming game against the Penguins. That means 34 of the 56 players remaining in camp will have seen action by Thursday night.
There are two preseason games over the weekend -- Saturday afternoon at home vs. the Penguins and then Sunday at the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues -- that will offer more chances, but by Sunday evening, more than half of the exhibition season will be over.
While there are plenty of ways for the Blue Jackets' brass to evaluate players -- from scrimmages to practice drills, as the players who are not slated to play in game day situations still must go through full on-ice and off-ice workouts -- the preseason games offer a chance to see how the Blue Jackets will do in a game situation.
Head coach John Tortorella has said much of the preseason will be about evaluating the young players the team thinks can move into the lineup this season, and that's shown when looking at the seven players who will return to the ice for Thursday's game after playing Tuesday.
The list includes four youngsters who are hoping to move into the NHL this season on a full-time basis in forwards Kevin Stenlund, Sonny Milano and Emil Bemstrom as well as defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov.
The latter is an intriguing prospect, as Gavrikov was taken in the sixth-round of the 2015 NHL draft before becoming a dominant blueliner in his home country of Russia. He considered joining the Blue Jackets in the summer of 2017 before opting to return to the KHL, which allowed him the chance to earn a gold medal with the Russian team at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
At the conclusion of his KHL season last year, the 6-3, 215-pounder came to North America and suited up in the Blue Jackets' final two playoff games a season ago. Now, Tortorella sees him as one of the players who can get a full evaluation this preseason before the coach decides how things will shake out on the blue line this season.
"He's going to get quite a bit of ice time during the exhibition season, and then we'll make our thoughts from there," Tortorella said. "But he has some bite to him. He seems to handle himself really well as far as the conditioning, so he'll play."
The Blue Jackets on Wednesday announced the tentative roster for the game, which can be accessed here.
Here are the lines that skated together Thursday morning ahead of the game.
Gustav Nyquist-Alexander Wennberg-Emil Bemstrom
Kevin Stenlund-Brandon Dubinsky-Sonny Milano
Jakob Lilja-Zac Dalpe-Marko Dano
Markus Hannikainen-Ryan MacInnis-Eric Robinson
Scott Harrington-David Savard
Anton Karlsson-Gabriel Carlsson
Vladislav Gavrikov-Ryan Collins
Columbus had Wednesday off after six hard days of work to begin camp. Thursday, the players who don't take part in the game at Pittsburgh will practice in the morning, then Friday through Sunday will be work days as well before Monday's off day. The whole team will practice Friday, then Saturday and Sunday are game days with practices scheduled for those who won't skate in the games.