BLUE JACKETS vs. BUFFALO
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (BlueJackets.com/Live, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 The Fan)
Markus Nutivaara is ready to play someone other than his teammates.
He won't get that chance in the Blue Jackets' preseason opener Tuesday night at home, but the defenseman has an interesting perspective on preseason preparations after each healthy member of the Columbus roster skated through four scrimmages over the past three days.
"If you have a shooting chance, if there's a guy in front of you, you might not want to shoot 100 percent and injure the guy," he said. "When it's a real game, a preseason game, you don't know the other guy so you can go 100 percent."
#CBJin30: Monday Mailbag gets you read for the preseason opener
Of course, it also helps that preseason action means things are starting to look more like the routine the Jackets will follow come the regular season. After two days of physical testing followed by three days of scrimmages, skating-heavy practices and workouts, a game day is a picnic compared to what the Columbus players were just put through by John Tortorella.
"You are happy that the games start," said Nutivaara, who also battled illness over the weekend. "It can't be that hard anymore."
Unfortunately, Nutivaara won't quite get his wish as he's not on the 20-man roster to suit up for tonight's game vs. the Sabres. He'll instead have some on- and off-ice work to do before Wednesday's off day.
One man who will skate at the corner of Front and Nationwide on Tuesday is Oliver Bjorkstrand, and the talented winger is excited to see training camp switch from an evaluation mode to one that is more focused on preparing the team for its opening games of the season.
"These three days are pretty hard here -- the first five days, I guess," Bjorkstrand said. "Now we're getting to start getting into some games and you start talking about more systems, so that's definitely exciting. It's fun getting these games in before the season starts. It's important to be ready for preseason games, getting your mind-set ready for when the regular season starts."
Tortorella won't be behind the bench, he said Monday, for at least the first two games, leaving the job instead to Cleveland Monsters head coach Mike Eaves. With the Blue Jackets dressing so many likely Monsters in the first few games, it will give Eaves -- who led the team's prospects in Traverse City -- a chance to further get to know the players he'll be coaching this upcoming season.
From his perch above the ice, then, Tortorella hopes to see how some of organization's younger players will do on the big stage.
"I want to see the kids early on here, and (the front office does) too," Tortorella said. "We let the (front office) do (the rosters) the first couple of games just because they know more about the people than we do. We can't see what these guys are about in a couple of games in Traverse City and then in camp here. We're trying to be as fair as far as the guys that we look at.
"A number of the kids are going to play a lot of the exhibition games. There's a handful of guys, probably six or seven, that are going to play five or six of the games because we think they have a chance and we have to look at them."
Subject to change (lines updated after morning skate)
Sonny Milano-Riley Nash-Emil Bemstrom
Alexandre Texier-Kevin Stenlund-Oliver Bjorkstrand
Calvin Thurkauf-Brandon Dubinsky-Kole Sherwood
Egor Sokolov-Sam Vigneault-Zac Dalpe
Dean Kukan-Seth Jones
Zach Werenski-Andrew Peeke
Vladislav Gavrikov-Adam Clendening
Texier, Milano, Sherwood, Stenlund and Gavrikov are all players who saw 10 or fewer games with the Blue Jackets last year but could figure prominently into the team's plans this season. They're among the young players Tortorella is referring to when he says he wants to see how the team's prospects look as the Blue Jackets go about trying to set the season-opening 23-man roster.
That's not even including Bemstrom, who led Sweden's top league in goal scoring and has a good chance to make the opening night roster despite being just 20 years old. Those are six players right there who could be fighting for time and roster spots against more experienced options Tortorella knows well.
The defense is a little more veteran, with five of the blueliners having skated in at least one playoff game, but there are still many things to be figured out when it comes to how Kukan, Clendening and Gavrikov fit considering the Blue Jackets have nine NHL-ready defensemen going into the season.
In net, Korpisalo will get the first chance to see game action, and the team's backup the past four years has been very sharp thourgh the opening days of camp. And at some point, Kivlenieks will likely go in as the young Latvian tries to bounce back from what was a tough, injury-plagued season.