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Fast & furious? This team could be fun to watch

These Blue Jackets have balance up front & a talented, young defense

by Rob Mixer @RobMixer / BlueJackets.com

This may be one of the more intriguing editions of the Blue Jackets in their 16-year franchise history.

A year ago, there were extremely high hopes. Like, really high. An emotional burst late in the third period of their first game quickly turned into the most disappointing loss of the season, and it set the stage for a mole hill to become a mountain.

While many of the faces from last year's team - a widely-regarded playoff contender before the season began, but one that ended with the No. 3 overall pick - have returned, there has also been an unmistakable injection of youth.

But the Blue Jackets aren't just tossing kids into the fire because they want to save a few bucks. They have NHL-ready, potentially game-breaking prospects who have used performance to loudly proclaim their worthiness of opportunity at the highest level.

Many of them were impact players for the Cleveland Monsters, the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate, who had a decent playoff run last spring. The kids drove the bus en route to a championship, capping off a 15-2 record in the postseason with names like Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Zach Werenski and Lukas Sedlak leading the way.

Do those names sound familiar? If not, just check your opening night game program.

Yes, the Blue Jackets were counting on several young players to make a push for the roster. No, those spots were not earmarked for them. With established players already on the club and a few jobs up for grabs, the young players were handed a strong challenge from coach John Tortorella and GM Jarmo Kekalainen: force us into difficult decisions.

Video: NJD@CBJ: Bjorkstrand tallies his first two NHL goals

It took a while to materialize, but the kids made their statement. And a few of them made the team.

The 2016-17 Blue Jackets enter the season not unlike previous iterations: they want to play fast, both with and without the puck. They want to push the pace and dictate rather than sit back and wait for the game to come to them, and Tortorella believes they have the horses to make it happen.

"I want us to open up and take some chances. We have the people to do that," Tortorella told BlueJackets.com. "We have to be a team that gets up the ice quickly, is creative, and lets its offensive people make plays. We can't be afraid."

The first part of training camp was spent focusing on conditioning, with several intense skates designed to test the players' endurance and see how they react to being pushed to the limit.

In the last few days, they've shifted to the "team concept," as Tortorella calls it, and got some encouraging signs in their final preseason game in Pittsburgh last weekend.

Up front, the Blue Jackets rolled four lines. Nine of their 12 forwards recorded at least a point, and the offense was catalyzed by the defense - an active, aggressive group that not only transported the puck quickly but showed it isn't afraid to carry the puck, either.

Video: CBJ@PIT: Bjorkstrand nets PPG to open the scoring

That's what makes this team so interesting, fascinating even. They showed they can play quicker. They've shown they can stand up for each other and they've shown they can take a punch and get back up.

They admittedly got too far ahead of themselves a year ago. The big picture became the immediate picture, and when things spiraled out of control, the hill was too steep to climb.

Easy to say, yes, but it starts with Game 1. It starts with a good first shift and a good first period, and each guy on each line doing his job and the defense supporting the goaltender.

Buckle up, friends, because this group has something to prove. In due time, we'll see if they can turn the page to a new and better story.

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