In perhaps their biggest opportunity yet, the Blue Jackets' youngsters made a strong account of themselves on Thursday night.
Admittedly there were some heavy legs during Sunday's split-squad doubleheader after a few days of conditioning workouts, skating tests and the like, and while they're still doing those things in training camp, the focus has shifted ever so slightly to evaluation and waiting for guys to put their stamp on it.
Yes, they won the game in overtime on a Brandon Dubinsky goal, but that was only one highlight. Players who struggled in the earlier preseason games were thrown right back into it tonight, and others were given their first chance to step onto center stage.
Pierre-Luc Dubois played his strongest game to date, his second game at center between Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner. He looked more confident and more assertive than he did Sunday, and showed poise with the puck and tried to make plays all over the ice.
There is a long way to go and plenty more decisions to be made, but in the eyes of the head coach, this was an overall positive development.
"I thought all the younger guys probably played their best game," John Tortorella said. "That's encouraging. They get some confidence (because of it); just talking to a couple of them, they felt better…so, we keep on going."
Werenski led all Blue Jackets in time on ice, playing 23:41 and finishing one back of Cam Atkinson (5) for most shots on goal. His steadying presence was evident, and he had a prime role on the power play, featured as the lone defenseman at the top of the umbrella with four forwards alongside him.
Tortorella sees a player in Werenski that can handle the responsibility of the power play.
"I want to give him every opportunity to run the power play," Tortorella said. "He certainly did a good job of that tonight. We'll keep on giving him opportunities and we'll see where we go."
There were several others who took steps forward, including young Finnish defenseman Markus Nutivaara, who played his third exhibition game on Thursday. Nutivaaara logged nearly 20 minutes of work and saw time in all situations.
Josh Anderson was physical and played a north-south game. Joonas Korpisalo bounced back and went 11-for-11 in approximately a half-game of work. Paul Bittner was all around the net and scored the game-tying goal with 4:04 left. There were signs of progress in the young players in their latest audition, and Tortorella pointed to their experience in the Calder Cup playoffs as a springboard.
"For those kids from that (Monsters) team to play four rounds in the American league - for development, it's fantastic," Tortorella said. "They kind of ran through it…the amount they had to play, play elimination games and get used to that. It does terrific things for kids. It just gives them a step up as they go to their next camp."