As the NHL's return to play plan moves ahead, things are starting to get a little busier at Nationwide Arena.
This week, 15 players -- forwards Cam Atkinson, Emil Bemstrom, Nathan Gerbe, Stefan Matteau, Eric Robinson, Kole Sherwood, Devin Shore, Kevin Stenlund and Alexandre Texier; defensemen Gabriel Carlsson, Vladislav Gavrikov, Dean Kukan and Markus Nutivaara; and goaltenders Joonas Korpisalo and Veini Vehvilainen -- joined the team's Phase 2 on- and off-ice workouts at the arena and OhioHealth Ice Haus throughout the week, giving Columbus 25 players on hand for the work.
The NHL has allowed the in-arena workouts -- which include strict protocols for COVID-19 testing and social distancing during all off-ice interactions -- since early June. The NHL has previously announced Phase 3 of the return to play plan, which includes a formal training camp, is expected to begin July 10 with an eye on 24 teams resuming the season in late July or early August.
The league and players association continue to work on hammering out all the details for that including the formal announcement of hub cities, but in the meantime, the Blue Jackets are continuing preparations for the return of hockey.
Previously, forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Liam Foudy, Riley Nash and Gus Nyquist were taking part along with defensemen Seth Jones, Scott Harrington and Andrew Peeke as well as goaltenders Matiss Kivlenieks and Elvis Merzlikins. Assistant coaches Brad Larsen, Kenny McCudden and Manny Legace joined as well, and the team has been able to skate in groups of 12 since last week.
"It's nice seeing your friends again and seeing a couple of the staff members every day," Harrington previously told BlueJackets.com. "We spend a lot of time with each other during the year and you develop some pretty close friendships. It's nice to have a little bit of normalcy where you're spending a couple of hours at the rink every day and for that brief period of time, everything feels pretty much back to normal.
"Obviously with the precautions and stuff, it's a constant reminder we're in the midst of something pretty scary, but the trainers and everyone has seemed to be doing a great job of keeping everyone safe. It's nice to feel comfortable at the rink, and in return we've been having a lot of fun."
The Blue Jackets are slated to play a best-of-five series with Toronto in a qualifying series for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs when play resumes.