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Blue Jackets turn attention to finishing strong down stretch

Columbus' leaders want to focus on culture, development over the last 12 games

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

So, what's next for the Blue Jackets? 

With 12 games to go, multiple veterans traded ahead of Monday's deadline, and 10 points out of a playoff spot, the rest of the Blue Jackets' season has become about development and culture. 

But Seth Jones has also offered this observation not just for the rest of the year but what he expects going forward past that. 

"We're not just going to roll over here and die," Jones said.

While most of the Blue Jackets players on the team only know this franchise as one that would normally be gearing up for a playoff run this time of year, this will be a more old-school approach that fans of the team's first 15 year are more familiar with. Seeing out the campaign, giving young players a chance to fill new roles, and finishing on a strong note is something the team did often in the early years. 

It's the circle of life in the sport, but the current time is an important one for the Blue Jackets. Columbus thinks it is in a position to reload, not rebuild, thanks to the assets acquired in the trades of Nick Foligno, David Savard and Riley Nash including a pair of first-round picks. 

Such names as Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Patrik Laine, Max Domi, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins means there's still plenty of talent on hand, not to mention a bevy of youngsters who are still developing. 

On Monday night, center Alexandre Texier played a career-high 23:15 and was all over the ice, while Kole Sherwood notched his first NHL point. Seeing youngsters like those -- not to mention such names as Emil Bemstrom (if healthy), Kevin Stenlund, Josh Dunne and Andrew Peeke -- earn more playing time and how they handle new roles will be a key part of the final stretch of the season for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. Dunne, in fact, will make his NHL debut on Thursday night in Dallas.

"It's a great opportunity for a number of people," head coach John Tortorella said. "I think you're going to see a number of different people come into the lineup. It's part of what our world is here in Columbus now. We have to start thinking toward what we're going to be again. I'm going to rely on Jarmo quite a bit here as far as who he wants to see, who he wants to play so they can make some decisions here." 

On the ice, there's plenty of reason to believe the Blue Jackets will also play some confident hockey as they did Monday night vs. Chicago. Part of it is the stress of the deadline and the playoff race have been removed, so there's no reason not to come to the rink every day and just play for fun down the stretch. There's also some youthful energy that likely will enter the lineup, which should help keep things fresh. 

There's also the importance of making sure the team culture doesn't wane down the stretch. There have already been discussions among team members and the coaching staff that all the new faces took some time to learn how things are done in Columbus, and there is a focus on making sure that continues to get drilled home down the stretch. 

"We built this culture out and it took a long time to get us to where we are," Atkinson said. "I'm sure as hell not going to let this thing slide. Obviously I've talked to Jonesy and (Boone Jenner) and Gus (Nyquist) and the older guys that are here. We have an obligation to not only ourselves but this organization to steer this in the right direction here the last 13 games, play the right way, play hard play for each other. Just go about our business the right way." 

That will be Jones' message as well as the Jackets try to finish the rest of the season by playing good hockey and seeing where it comes them. 

"It definitely starts with us every game," Jones said. "We are not going to quit here for any of these games remaining. We have to try to recreate our identity when it comes to work ethic. That's something we control. That's something that has been the backbone of our team really the last few years we've grown this thing. 

"Work ethic isn't a choice here, and whether we win or lose hockey games the remainder of the season, we have to continue to hammer that home." 

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