When Blue Jackets right wing Michael Blunden arrived for Thursday's morning skate he found a surprise waiting for him inside his locker. Instead of his usual white, red, gray, or green practice jersey, he found (to his surprise) a blue jersey, the color designated in practice for defenders.
"I just laughed and thought, well this will be fun," Blunden said. "The boys were all over me."
The team asked him to play defense as a result of being down to only five defenders to use for practice. While the team has six healthy skaters on defense, newly acquired Anton Stralman had taken the day off in order to help his family make the move to Columbus. His absence combined with injuries to Jan Hejda and Mike Commodore put the Jackets coaches in a tough situation.
"It was process of elimination, nobody else would do it," Blue Jackets assistant coach Gord Murphy joked. "It was down to Blunden or the coaches… so we went with Blunden."
Despite Blunden's best efforts, his teammates and coaches weren't too impressed with his natural ability to play on the blue line.
"He did excellent for a guy who can't skate backwards," Murphy, who is in charge of the defensemen, jabbed. "That's basically the number one requirement for a defensemen at any level."
"Terrible," full-time defenseman Kris Russell said chuckling. "I think he'll have to step up his A-game if he wants to compete for a spot, we have a pretty good blue line. He's got some work to do."
Blunden said he enjoyed the nice change of pace and that he just went out there and had fun with it. He was happy to help the team.
"I haven't played defense since I was 9-years-old," Blunden said. "They probably picked out of a hat, it was going to be me or (Jared) Boll, but I got stuck with it."
While Blunden held his own in practice today, his fellow Blue Jackets aren't so optimistic on a possible position change for the rookie.
"Maybe in the senior league, but not in the NHL," Jason Chimera said. "Not anytime soon."
"He did us a favor today," head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He'll be right back where he belongs tomorrow."
A return that Blunden will welcome with open arms.