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Nothing is set in stone during the Jackets' camp of opportunity

Head coach Brad Larsen is pushing competition, with plenty of lineup spots still in the air

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

When it comes to the decision to grab a Pilot or a Dixon Ticonderoga, Brad Larsen is going with the latter right now. 

With the Blue Jackets just about a week into training camp, there are many lineup spots still open, so the CBJ head coach doesn't see any reason to use ink when it comes to his opening day roster when something with an eraser might be a little more appropriate. 

"Nothing is a lock," Larsen said Monday. "There's a lot of pencil, let's put it that way. No one is penned in in a lot of areas." 

There is one exception, the head coach admitted -- after signing a six-year extension this offseason, Zach Werenski is slotted in as the No. 1 defenseman and will play on the left side of the top pair.  

Video: Media Avail: Brad Larsen

Everything else, however, is open to debate. In some cases, it's about lineup positioning -- yes, players like Oliver Bjorkstrand and Patrik Laine will make the team, but where they end up in the lineup and who they play with remains a work in progress. 

In other cases, it does come down to who will make the final roster. With nearly 20 forwards and 10 defenseman battling to be among those who will be the 12 and six, respectively, to skate on opening night Oct. 14 vs. Arizona, there's a lot on the line as the Blue Jackets move into exhibition games, such as last night's 3-0 win over Pittsburgh to kick things off and tonight's home opener vs. Buffalo.  

"There's so much up for grabs right now," Larsen said. "I've been in the game for a long time, and I haven't seen this much opportunity even just within our guys. Guys can move up or down or even right out of the lineup. That internal competition is so key." 

Indeed, if there are two words that Larsen seems to love right now, they might be opportunity and competition. For those looking to move up the lineup, there is the opportunity to do so (and the converse is also true -- for every player who goes up, one must come down). And the first-year head coach also believes that the competition for spots will do nothing but make the team better. 

So far, the players appear to have bought into that mind-set. 

"Everyone has a chip on their shoulder," said Andrew Peeke, a young defenseman who sees the opportunity to become a CBJ regular after cups of coffee the past two seasons. "You want to make the team. You want to be in the lineup on day one. You can see it in practice. The energy is high. Guys are playing physical, guys are making plays. It's really fun having healthy competition because it brings the best out of yourself as well. For me, it's been good so far." 

Added center/wing Kevin Stenlund, who also hopes to earn a bigger role this year: "It's obviously a confidence boost if you know there are spots open, and you just need to grab them. That's what I think all of the guys are trying to do, and that makes it fun. Everyone knows that there are opportunities here, and that's what all the players want." 

Indeed, it has been an offseason of turnover for the Blue Jackets, including the trades of assistant captains Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones after the trade deadline deals of longtime stalwarts Nick Foligno, David Savard and Riley Nash. 

Forward Jake Voracek as well as defensemen Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean were added as part of those deals and figure to make the CBJ lineup, but there are more pieces at play. First-round picks Yegor Chinakhov and Cole Sillinger have impressed thus far and could make the opening-day roster, while Gregory Hofmann and Justin Danforth have been added after impressive seasons in Europe and will push for time as well. 

Then there's a cadre of young players like Peeke, Stenlund, Alexandre Texier, Liam Foudy and Emil Bemstrom, to name a few, who are looking to earn or cement bigger roles after seeing time the past two seasons, with youngsters like Tyler Angle, Carson Meyer and Josh Dunne pushing as well. 

But again, that's exactly the type of atmosphere Larsen has been hoping to see in camp, with the hope that it continues to pay big dividends in the future. 

"Whenever you get guys that start to push these guys and push our veterans and push our younger guys, you start to grow something and create a culture here that we want to continue to build on ad have that internal push rather than settle and get complacent," Larsen said. "I think complacency is a really dangerous place to be for a team. We're going to see. There might be some guys on the outside looking in, but the players are going to decide that." 

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