In the last few days, the number of players at the Blue Jackets' training camp has gone from 53 to 29. Now, 18 forwards, nine defensemen and two goalies remain in Columbus. The numbers and nameplates are off the practice jerseys and the season opener is eight days away.
Things are starting to get real.
"They deserve to be in the room," head coach John Tortorella said. "As I told them all this morning, they each deserve to be here."
With the roster getting closer to what it will look like when the puck drops on the 2017-18 season next Friday, the preseason games' tenor evolves a bit from here.
In addition to tonight's game against the Nashville Predators, the Jackets have one more exhibition match on Saturday against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
"(Our opponents) will have their lineups (that are close to what they will be opening night) so it's time," Tortorella said. "In these games, it's about 'this is your club, let's get ready for the season.'"
Video: Tortorella on importance of last two preseason games
Outside of these games, the Jackets continue to work on learning their systems in practices and meetings. And one of the big things Tortorella will be evaluating from the bench tonight is how the players fall within the lineup. Who plays well with whom, what players should be on the penalty kill and the power play.
And for players fighting to claim a permanent roster spot, they still have things to prove. We saw glimpses of that Tuesday night in the game against St. Louis. Markus Hannikainen, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Markus Nutivaara, and Tyler Motte all put the puck in the net, and players like Oliver Bjorkstrand and Sonny Milano were aggressive on the ice and drew notice of their own.
There's still a few more players who will leave this camp before the regular season and everyone is acutely aware of that, so all that's left to do is play your best hockey.
"There's still more that I can be," Hannikainen said. "But I think I played my kind of game (Tuesday), and showed I can play at this level and just keep going."
- Tortorella said he had originally wanted to see more of Pierre-Luc Dubois at center, but felt the versatile player was building more confidence playing on the wing. He's played on the left side for that reason.
- The coach had no update on Boone Jenner. "He's getting all the work he needs on (his injury) and we'll see how it goes."
- Brandon Dubinsky, who is recovering from wrist surgery, does not draw into tonight's lineup. The veteran center has been fully participating in practices with the club.
PROJECTED LINEUP VS. NSH:
Panarin - Wennberg - Atkinson
Dubois - Foligno - Bjorkstrand
Calvert - Dalpe - Milano
Motte - Sedlak - Hannikainen
Werenski - Jones
Johnson - Savard
Carlsson - Murray