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CBJ media day notes: Tortorella happy Werenski is in fold

Blue Jackets coach talks goalies, Texier; Jenner comes to camp in great shape

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

When the week dawned, the biggest question about the start of Blue Jackets training camp was about whether Columbus would have a full compliment of players on hand. 

Of course, the Blue Jackets would have enough players to stage a camp, as proved by Wednesday's roster release that includes 36 forwards, 17 defensemen and six goalies.  

But with Zach Werenski unsigned through the weekend, there was a question of whether the 22-year-old restricted free agent would be able to take part when work started this week. 

It didn't take long for that matter to be addressed, as Werenski signed a three-year, $15 million contract Monday, then drove from his home in suburban Detroit to Columbus that evening.  

John Tortorella has been on record voicing his displeasure when players sit out camp while working through contract details, so count the head coach happy that the high-scoring blue liner will be ready to go when camp begins Thursday. 

"I had talked to him three times over the summer and it wasn't a doubt in his mind whether it gets done or not, there wasn't a doubt in his mind he was going to be here," Tortorella said. "That's what I appreciate because he wants to be here, he wants to be with his teammates. Being with the right people, wanting to be with the people, that is so important to a team concept. 

"I don't want to get into the business end of it, but I think it's a really good situation for him, as far as having three more years here to keep on progressing and keep on learning the game with the people that he likes having around him. I'm thrilled that he's here. He's a huge part of this team and organization." 

Another person who shared that opinion: Werenski's defensive partner, Seth Jones, who was able to reconnect with the Michigander upon his return.  

"We skated yesterday," Jones said. "We played together in a little pickup scrimmage, so it's nice to see him back on the ice. I'm excited." 

Goalie Thoughts 

Tortorella's opinion of prospects could sort of be summed up with this phrase -- "Out of sight, out of mind." 

It's not that he doesn't care about the future, he's just too busy coaching the team he has at any given point to worry about what's coming down the pipe. On top of that, he has an implicit trust of Jarmo Kekalainen and believes that if his general manager thinks a player can play, he can play. 

But that didn't stop Tortorella from taking the trip to northern Michigan this past weekend to take in a pair of games at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City. The main attraction was seeing the two goalies at the event in Elvis Merzlikins and Veini Vehvilainen.  

Barring a sudden change of plans or a sudden development like an injury, one of those two will be on the opening night roster along with Joonas Korpisalo as the Blue Jackets deal with the departure of Sergei Bobrovsky.  

Given his first look at the two netminders, Tortorella returned to central Ohio impressed with what he had seen.  

"With Elvis, I've seen him play once and that was in Traverse City," Tortorella said. "Very athletic, highly competitive. He's going to get an opportunity during camp and we'll find out more about him then. With Korpi, we obviously know Korpi better. Korpi has played better when he's played more.  

"We're going to keep it open minded, give (Merzlikins) some time. And (Vehvilainen), the game I watched him play in Traverse City played very well also. So we're going to let it play out and see where it goes." 

Each goaltender started two games and gave up a total of six goals in Traverse City, with Merzlikins going 1-1 and Vehvilainen capturing a pair of overtime wins.  

A Thinner Jenner 

One look at Boone Jenner and you can't help but notice the 26-year-old CBJ stalwart has shed some weight in the offseason. 

It's "best shape of my life" season across the league, when players young and old come to training camp ready to echo that phrase, but it clearly seems to be the case with Jenner.  

The seventh-year Blue Jacket would only say he's "a little leaner" and wanted to be in good shape heading into camp, but he appears ready to take another turn at center for the Blue Jackets. He moved full-time to the spot last season and Tortorella was impressed by how his skating took to the position, and Jenner is excited to fill that role again in 2019-20.  

"It's a different position when you're in the middle," he said. "You're kind of in the play more, especially in your own zone. You're in the corners with the D and in that low coverage a lot more. You're probably moving your feet more for sure. I think it gets you involved. I enjoy that part." 

As for his offseason focus after playing the pivot for a full season, Jenner said, "You want to get yourself in the best condition you can. The game is getting quicker. I've focused on working on my skating, something I do every summer. Just the little things in the game. I had a few things I wanted to work on and dial in this summer." 

Personnel Updates 

Speaking of centers, Tortorella said he's not sure where forward Alexandre Texier will slot into the lineup to start the campaign. The soon-to-be 20-year-old grew up playing in the middle, was a wing the past two seasons, and then played center in Traverse City just so the team could see how he'd respond to the move. 

All indications are it went well -- Texier tied for third in the tournament with six points on four goals and two assists in four games -- and the Frenchman said he'll play wherever the Blue Jackets put him. 

So where will that be? 

"I'm not sure," Tortorella said. 

When pressed, he added, "I'm not trying to not give you an answer, I'm not sure what is going to happen there. More than likely as camp starts, Tex will be on wing, but we'll see." 

There are also three players who will miss the start of camp, the Blue Jackets said. Center Liam Foudy, the team's first-round draft pick in 2018, skated all four games in Traverse City but is out with an undisclosed injury. Forward Stefan Matteau, who played with Chicago of the AHL last year and signed with Cleveland in August, is rehabbing a knee injury, while Finnish winger Markus Hannikainen is dealing with an immigration issue. 

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