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Jackets' trade for MacInnis adds more center depth

Son of former NHL star adds size, strength down the middle for Columbus.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

One area the Blue Jackets have bolstered this offseason is down the middle of the ice.

 

Quality depth at center became an issue last season, in the NHL and with the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League, so Columbus has made a couple additions this summer.

 

The Jackets signed veteran center Riley Nash, 29, on the opening day of free agency (July 1) and then completed a trade Wednesday to bring in another pivot - acquiring 22-year old Ryan MacInnis from the Arizona Coyotes in a trade for 23-year old defenseman Jacob Graves plus a conditional sixth-round pick.

 

"I don't know if it was so much targeting [MacInnis], but he's somebody we were aware of, and this is really just a trade of a couple guys who could use a fresh start," said Blue Jackets assistant general manager Bill Zito, who is the Monsters' GM. "[MacInnis] is a high pick and we think a lot of him. We're glad we got him."

MacInnis, the son of former NHL star defenseman Al MacInnis, is happy about it too. He's yet to make his NHL debut and hopes to forge a path there with Columbus.

 

"I'm really excited about the new start," MacInnis told BlueJackets.com. "Lots of guys get them and it turns out good for them, so I'm really looking forward to it."

 

MacInnis was selected by the Coyotes in the second round (No. 43) of the 2014 NHL Draft and spent the next two seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He played his first two full professional seasons with the Tucson Roadrunners, the Coyotes' AHL affiliate, prior to the trade.

 

His OHL success - where he had 79 goals, 101 assists and 180 points in 192 games - has yet to translate to the pro game, with 14 goals, 17 assists and 31 points in 127 games in the AHL, including six goals, eight assists and 14 points last season.

 

Part of the reason was his primary roles with the Roadrunners.

 

"Obviously, the numbers aren't going to be the same as juniors right away, but I think the last two years I was put into more of a penalty-kill and defensive role," MacInnis said. "I took that really well, but I think I have more offensive ability too. Hopefully, I can try to find that too."

 

Helping that cause is a combination of size and speed. He's listed at 6-foot-4, 197 pounds and he can get that big frame moving with his skating ability. It's something he's planning to display in training camp with his new organization.

 

"I have some good speed, so getting the puck in the zone and just keeping it down low to create some offense is something I can do," he said. "But I also need to be responsible on the defensive side too."

 

Along with his NHL pedigree, MacInnis comes with an impressive resume - which includes an amateur season spent with the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). He also helped Team USA win a bronze medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, where he was teammates with Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski.

 

Columbus doesn't part with its draft picks lightly, even late-round picks, so acquiring MacInnis shows their belief in him as a young center. Acquiring him took Graves, a 23-year old defenseman, plus that conditional pick - which will become a fifth-round selection in 2020 if MacInnis plays at least 20 NHL games with the Blue Jackets next season.

 

MacInnis is planning to do everything he can to make that happen, but knows he could also play in Cleveland, in a lineup that should have more center depth.

 

Depending on how the Jackets' roster cuts shake out, the Monsters could fill their top four center spots from a pool of talent that includes 22-year old Sam Vigneault, 22-year old Kevin Stenlund, 23-year old Justin Scott, 20-year old Vitaly Abramov, 25-year old Alex Broadhurst, 29-year old veteran Zac Dalpe and MacInnis.

 

It should create a healthy internal competition for ice time, which could bring out the best in all of them. MacInnis is looking forward to it and the feeling is mutal with the Blue Jackets. 

 

"We think he's a good player with upside," Zito said . "He's a big size-and-strength center and he's got skill. Our people think there's some significant upside in this guy. How and when it's realized will be determined by him. There's no schedule."

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