Players like R.J. Umberger are hard to come by, and the Blue Jackets are fortunate enough to have acquired another of a similar ilk this summer.
Since his arrival in Columbus four years ago, Umberger went from seldom-used winger in Philadelphia to an all-situations, multi-positional forward with the Blue Jackets -- and it seemingly began right off the bat. Following a breakout performance in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs with the Flyers, Umberger was dealt to Columbus and quickly signed a four-year deal, which was followed up by a five-year extension in 2011.
Just over a week ago, the Blue Jackets received Brandon Dubinsky as part of a package from the New York Rangers in exchange for Rick Nash. He's not the exact same player as Umberger, but there are a lot of similarities in their games, and it shouldn't come as a surprise if they line up together once the 2012-13 season begins.
Dubinsky, 26, is coming off a down year with the Rangers in which he bounced between the second and third lines, playing the majority of games with Artem Anisimov (another component of the Nash deal). He's 6-foot, about 200 lbs. and can play center ice or the wing -- sound familiar?
Dubinsky has potted 20 goals twice in his NHL career and is two years removed from a 50-plus point campaign on Broadway. He played a lesser role on a Rangers club that advanced to the Eastern Conference final, but is all but assured of playing a far more prominent role on a young, hard-working Blue Jackets club in the fall.
Could he be the No. 1 center? It's possible, but more than a few people I've talked to think Dubinsky and Umberger could work very well together.
They're both big, strong forwards who can protect the puck and go to the net to score goals. Their versatility is another reason they could end up on the same line, and why not put a skilled winger on the right side...possibly Cam Atkinson?
Umberger and Dubinsky could open up space for Atkinson either in the high slot or in the face-off circle, two key areas of the ice where Atkinson can do damage with his wrist shot.
Like Atkinson last spring, Umberger also finished on a high note by scoring nine goals in the final nine games of the year -- including a hat trick on Mar. 23 vs. the Carolina Hurricanes and a pair of two-goal games. The big guy from western Pennsylvania has always been a streaky goal-scorer, but since coming to Columbus, he has averaged at least 20 goals a year and the Blue Jackets would certainly benefit from Umberger getting back to 25-to-30 goal form.
With Dubinsky as either his left winger or his center, I think we'll see the best of Umberger and a bounce-back year from Dubinsky. The Blue Jackets' power play will have options both at the "dirty areas" of the ice as well as at center; if one guy gets booted from the circle, the other can step in and win possession of the puck.
Though it's possible the Blue Jackets keep the Umberger-Derick Brassard-Atkinson line together to open the season (they had success as a trio to close out 2011-12), pairing up Umberger and Dubinsky gives them both versatility and size up front that enables them to play against the top checkers in the Western Conference.
Just think: we're only seven weeks away from seeing it play out on the ice.