First line, fourth line, left wing...it really doesn't matter to Brandon Dubinsky.
Sure, he has spent the past week or so centering a line with rookie Boone Jenner on the left and star sniper Marian Gaborik on the right (who a lot of guys would love to play center with), but Dubinsky refuses to let his exact spot in the lineup consume him as the regular season draws nearer.
But there's no denying the facts: that trio combined for eight points and a +8 rating in the Blue Jackets' preseason win in Raleigh, N.C. last week and chipped in eight more points on Saturday in Pittsburgh. Is it the Blue Jackets' de facto No. 1 line right now?
That's not for Dubinsky to say and it's not something he spends a lot of time thinking about, he said, regardless of the success he enjoys playing center for the team's top offensive weapon in Gaborik, a guy he knows well from his days with the New York Rangers.
TRAINING CAMP CENTRAL
"My objective is to get myself prepared to be the best player I can be at the start of the season," Dubinsky told BlueJackets.com. "I don’t care if it’s Marian Gaborik or if it’s anybody else; whoever the coaches see me best fit to play with is who I’ll play with. You have to let your play speak for itself as far as how much ice time you gather, and who you’re going to play with.
"Gaby’s a great player and he’s fun to play with, but we have a lot of great players to play with."
Not long after he arrived in Columbus last summer, Dubinsky emerged as a leader both on and off the ice for a young Blue Jackets club searching for its identity. During their 19-5-4 run to close out 2012-13, the club embodied a lot of the characteristics Dubinsky brings to the table every night: a high compete level, commitment to playing in all three zones and sticking up for teammates.
If there's one thing Dubinsky wants to improve on this year, he'd like to see some more pucks go in the net. His point total last season (20 points in 29 games) wasn't poor by any means, but he wasn't seeing that lovely red light early in the year, and then he stumbled upon injury trouble that hindered his ability to stay in the lineup consistently.
Dubinsky's seven points in five preseason games (one goal, six assists) are the most in the NHL, and while that doesn't exactly count for much in the short term, coach Todd Richards thinks it could have a substantial impact once the regular season begins.
"Any time you have any sort of success, it'll help you and it doesn't matter if it's exhibition," Richards said. "Goals don't matter if they go in off your skates, either; when you look at the stats and follow the stats, if you have a goose egg under that (goal) column, it can really grow on you.
"It's no different than our team last year: you could see us become a real confident team and it was because we were winning games. And it's no different with goal-scoring."
Dubinsky may be the opening-night center for Gaborik and he may not, but it's all gravy either way. He formed a strong alliance with Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert in the second half of the year, and when Calvert suffered a broken finger, it was Blake Comeau who stepped in and kept that line's positive vibe going.
There is a degree of familiarity for Dubinsky no matter where he slots in the lineup, and that in itself is a source of confidence as he and his teammates prepare for Oct. 4.
"When things are going well, the line stays together and when you’re not scoring, you get split up and you try different things - that's just how it goes and we all know that," Dubinsky said. "Whether it’s with a guy like Gaby who you want to use give-and-gos with and find him in open space and let him use legs, or a guy like Comeau who you know is going to be behind the net and working hard…if you take care of your business and stick to what you do best, things have a way of working themselves out.
"You develop good relationships with your linemates, and I’ve obviously played with Gaby before but I finished last year with Cam and Comeau and we played well together. It’s simply a matter of getting yourself mentally and physically prepared for opening night."