Blake Comeau didn’t want much to do with unrestricted free agency. He knew exactly where he wanted to be: in Columbus with the Blue Jackets.
After coming over in a deal with the Calgary Flames at the NHL trading deadline, Comeau needed “maybe a week or two” to figure out that the Blue Jackets were the team he wanted to stick with. It has been a good fit for both parties, as GM Jarmo Kekalainen praised Comeau’s versatility and the depth he brings to the lineup when the club signed him to a new one-year contract earlier this summer.
When Artem Anisimov and Matt Calvert were hurt late in the season, Comeau was called upon by Todd Richards to play higher in the lineup – and he proved capable of handling the responsibility.
Factoring in all of those things and the fact that Comeau strongly believes in the team’s direction, re-upping in Columbus was a no-brainer.
“It was a pretty easy decision for me,” Comeau told BlueJackets.com. “With how strong we finished and the great group of guys we have, I could see this is a team on the up and I really wanted to be part of that. We were so close last year to making the playoffs, and I wanted to make sure I could come back here and help this team get over the hump.
“I feel like I fit in from the start. I can bring different things to the game even if I’m not scoring goals; I can play physical, kill penalties and do those little things every team needs. I have the capability to contribute offensively, but if I’m not, I have to make sure I’m bringing something else to the lineup.”
Comeau chipped in some offense down the stretch, scoring a big goal in the Blue Jackets’ dramatic 4-3 overtime win in Denver on Apr. 15 and assisting on Cam Atkinson’s empty netter during an unforgettable season finale at Nationwide Arena.
While their late-season push was a great experience for everyone in the room and the Blue Jackets fan base, Comeau said the entire team understood why they weren’t going to be playing postseason hockey.
“It doesn’t really matter how we finished because we didn’t make the playoffs,” Comeau said. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance to play for the ultimate prize, and I think everyone learned from that and realizes how important a good start is for us. That’s something we’ll be looking for – coming out of the gates quick.”
The first step toward making sure they start better takes place this week, as the Blue Jackets open training camp with medicals on Wednesday and on-ice practices beginning Thursday morning at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. They play their first preseason game on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then it's all downhill to the Oct. 4 opener against Calgary.
Unlike last season's abbreviated training camp and hectic start to the season, teams have a full camp this time around but that doesn't mean that preparation beforehand is any less important. Along with several of his Blue Jackets, Comeau arrived in town earlier than usual, skating and getting "up to speed" so everyone's on the same page when camp begins.
"This is my seventh year in the league so I’m used to what to expect as far as camp goes," he said. "In this day and age, everyone knows that they need to come in in top shape, and we only have a couple days of practice before we play an exhibition game. You don’t have a lot of time to adjust to the speed of the game, which is why it’s great that we have so many guys here now scrimmaging and getting ready.
"You can tell the guys are all ready to go. We can't wait."